Friday, July 27, 2012

A not so special week

"You have put a mirror in front of our society. A terrible mirror, reflecting how poverty looks in the State of Israel in 2012. Poor people are being shamed and humiliated, must go through an indescribable toil mask of bureaucracy in order to eventually receive a pittance. With not enough to either live or die, they  must  beg in order to survive."  Thus spoke Rabbi Idit Lev of the Rabbis for Human Rights at the grave of Moshe Silman. Ten months she and her friends had tried in vain to get him a modest roof over his head. Silman was buried in the Holon cemetary accompanied by a huge amount of young friends.

Following Silman, another man set himself on fire - Akiva Mefa'ai, a disabled IDF veteran in a wheelchair, who tried to protest the way the State of Israel rewards soldiers who went to the battlefield on its behalf. At this moment he is still hovering between life and death. But he has received much less media attention than did Moshe Silman. Soon such events will begin to bore the media, and at most get a few lines on the bottom of page five. And if Keren Neubach would try to devote more attention to it on her radio program, care will be taken to "counter-balance" her  with a broadcaster from the other side of the spectrum, those who just want to get rid of “parasites”.

This week a plane left Ben Gurion Airport for the sixth time, carrying citizens of South Sudan who are expelled from Israel back to their homeland which is still plagued by poverty and war. This, too, no longer captures the headlines. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, "Mr. Refugee Expulsion", no longer bothers to go to the airport to be personally present. Only Israelis who personally knew some of the deportees came to bid them goodbye at the bus taking them to the airport, and pupils in some schools feel the painful loss of classmates.

And just on the day that the deportation plane set out for the capital of South Sudan, Israeli government officials met with representatives of that new country, and in a warm and friendly atmosphere signed several cooperation agreements. French anti-Semites used to say “Nous aimons les Juifs - en Israël”  ("We love the Jews –  in Israel"). Incidentally, just this week the Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky expressed his disappointment that the killings at the Jewish school in Toulouse a few months ago did not lead to a significant increase in the number of French Jews moving over to our country.

And this week the State of Israel officially informed the Supreme Court of  Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to destroy eight villages in the South Hebron Hills, 1500 houses in all, and expel the Palestinian inhabitants to make place for soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces to train. But the army is generous and will graciously let the deportees come to work the land on weekends. And not very far from there Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced a great expansion of the project bringing high school students from all over the country to stay as guests in the settler enclaves at the heart of Hebron. With their own  eyes the pupils could see the great achievements of the settlers, who had made the lives of their Palestinian neighbors into hell and successfully made the center of Hebron into a ghost town where only the most stubborn and determined Palestinians are left. "It's not a political issue, the pupils must get to know the history and heritage of the Jewish People," stated the minister.

This week, for a change, not so much was heard about the danger posed to Israel by Iran's nuclear program. It was replaced at the top headlines by another serious threat – the chemical weapons in Syria which, with the developing civil war there, might fall into the wrong, the irresponsible hands. As usual we could witness senior ministers competing with each other in making verbal offensives and dire warnings of military operations to seize or destroy chemical weapons in the stormy Syria. And again as usual in this country, it was the military echelon, i.e. Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who poured some cold water on the militant ministers and expressed strong reservations about any idea of sending the troops under his command across the Syrian border.

And all this was forgotten the next day, the Syrian chemical threat making place for Israel's own government intending to raise the VAT to cover the budget deficits. Raising the VAT of course - not, God forbid, the tax on the giant companies. And the tens of billions which they owe to the state treasury are not even collected. But who is counting?

The veteran satirist and columnist Kobi Niv wrote this week: "In this country, even the black and bleak prophecies turn out to have been too rosy. However much I try to be pessimistic, so as to be a bit realistic about what is going on here, I always discover I had still been too optimistic, and reality is so much  worse than I expected. For example, last year (to be precise, on August 2 last year) I predicted that 'the wave of social protest will be drowned in a reduction of VAT by one and a half percent. And look what happens now? The final outcome of the protest is a raising of the VAT by one percent. In short - be realistic, when you make the blackest prediction you can think of, always add at least two and a half percent to reach the real result.”

