Saturday, October 13, 2012

So, what the hell are these elections about?

Two weeks ago the "Makor Rishon" newspaper glorified the canine unit of the Israel Defense Forces and its tireless contribution to the campaign proclaimed by the government of Israel against the African refugees who threaten to seek asylum in our enlightened country. The paper's correspondent went to the southern border and heard about the spectacular antics of the two-legged soldiers and their four-legged best friends: "Dogs are incomparably capable when it comes to a chase. They locate undesirables in the border area, identify them as infiltrators and immediately start pursuit. A dog can just go on chasing and chasing, not letting go. At present, in the new reality on the borders of Israel, chase dogs assume greater significance ("Makor Rishon", Sept. 28, 2012).

Just as the journalist arrived on the spot, our fine boys of the canine unit were in mourning. "In the course of operations on the Israeli-Egyptian border, one of the dogs was sent to chase and trace an infiltrator who had penetrated into the country. After a long chase, along dozens of kilometers,  the dog overheated and died." Of course, the soldiers conducted a proper military funeral at the special dog cemetery maintained by their unit.

But - no need to worry. Already in the near future the State of Israel might be in a position to spare her dedicated pursuit dogs such risks. The construction of the fence on the Egyptian border is drawing to a close. From now on, refugees fleeing genocide in Darfur or a terror regime in Eritrea would no longer be able to get out of their jungle and penetrate into our flourishing villa. The high border fence will block their way, and if they ask the soldiers on the border for a little water and food, the soldiers will be bound by explicit orders not to give them anything, so as not to encourage refugees to head our way. And if the refugees insist on sitting at the fence and begging and pleading, the  soldiers will be authorized to use tear gas to make them understand the hint, go away from our borders and disappear into the depths of the desert. And if, as happened a few weeks ago, pertinent Human Rights activists from Tel Aviv would try to approach and bring food and water to refugees, the army would  rush to declare the border area a Closed Military Zone. Not only in the Occupied Territories can this be done – also in the sovereign territory of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

Two days after the dramatic announcement of early elections, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu chose to open his elections campaign at  that very spot, on the Egyptian border. Not for him such outdated methods as facing the voters directly at a rally in the heart of a city. Our Prime Minister was photographed against the background of soldiers and senior officers and bulldozers busily at work completing the construction of the fence, and then he spoke out: "We are firm and determined to defend our borders at sea, on land and in the air. I think what is going on here is an exceptional project, a systematic security-engineering enterprise to which people from all over the world come to learn from. Remember the demonstrations against the infiltrators which took place in Tel Aviv, the feeling that we were losing our country, that there was the danger of a fatal blow to the national level of our Jewish-democratic state. So, we stopped it, we stopped the infiltration. Few of them manage to get in at all, and there will be less and less of these. And those who do get in no longer get to Tel Aviv, They are going straight to Saharonim Detention Center. This, too, was built by us."

Strangely enough, at the Hatikva slums in south Tel Aviv - right where a few months ago thugs were rioting and assaulting anyone whose skin was black – this piece of wonderful news sent by the PM from the southern border failed to  get a really enthusiastic response. On precisely the evening of the same day, Hatikva was one of the focal points where the social protest movement  - already several times declared dead – once again rose from the ashes. From the Hatikva Park at the neighborhood's center, residents embarked on the "Citizen Dignity March" through the city streets.

"This week we have been thrown into an elections campaign. These are the first elections since the Social Protest wave of the summer of 2011. What will it include? Promises, clichés, and a lot of illusions" stated the protesters' manifesto. "They will try to scare us about Iran, about a new Intifada, about the economic fate of Greece or Spain. But our situation is now worse than it was last year. The poverty index has gone up, the prices of fuel, vegetables, dairy products have gone up by dozens of percentage points, and so did the general cost of living.

Today our country is a place where a working  person is held in deep contempt and is dismissed lightly. Today our country is a place where expensive gifts are given to the most rich, and to them only. We are citizens of the middle class, as well as of the class of citizens who were deliberately weakened and impoverished. We are those who set up protest tent camps and who were accused of 'not being nice'. We urge you to join us for a demonstration, which would start the citizens' public campaign in these elections.

We will examine what each party had promised and what it actually delivered  since the last elections. We will examine how all Knesset Members voted on socio-economic issues, on housing, employment, minimum wages, and the like. We, all of us together, will remind the officials that elections day is the Voter's Day."

