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