Yes, as the PM said, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The citizens of Israel must cover the deficit and take care of the fifty millions of shekels needed to fund the new university at the settlement of Ariel and the three hundred million for establishing a network of prisons and detention centers and holding camps over the Negev, where tens of thousands of refugees and infiltrators and illegal immigrants from Africa will be held. The law providing for them to be held three years without trial has already been duly approved by the Knesset, but what use is such a law when there is not nearly enough place in the prisons? In short, there is no such thing as a free lunch and through the VAT all Israeli citizens - and especially the poorest – will get to take part in this important national enterprise.

As on almost every weekend in recent months, there will be a protest on the streets of Tel Aviv. Tomorrow night, Holocaust survivors will join with academics, slum dwellers youths and other concerned citizens, in a march to protest the treatment of refugees and remind of relevant chapters in Jewish history. The march supported by the Assaf Association and by the Migrant Workers support Group.

How much of an effect, really, can people of good will have? They can do all that is in their power. They have to do all that is in their power.

P.S. See description of the protest,7340,L-4261493,00.html

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tragedy, and farce, and tragedy again

One evening last year, at the homeless tent encampment on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. At that time the encampment was already in its waning stages, many had already left it and there stayed mostly those who really had nowhere else to go. We met a not so young man who walked slowly through the boulevard, pulling a bicycle. My wife remembered him from previous demonstrations. For half an hour he told us about the troubled and harsh life which had led him to live in a tent on the boulevard, a fragile and temporary shelter under the hanging threat of the municipal inspectors. He was determined to continue the struggle, as part of the social protest movement, whose appearance was for him a virtual gift from Heaven. I well remember his  determination.

In the past week we try again and again to dredge up every detail which we can recall. Was the man we met Moshe Silman, then unknown, who under appalling circumstances had by now become known to everybody in Israel as well as  to quite a few people abroad? I guess it was indeed Silman, who then still did not wear a beard. But in fact it does not really matter. It might have been him, or it might have been someone else entirely, someone of a similar age and with similar life circumstances and a similar determination to fight - only that it did not quite get to the point of pouring  a flammable liquid on himself and dying a horrible death in a desperate effort to arouse the conscience of the Israeli society.

The activists of the "Haifa Front", who knew Moshe Silman well, wrote of him: "We mourn the premature passing of Moshe Silman – an activist of the front and a dear friend. We had come to know Moshe during the past year.  During this period, Moshe made countless appeals, turned to anyone which he could think of, ceaselessly attempted to get assistance with housing, assistance to function again as an ordinary  citizen in society. To no avail.

Moshe was active in the social struggle in Haifa, struggled militantly for an entire year in the call for social justice, for a state which is responsible to its citizens - both for himself and for many others. Moshe was a proud have-not. He refused to accept the common equation of 'poverty = degradation'. Moshe set himself on fire last Saturday night, in front of thousands of protesters during a demonstration in Tel - Aviv. Blessed be his memory."

Professor Amir Hetsroni had a rather different take on Moshe Silman (whom he of course  never met): "People like him add very little to the Israeli economy. For me, the self-immolation does not make much of an impression. It may even be that we got rid of a parasite, cheaply".

Professor Amir Hetsroni is working in an academic institution located in the settlement of Ariel at the northern West Bank. Of course, immediately after the publication of his words and the ensuing public uproar,  the management was quick to distance itself and emphasize that it was no more than the personal opinion of a single professor. And apparently, such indeed is the case. The fact is that Professor Hetsroni is personally known as a staunch – one might even say, fanatic – upholder of the most strict free market economics. He is an avowed opponent of providing government funds to any and all parasites. On the other hand, the institute where he works and gets a good salary is not averse at all to getting some additional tens of millions more from the state treasury. In order to get this money. It was very very important for them to receive official recognition as a full-fledged university, not just a mere college.

And that is how this week went through the abrupt transition from tragedy to farce. To wit, the farce known as "The Judea and Samaria Higher Education Council". The point is that a Council of Higher Education already exists in Israel, which was established by law. This council debated the issue at length and concluded that there was no need to establish a university in Ariel, out of purely academic considerations (and quite a few respected academics opposed it also and especially because Ariel is a settlement built illegally in Occupied Territory which is not part of Israel) . But, a solution was found, namely to establish a parallel Council of Higher Education under the military governor's warrant.

