Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ammunition Hill and the not theoretical occupation

Eighty years ago, the British Mandatory government founded a Police Academy near the Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood in the eastern part of Jerusalem.

In the 1960's the Jordanian army established in the same location, then near the front line bisecting Jerusalem, a well-fortified military position.

In June 1967 this place, called "Ammunition Hill" by the fighting soldiers, was the scene of a harsh and bloody battle, around which an enduring myth of heroism was created – a battle which many military historianss consider to have been completely unnecessary. Of the famous song written about this battle, there remained in the Israeli collective memory especially the words "I don't know why I got a medal. I just wanted to get home safely. "

Every year, on the day known as "Jerusalem Day", there is held in this location a formal ceremony with the participation of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense and the senior generals of the Israeli armed. Always on this occasion, the Prime Minister makes a speech full of rhetoric and vows that  United Jerusalem will always be Eternal Capital of Israel. In the Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood nearby, which was occupied by the Israel Defense Forces several hours after that titanic battle, settlers listen to the live broadcast of the PM's speech  in the Palestinian homes which they have seized.

A few years ago there was at Ammunition Hill a meeting between veteran Israeli and Jordanian soldiers who survived the battle (Thirty Six Israelis had been killed in it, and over seventy Jordanians). They talked to each other quite amicably and none of them used any nationalist cliches.

Morial Rothman had no particular intention to add another chapter to the history of Ammunition Hill. It was the military authorities who determined this as the point to which young Jerusalemites should report when their call-up orders come due.

Moriel Rothman was born in Israel 23 years ago, long after the famous battle on Ammunition Hill. As a child his family moved to the United States where he grew up. He returned to Israel at the age of eighteen, and soon became involved in political activism, meeting Palestinians and taking part in actions against the occupation. The Palestinians in the village of Susiya at the South Hebron Hills, persistently clinging to their piece of land and their miserable homes, seemed to him “more Jewish” then the settlers seeking to expel them and the soldiers aiding the settlers -  carrying the historical heritage of Jews striving to maintain their communal life during centuries and millennia of dispersal and persecution.

Moriel Rothman at Susia – a video

At just the time when Rothman saw more and more soldiers in their daily activities, shooting tear gas and stun grenades and sometimes live ammunition at Palestinians, the army found out that there was an Israeli citizen who had returned from the United States and reached the age of 23 and has not yet done military service. Thus Moriel Rothman duly got a call-up order instructing him to report to the memorial site at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 8:00 am, and there board a military bus and embark on his term of military service.

Moriel Rothman arrived precisely at the time set, accompanied by a group of activists and friends - but not in order to don the IDF uniform. In his pocket was a letter he had prepared beforehand:

''It cannot be said lightly, the time has long passed for gentle language and “hear-able” rhetoric: The Occupation is cruelty and injustice manifest. The Occupation is anti-God, anti-Love and staggeringly, constantly violent. The Occupation is based on a system of racial/ethnic separation that does, in fact, resemble South African Apartheid and segregation in the Southern United States until the 1960s. And this “temporary” Occupation is not “on its way out,” but is rather growing in strength every single day. There is almost zero political will within Israel’s government to end it, and the Israeli public has largely accepted the status quo, in which the occupation is basically a theoretical question, and one of which many have grown tired. But the occupation can only be theoretical if you are not occupied, and thus my refusal to support the occupation by serving in the IDF is also an act of solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation."
At this moment when I am writing, Moriel Rothman is behind bars the Military Prison Six, contributing his modest part in the struggle to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

So, is there an occupation? Are these territories under occupation? Anyone who follows events on the ground, who witnessed even once a confrontation of soldiers (and/or settlers) with Palestinians, cannot really doubt it. The International Court of Justice, established by the International Community as the authorized interpreter of controversial issues of International Law, stated unequivocally that the West Bank is indeed an Occupied Territory. Therefore, it is subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids an Occupying Power from settling its citizens in the Occupied Territory.