The one and only role of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, for which it was established and its members  appointed, was to give a university status to the college in Ariel. And lo and behold, this Council convened this week and, yes, reached the decision to grant university status, precisely as requested. And Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, the renowned philosopher, immediately opened his usually tightly clenched fist, and fifty millions were duly transferred to the new university.

Meanwhile, we moved to yet another farce - the dismantling of the big government coalition formed by Binyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz with a majority of 94 Knesset members holding out seventy days exactly. And the government broke up over the firm demand  of recruiting the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students who absolutely do not want to be soldiers and the army does not need them and Netanyahu never seriously intended to recruit them. And there was left to Shaul Mofaz nothing but to vacate the Deputy Premier chair which had been empty of real content and authority and move to the chair of head of the opposition to which he won’t be able to give real meaning, either.

There were columnists who mourned the loss of what they call "the historic opportunity to create in Israel a government of the sane center.” I myself am rather encouraged by what  I read on the pages of "Makor Rishon" written by Amnon Lord, an associate protege of Benjamin Netanyahu: "The purpose of government opponents is to create ceaseless turmoil, and in this they mark a  success. The king-size government coalition disintegrated surprisingly quickly. The impression is that everything is very vulnerable, everything is shaky, and despite his three and a half years in power, Netanyahu has not managed so far to sit firmly in the saddle ".

In the meantime, an event which did not get any report in the Israeli media took place in the “non-occupied”  dark backyard of the democratic State of Israel. The military authorities decided to release Palestinian Parliament Speaker Aziz Dweik,  held in administrative detention for six months - without trial. Why was he arrested six months ago? The reasons are secret and well-kept by the security services of the State of Israel. And why was he released now? Ditto.

But exactly at the same day troops came to the house of another Palestinian MP, Ahmed Abdel Aziz Mubarak, resident of Al Bireh, and they took him off to begin a six-month detention - without trial. Why was he arrested? The security services know, and only they. And how long will he be held? Ditto. It seems that somebody thinks that at least a quarter of the members of the Palestinian parliament must be held in the prisons of the State of Israel, a quota to be filled.

And still, in every debate you hear the Israeli rightists bring up the clinching argument : "There is no occupation. After all, we don’t rule the Palestinians, they run their own lives in the areas which were given to their control and elect their own parliament." True, Israel Defense Forces can go anywhere in these areas and arrest each of these members of parliament (currently, more than twenty of them are detained). But this is not occupation, God forbid. What is it? Even Justice Edmond Levy himself could not say what it is. Maybe it's a potato?

And suddenly, without warning, after the farcical days, tragedy hits again in our lives, and five Israelis who went on a dream vacation to the Black Sea shore in Bulgaria came home in coffins. And we have all gotten the reminder that Israel is in conflict and war, and it could be any of us, at any moment. And about those who were spared tells the Yediot Aharonot correspondent who went  there: "Dozens of Israelis who had thought that here they could escape from the stress and problems of Israel went on the bus back to the airport with a mixture of fear and relief: "We will never come back here again."

On TV our Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated that "we live in a tough neighborhood" (this time he did not compare the State of Israel to a villa in the jungle "). The army tends to blame especially Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Prime Minister again found good reason to point a finger at Iran. But it seems that conditions did not yet ripen to send the Air Force planes to bomb Tehran, nor even Beirut. The big war will have to wait a bit.

And is it an option to try to make peace in order to safeguard Israeli citizens for the long term? True, the late coalition agreement between Netanyahu and  Mofaz noted down the "re-starting of the diplomatic process" as one of the main aims of the government which they created. But did anyone there took it seriously, even for one moment?

Then, at the last day of the week Moshe Silman died after six days in the hospital, losing the last struggle in a life full of struggle. And so, immediately after the writing of this article is completed we will go to Tel Aviv, to take part in the commemoration march. "We will march in memory of Moshe Silman and for a life of dignity," said the message on social networks in Israel. "We will march to 5, Kaplan Street where Moshe Silman finally lost hope and was overcome by his predicament and cried out on behalf of all of us - for social justice! Then we will march to the National Insurance plaza and we will light candles in memory of Moshe and of other victims who  remain unknown."

Perhaps when the day comes to write the chronicles and annals of this crazy and miserable country, historians will say that Moshe Silman's sacrifice was not in vain.

A media report of the commemoration events

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Non-occupation and water tanks

Greek Mythology recounts the story of Tantalos, who was cursed by the gods to stand forever in a pool of water but never slake his thirst, as the water would always recede before he could take a drink. In the territory under the rule of the state of Israel, myth has become reality, at the whim of military officers acting as vengeful demi-gods to the Palestinians placed under their charge.

When the people of Ein al-Hilweh, a small Palestinian community in the Jordan Valley, put their ears to the ground, they faintly hear the gurgling of water going through pipes underneath – pipes to which they have no access.  The water comes from a spring nearby, a spring which had sustained the life of this community for generations and indeed gave it its name - "Ein al-Hilweh" means  "The Sweet Spring" in Arabic.

The name still remains – but the spring itself, like almost all water sources in the Jordan Valley, has been taken over by "Mekorot", the Israeli governmental water company. The sweet spring has been enclosed and surrounded by fences, and industrious pumps installed to channel every single drop into the system of pipes.

Couldn't one of these pipes have been linked to the community of Ein al-Hilweh, so near? Not if the officials of the Civil Administration of the Military Government maintained by the armed forces of the State of Israel have anything to say about it. As far as these people are concerned,  Ein al-Hilweh is one of several troublesome Arab villagers which exist where they should not have been – namely, in the Jordan Valley, which all Israeli governments since 1967 proclaimed to be a strategic area that must remain permanently under Israeli rule. No effort is spared in letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are an unwanted hindrance and that it would be very obliging of them to just go away.

Deprived of their spring, the people of Ein al-Hilweh had to resort to bringing water in tanks drawn by tractors from no less than twenty-five kilometers A cumbersome and expensive way of providing water to themselves and their livestock. A cubic meter of water obtained this way costs ten times more than what people pay who have the privilege of being connected to the flowing pipe.
Not for the people of Ein al-Hilweh, living in the hottest part of this country, the luxury of a shower to freshen a sweating body. Still, they persisted, tenaciously clinging to their small plot of land.

A week ago, the army came up with a new ploy. Soldiers descended on Ein al-Hilweh as on various other communities in the same situation, confiscating and taking away the water tanks and the precious water in them. The reason given? A material suspicion by the officers in charge that these tanks had been used in the commission of a felony. To wit – "the theft of water". 

Most media channels neither knew nor cared about this particular news item, but the veteran Gideon Levy did expose it on the pages of Ha'aretz.

The former judge and the spirit of the king

As it happened, Gideon Levy's revelation of the water tanks confiscation coincided with the prominent publicity given to a quite different Levy – Justice Edmond Levy, late of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem and at earlier part of his career a Deputy Mayor of Ramla for the Likud Party. Edmond Levy had been commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu to look into ways and means of providing a less shaky legal foundation to the settlement enterprise.

Netanyahu had wanted to end, or at least minimize, the embarrassing phenomenon of the Supreme Court ruling that this or that settlement is illegal also under Israeli law, which is far more lenient in these matters than International law. The Prime Minister might not have counted upon the former judge also publishing a very resounding ideological document with which the government of Israel might find it a bit difficult to link itself.

Not only did the honorable judge state that there is simply no occupation and the West Bank (sorry, "Judea and Samaria") is not at all an Occupied Territory. Levy and his team went further, in a neat feat of legal sophistry and acrobatics, to assert that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 is still valid, ninety five years later. Therefore, the solemn pledge made by the government of His Majesty King George the Fifth – to "view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" – has survived intact the dissolution of the British Empire and the countless other changes through which the world in general and the region in particular have passed. King George's Promise seems to have effectively replaced the Divine Promise, which used to be frequently quoted on such occasions. Pure, pristine and unchangeable, it provides Israel with an unlimited, blanket authority to build settlements anywhere it chooses, so as to promote the area's incorporation in the Jewish National Home.

Judge Edmond Levy had most probably never heard of Ein al-Hilweh in the Jordan Valley or of the situation of its inhabitants. Like most inhabitants of this hot country do on a hot summer day, he had most likely taken a refreshing shower on the morning when he had affixed his signature to the report - without giving any special thought to this simple act. And like many others who cited the Balfour Declaration to bolster Zionist and Israeli Nationalist claims, he studiously ignored the rider which King George's Government carefully appended to the promise of the National Home: "(…) It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine"…
The last cows in the land of no-occupation

And so, there we were, – a group of activists gathered at the accustomed rendezvous point outside the Arlozorov Railway Station in Tel Aviv, and another group coming from Jerusalem and some others from different parts of the country. Two minibuses, some private cars, plus a symbolic solidarity donation of one full water tank and several dozen bottles of mineral water. All brought together by the strenuous efforts of Ya'akov Manor of Kfar Sava, the indefatigable catalyst of joint action by peace groups.