In Israel, however, there are those who think differently. The fact is that a committee of distinguished Israeli jurists, headed by former Supreme Court judge Edmond Levy, had sat down and composed a detailed report stating that this territory is not occupied at all. In a burst of creative energy, Justice Levy and his fellows composed their own unique brand of International Law which would have seemed completely incomprehensible to International Court of Justice. In International Law according to Edmond Levy the territory is not occupied at all, but is an exclusive hereditary property of the Jewish People, and therefore Israeli settlement there is legal and strictly kosher. Accordingly, the Government of Israel should remove every remaining obstacle on the expansion and intensification of the settlement enterprise, and block as much as possible the access of Palestinian upstarts who dare to turn to the courts after their land was robbed in broad daylight.

Already in June this year, Justice Levy and his colleagues submitted their conclusions to Prime Minister Netanyahu. And though it was Netanyahu who appointed them, he seemed a bit scared of the conclusions and of what might happen if they are formally adopted. For, after all, if this territory is not occupied, that what is it? Is it part of Israel? And if it is part of the State of Israel, and if Israel is a democratic country, then where are the Knesset Members representing in Israel's parliament the residents of Nablus and Ramallah and Hebron? And if it is not Israeli territory and also not occupied, what is it? All sorts of questions would immediately pop up to which no Israeli government since 1967 tried or wanted to give a clear answer, nor did Judge Levy provide such an answer.

So, since June the Levy Report lay unopened in the archives. The settlers and their political friends protested and demanded that it be adopted forthwith. But last month Netanyahu decided to call early election and immediately tremendous power struggles entered the fray. Within the Likud Party the settlers have gained significant power, and have an impact on the result if internal party elections. So, Netanyahu suddenly announced that he would soon bring the Levy Report to government approval. No, not the fundamental assertion that the territory is not occupied. Only the practical conclusions helping and facilitating the settlement enterprise. But it turned out that also this could  create too many political and judicial complications.

And so the idea of adopting the Levy Report was again shelved. Instead, the Prime Minister got a brilliant political idea and made the dramatic announcement which captured the headlines in our country over the past few days – the joint electoral slate between the ruling Likud Party and the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman - the nearest in the Israeli political scene to meet the criteria set by Political Science for a Fascist party. No, Lieberman does not really care about Judge Levy's report. International law in all its forms is not really interesting to the Foreign Minister of the State of Israel. In a TV interview celebrating his intimate new partnership with the Prime Minister,  Lieberman announced that it was just no use talking about and deal with the Palestinian question. We know that we have no Palestinian partner and probably never will have such a partner, so for the foreseeable future we can do in these territories as we please and not bother too much about legal theories and legal niceties. Plain and simple.

In the meantime, what of the Palestinians themselves? Last week, Israeli drivers were surprised when traveling on Highway 443 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, when suddenly dozens of Palestinian protesters burst in, carrying banners and placards and blocking the highway. Palestinians? Why should they appear there?

Those who know the issue are aware that this highway is passing through the West Bank, that it was built on land expropriated from Palestinian villagers living nearby,  that these people were denied the possibility of travelling on the highway which was built on their land, and that when the Supreme Court ruled that they should be allowed to travel on it a ploy was soon found to deny it in practice. But ordinary Israeli citizens got the impression that this was just an Israeli highway connecting two Israel cities. Especially since along the highway were built walls concealing the nearby Arab villages, and on them were painted for the benefit of the Israeli drivers pastoral landscapes with no Arabs in them. Suddenly, the reality behind the walls burst out onto the highway for a  while, until soldiers arrived with their stun grenades and tear gas canisters.

And a week later - another unpleasant surprise. Palestinians carrying flags, together with international volunteers, penetrated into the shop established by the Rami Levi supermarket chain at the settlement of Sha'ar Binyamin, and raised inside the store their placards: 'Boycott of settlement products" and "As long as  Palestinians get no justice, settlers and Israelis will not have a normal life" . And again the soldiers came quickly with stun grenades and tear gas.

Both times, at the studio of Israel's State TV, commentators admitted that the Palestinians have managed to "gain the element of surprise" and that this was a grave failure of the Israeli Intelligence Services. This phenomenon seems to have aroused concern among commentators and the military high command. In some ways they find it even more worrying than the repeated rounds of shooting along the Gaza Strip border. Precisely because the demonstrators on Route 443 and at Rami Levy  supermarket did not use violence and it would be  quite hard to accuse them of terrorism.