It is, in fact, not so difficult to get to the Jordan Valley, though it would only rarely occur to the average Tel Avivian to do it. In the 1990's Ariel Sharon had invested huge resources in creating a series of "lateral roads" cutting through the West Bank, with the express aim of making the Jordan Valley more accessible. For much of its length, use of this well made highway is reserved to Israelis only, and Palestinian villages on the sides are not linked to it. Our little convoy does not stand out among the settler traffic, and at checkpoints the soldiers wave us through with hardly a glance.

The driver puts on the radio, in the midst of yet another impassioned debate on whether the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) could and should be taken into the army. One of the speakers on the air, a senior retired army officer, says: "Some Haredim have already been drafted, in special units of their own, and the results have been excellent. The Netzach Yehuda Battalion ("Eternal Judea") has been deployed to the Jordan Valley and did an excellent job…". "What is this? Cut off this shit!" exclaims the woman behind the driver. He turns to a station broadcasting classical music.

The Jordan Valley. 41 degrees Celsius, but less humid than in the costal plain. We make a short stop at a small shopping center. Neat buildings, a neat row of shops, a wire cage full of empty plastic bottles with the sign "It is crazy not to recycle". Several activists stand debating at the entrance of a shop selling soft drinks. "These shops are probably operated by settlers, if we buy here we help them steal the Palestinians' water" says one. The shop keeper intervenes angrily: "We steal water? If you talk like that, I don't want to sell to you!". "Who the hell wants to buy from you, anyway!". An exchange of mutual invective is cut off and we return to the cars.

A very short drive away, and we are in the Third World – to be precise, a particularly neglected and miserable part of it. A collection of hovels and rundown lean-tos, some animals, a clothes line bearing some shirts and trousers. This is Abu al Ajaj, one of six components of a Palestinian town known as the Jiftlik. The name is derived from the Turkish "Chiftlik" which means "estate". In Ottoman times, the people here were tenant farmers who had to pay much of their harvest to powerful land owners, but still did not have to face many of the privations of their present-day descendants. As we soon find out, the shopping center where we had just been is off-limits to the Palestinians living so near yet so far.

Fathi Hudirat of Jordan Valley Solidarity has arrived to act as our host and guide. "See the electricity wire going above the huts? It is just above their heads, but they are not allowed to connect to it" he says. "Even in Apartheid South Africa there was nothing like that. There was a very deep separation between Blacks and Whites, but even there everybody got water from the same pipe and electricity from the same wire".

The affable and neatly dressed Hudirat belongs to a bit more fortunate part of the Jordan Valley Palestinians; "The Jordan Valley is more than thirty percent of the West Bank, and only in a few small parts of it are Palestinians at all tolerated. There is the Jericho enclave, and a few other small enclaves – my hometown, Bardala, among them. We are squeezed and terribly hemmed in, but  at least we can build solid houses. People here just can't do that. They are  exposed to ceaseless harassment, their lives are hell". In fact, in the past there were far more Palestinians living in the Jiftlik. In 1967 thousands were expelled eastwards, across the Jordan River, and hundreds of houses were razed to the ground. "Only the mosque remained, inside a military camp. We call it 'The Captive Mosque', no Muslim has set foot in it since 1967".At present, the Jiftlik is a precarious home to about 4000 people.

The Jordan Valley Solidarity is a grassroots activist organization, dedicated to non-violent resistance to the occupation as manifested in their region. Its members tour the villages and encampments, support the villagers in better  organizing, monitor human rights violations and strive to make them known to the outside world, and organize both legal help and activist rebuilding  of destroyed structures. They work with the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers, and together with them renovated a derelict, century-old house and made of it an action center. Activists are always staying there, sometimes five, sometimes twenty – internationals. Palestinians from the Valley itself and elsewhere, sometimes an Israeli.

They would highly appreciate more intensive Israeli presence and involvement, such as Ta'ayush had been doing for years in the South Hebron Hills, where Palestinian communities face similar problems. "Donations of water or food are highly appreciated as an act of solidarity, but much more precious to us is anything you can do to let the world know of what is going on here. It is a shame, a terrible shame. I saw you brought a sign with the words 'A small drop against the shame'. That is very true. A shame, not only to those who are doing this. A shame to everybody. We are all human beings".

Hudirat recounts some of the cases which his group is dealing with. There is a rather prosperous farmer, one of the few lucky enough to have land and water enough for a palm tree grove. But now the army asserts that it is government land. If losing his case in the courts, he stands to lose everything. The farmer's house, "not pretentious, but neat and cosy" was already destroyed. And there is the case of the Korzoliya Spring. "It is a small spring, up there on the mountain side. Four brothers live there with their families. They got an eviction order from the Civil Administration. The lawyer Taufic Jabarin, an Arab Israeli from Umm el Fahm, went to court on their behalf – and won. The next day they got a new eviction order. This time it was from the Israeli Environment Ministry, in order to 'protect a natural resource'. The lawyer is now fighting this, too."

While we were listening, an army jeep stopped by and an officer stood unobtrusively to the side. He did not intervene, but our presence was duly noted. A few minutes later we set off northwards- and halfway to Ein al-Hilweh, where villagers were awaiting us, we were stopped at an army checkpoint.

Just us. All other vehicles were let through. "We have orders. These two minibuses are to be held pending further notice" said one of the young soldiers, pocketing the drivers' identity cards. A twenty minutes' impasse, under the blazing July noon sun. Activists considered taking out the protest signs and holding a demonstration then and there, though there would have been few to see it other than the uncaring soldiers. "Wait, I have the phone number of the Officer in Command of the whole Valley. There were some cases in the past when he was not too unreasonable". And so it indeed proves. Eventually, the soldiers get radioed orders to give back the I.D.s, and we can proceed.

Ein al-Hilweh. A cluster of villagers, led by the 91-year old patriarch Ealian Daragmeh. Young boys, some rather shy, others quite bold to the visitors. Tents and huts, which seem a bit better maintained than those at Abu al Ajaj. Chickens running around. A donkey. A covered cowshed, providing huddled cows some shadow. And – water tankers It turns out that the army asked for a huge sum as "ransom" for the confiscated gear, but Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad took care to provide new ones, here and in other locations.

Activists spread out among the tents, holding aloft the signs in Hebrew and English:

"Stop the induced thirst" / "Stop the denial of water" / "A drop against the shame" / "Every person has the right to water" / "Judge Levy, Occupation is here" / "Jews get water – from Arabs it is taken away. Apartheid is here!"

Near the cowshed, a reporter of the German ARD Radio interviews some of the participants. "People in Europe should know what is going on here. This is not some officer's caprice, this is policy" says an activist. "A few months Netanyahu visited and made a speech, not far from here. He said that the Jordan Valley must remain Israeli forever. I don’t mean that Netanyahu personally ordered the confiscation of the water and the other harassments of the Palestinians. He did not need to. Officers on the ground feel they are translating broad policy guidelines into specific measures." 

We go into a big tent to hear Fathi Daragmeh, who speaks Arabic and is translated into English by Hudirat. At first he is hesitant, clearly unused to public speaking, then gains confidence.

"All of you are most welcome here, most welcome. We, Palestinians and Israelis, are both born of this land. We must find the way to live together, to solve the problems. There is no other way!

We have lived here for many generations. We have lived by the spring, our spring. We enjoyed the spring. Now, it was taken away from us. It was given to the settlers of Maskiot". (The Israeli settlement of Maskiot was originally established in 1982, but failed and was abandoned by its would-be settlers; it was re-established in 2006, to house settlers removed from the Gaza Strip).

"We do not hate the settlers of Maskiot. We tried to create good neighborly relations with them, but it was not very successful. Once, one of our horses escaped and got into the settlement. Their security officer put a rope around the horse's neck and dragged him behind a car until he died. Just cruelty without reason to an animal.

A few months later, one of their horses escaped and got to us. We gave the horse food and water and put him in our stable, then I called this security officer. I offered him coffee and told him: 'You killed our horse, we took care of your horse, you can now take him back'. He just said 'We are strong, you are weak', took the horse and did not drink the coffee.

We are nearly the only ones who still raise cows in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian Cow, Bakar al Falstini. Once there were many who did it, all along the Valley. But it is very difficult. Cows need a lot of water, and that is very difficult to provide. They need pasture and most of the meadows are now either in the hands of the army or the settlers, we can't go there. Some weeks ago several of my brother's cows crossed the road. The army confiscated them and we had to pay a lot of money to get them back. Cows like to roll in the mud in the summer, to protect from flies, but there is no mud anymore. We are not allowed to come to the banks of the Jordan River; that is a military zone.

You can't imagine how much work it is to maintain cows under the conditions in which we live. We are five brothers with our old father and our families, we work very hard day after day so that we could keep our fifty cows. The cows are all we have."  See photos

Saturday, July 7, 2012

To shirk or not to shirk – is that the question?

This week the Palestinian news agency Ma'an published a short news item. Settlers from the "Havat Gilead" outpost near Nablus came at night and destroyed 41 olive trees belonging to Nayif Raihan, inhabitant of the neighboring Palestinian village of Tel.

The inhabitants of Havat Gilead ("Gilead's Farm") outpost where people have an extensive history of such acts. It is one of the settlement outposts which are considered illegal, also according to Israeli law, and whose dismantling Ariel Sharon promised to President George W. Bush back in 2003. In practice, early this year the Havat Gilead settlers reached a compromise agreement with the government of Israel, whereby they agreed to move their houses to a distance of one hundred and fifty (150) meters and in return the government provided them with a legal status under Israeli law; placed more land under their control; and - as it turns out - gave them a tacit permit to uproot olive trees.

Of none of this could even the smallest mention be found in the Israeli media. Settlers destroying Palestinian olive trees are pretty much of a routine, not really news. Under the well-known media principle, it is more "dog bites man" then "man bites dog." And virtually the same with regard to the military authorities' decision to completely destroy the village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills and raze all of its fifty-two houses. Very few Israeli media editors regarded this as news worthy of publication. Nor did the news pay much attention to villagers together with Israeli peace activists holding a protest, even though it greatly disturbed the Israeli Defense Forces who took care to deploy a considerable number of troops and prepare a particularly violent reception to the demonstrators. The demolition of Palestinians homes is an everyday occurrence, as is the dispersal of demonstrations by the military. All this, too, is "dog bites man."

When a Border Policeman kicked a nine year old Palestinian boy in Hebron, this did receive some media attention - at least for one day. Government speakers explained that this was a rare and unusual case. (Is what was rare and unusual, the kicking of a child, or the presence of a camera to capture the event and make it known?)

And just this week it occurred to someone in the military leadership to make   very blunt threats against Lebanon. "The next time Israel's response will be more severe. [The events mentioned in] the Goldstone Report will pale compared to what is going to happen here. We'll have to make stronger and more violent attacks to prevent damage to our home front. (...) The IDF is preparing thoroughly for another war. Next time there will be an exchange of heavy fire on both sides. We'll have to go in very forcefully, including widespread destruction inside the Lebanese villages – not as a punishment but because that is where the enemy is. The State of Lebanon will sustain far greater damage than in the Second Lebanon War. We will give the Lebanese Army a chance to not to be our enemy, but if the other side opens fire we will respond sharply and painfully: Kill thirteen out of unit of fifteen soldiers so that the remaining two could tell their commanders what happened ".

The words of Brigadier General Hertzi Halevy, Commander of the Galilee Division, did get published. They even got a rather prominent place in the middle of the news pages. But still they did not make much of a stir. Hardly any  commentator bothered to get deeply into the matter or why are such threats being made exactly this week, for no obvious apparent reason, or whether a brigadier general would say such things to the media on his own authority or if he had been guided by higher echelons. And if the latter –  who were these higher echelons and what are their intentions?

All of that was very marginal this week. There was only one hot topic to take up the headlines and rock the boat of the Netanyahu Government – should the Ultra-Orthodox be drafted to the army?. This weekend, there are in the Israeli society and political system two opposing camps, bracing for a titanic clash.

On the one hand are those who stridently demand that the Yeshiva seminaries be penetrated, their students forcibly hauled away, directly to the IDF recruitment centers, and severe sanctions and penalties on any recalcitrants. And some also used the opportunity to come up with the idea of demanding of Israel's Arab citizens to perform "National Service" (in the service of which nation?) and of course impose heavy penalties on them, too, if they refuse. A fine of one hundred thousand shekels was what the renowned Plesner Parliamentary Commission proposed, to which the famed commentator Dan Margalit suggests adding the denial of access to a driver's license, to Social Security benefits and to academic studies. In the list of sponsors of the rally, to be held tonight in Tel Aviv with the demand for "Equality in the Burden", are organizations which define themselves as belonging to the left (or at least "left of center ") - alongside "Im Tirzu", a grouping which some consider as a full-fledged Fascist organization while others dismiss it as simply extreme right.

And why is all this fuss? Because all must bear their part in the burden of military service. Because service in the IDF is a sacred duty and a moral act, the most important one which an Israeli citizen can perform. Because by definition the one who serves in the Israeli Defense Forces stands on a moral level a hundred higher than the "shirker". But what is the moral significance of military service in a country which is maintaining a military occupation regime over millions of people for more than two-thirds of its history? How moral is service in the army whose main business in recent decades is to maintain this occupation? And what about the moral implications of what the Israel Defense Forces did in Lebanon in 1982 and 2006 and in Gaza in 2009 and may well do in 2013 in Lebanon again or in Gaza again or in Iran? And who truly stands on a higher moral level, the one who serves in the army and obeys any order given to him without ifs and buts, or the "shirker"?

Such is one side in the titanic struggle unfolding in front of us. And on the other side of the ring - the Haredim or Ultra-Orthodox. Those who regard the study of the Holy Torah as the essence of being, and would fight tooth and nail to keep their students inside the Yeshiva study rooms. The Haredim who build and maintain the largest settlements in the Occupied Territories, Modi'in Illit and Betar Illit, and who extend and increase them at the expense of the lands of Bil'in and Ni'lin and dozens of other Palestinian villages. But they strictly require secularist soldiers to perform for them the theft of Palestinian land and the guarding of the Haredi settlements built on them, leaving their own sons free for full-time holy studies at the seminaries built on the same land.

The Haredim call themselves "anti-Zionists" but consistently support every  aggressive, warlike and adventurous step - as long as their own sons will not be required to pay the price. And the leader of one of the main Haredi parties has placed himself at the forefront of a campaign of incitement and hatred against African refugees migrant workers, and the manhunt conducted all over the country for citizens of South Sudan who are placed on airplanes for "voluntary deportation", and the detention and deportation of children who were born and grew up in Israel but whose parents were defined "illegal immigrants". And in all this Interior Minister Eli Yishai seems to enjoy the support and backing of his constituents and his party members and his spiritual leaders. Just as they strongly back his struggle to forefend any possibility of Yeshiva students being, God forbid, recruited into the army and forced to suspend their religious studies.

Whose side, then, can a decent person take in this titanic struggle? What result can one hope for? Maybe just that this free-for-all will weaken and undermine the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, a government which perpetuates and intensifies the occupation on the Palestinians and the enrichment of the rich and the impoverishment of everybody else. That Netanyahu's brilliant maneuver of two months ago, the adding of the Kadima Party to his government coalition to produce a huge Knesset majority, will turn out to an own goal for the Netahyahu team. That the crown would soon fall from the head of "King Bibi". May it be so.

Yesterday "Yediot Ahronot" published an interview with two reserve soldiers, Ethan Tiberger and Yuval Harari. Both of them are veteran reservists who over many years came anytime the army called them. In fact, they often volunteered for service above and beyond the time which was required of them by law. In 2002 they had gone without hesitation to fight in the alleys of the Jenin Refugee Camp - that event over which the debate is still raging, whether it was a massacre or just a brutal battle in which many civilians were killed because of regrettable mistakes and because of not having enough time to leave their homes when these were destroyed by the bulldozers of the Israeli Defense Forces . But now, both those reservists have decided that the continued non-recruitment of the Haredim is the last straw. Regretfully, they informed their commanding officer  that they would no longer perform military reserve service.

"Now they have really done it. They pissed in our faces. They sold us out. Finally, we have had it. I have no motivation left to continue. It is no longer an issue of Left or Right, of the occupation or the Iranian issue. This is about our children's future" said Harari.

One should perhaps not complain too much that it was this straw which broke the camel's back, and no other.