Some other things have also happened in our enlightened country, on the very same day that the Prime Minister delivered his speech at the border, and not even that far away from there. Very large police forces arrived at the  Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj, including the Yasam Special Riot Police, and with helicopters escorting them in the sky. Their objective: to attach a demolition order on a  building which was declared illegal, and make clear to the residents of Bir Hadaj that the government of Israel will not flinch from using all  the means at its disposal to implement this demolition order. Indeed, the government made use of quite a few means: police hurled stun grenades and tear gas canisters and fired rubber bullets into the houses. Residents suffered from smoke inhalation and the effects of tear gas, including children whose school was also targeted. Many were taken into custody, many others hospitalized.

Bir Hadaj, unlike many other Bedouin villages, is a "recognized village" and the  government does not dispute its very existence. But in practice the difference between it and the "unrecognized villages" is not all that great. Bir Hadaj has no approved zoning plan, and it is completely unknown if and when it would have one. Therefore, it is in practice impossible to build legally there. There is no authority to which one can apply to obtain a permit, all construction by the residents is illegal by definition. Many thousands of pending demolition orders are hanging over this and the other Bedouin villages, and in the past year over two hundred of them were implemented.

A notice on the website of the Israel Lands Administration talks about "Concentrated Enforcement Operations, in the course of which hundreds of police, inspectors and contractors converge on a single spot and give prominent visibility to the Rule of Law.” Such actions are said to “bring impressive results." Impressive indeed.

The residents of the Bedouin villages are Israeli citizens. They vote in elections, and some of them even serve voluntarily in the Israel Defense Forces, even though the draft does not apply to them. In a normal democratic country, a sector numbering a significant part of the citizen body would attract the attention of politicians who would try to address their problems in order to  get their votes. But in the State of Israel, which builds high walls in order to preserve "The national level of the Jewish-democratic state", what happened in Bir Hadaj did not receive media attention and would not feature in the coming elections campaign. At most, it will get the attention what is defined as "The Arab Parties" which are anyway considered extremist and ineligible to take part in negotiations to form a new government  coalition after the elections.

And if this is how people are treated who are citizens of Israel and vote in Israel's Knesset, what can expect those who are not Israeli citizens and who live during the past fourty-five years under the occupation rule of Israel's army?  The same week on which the Prime Minister declared early elections in Israel marked also the start of the olive harvest season in the Occupied Palestinian Territories - a time of the year always prone to trouble, and especially so this year.

In less than a week, "B'Tselem" documented at least five cases of harassment of olive harvesters and/or destruction of olive groves, "arousing the suspicion that  the security forces did not take proper care to protect Palestinians and their property from settler violence." Thus, villagers from Beitillu, coming to harvest their olive groves, were attacked by ten masked settlers who came from an outpost near the settlement of Nahliel. The settlers also set fire to the trees. When a violent clash erupted, soldiers arrived - and... expelled the Palestinian farmers from the area.

And in al-Janiya west of Ramallah, 25 olive trees were vandalized, belonging to the Abu Faha'ida Family. Ironically, the settler outpost established very near is called "Za'it Ra'anan" which means "Flourishing Olive Tree,".

And when villagers from Fara'ata and Immatain came to harvest,  they discovered that persons unknown had already harvested 220 trees and stolen the crops, in the process breaking branches and damaging trees. And who were these unkowns? The Gilad Farm outpost is located nearby, and its residents have a long proven record of acts of this kind.

And residents of Qaryut found that more than eighty trees, owned by ten different families, were destroyed in the previous night. The land is located south west of the village, about two kilometers from the settlement of Eli. (The truth is that almost every Palestinian village is close to one settlement or another...) And so on and so on, one more  case and yet another one, all recorded and photographed and documented. And then what?

It is possible to record and publicize every case, and publicize the information in the country and worldwide. Israelis can accompany the Palestinians whose  orchards were damaged to the police stations, which are the only place where  a complaint can be lodged and to which Palestinians are denied entry for security reasons. Formal complaints can be submitted to the military authorities, emphasizing that under International Law they are obliged to protect the Palestinians living under occupation, make it possible for them to safely harvest their olives, the sole source of income for many, and prevent settlers from harming them. (Insisting upon filing a complaint after complaint, without hoping too much for results... ) In particular volunteers can and should be recruited, as many Israelis as possible to as many villages as possible, whose presence would make it difficult for settlers to attack and for soldiers to ignore these attacks.

But it would be very difficult to put this issue on the agenda of the elections campaign opening this week in Israel.

Already for some years most of the politicians in Israel - and with them, in fact, most of the people – decided to sweep the Palestinians under the carpet. Not to deal with them, not to talk seriously with them or about them. Not to talk about forty-five years of occupation over millions of people, nor on repression and violations of Human Rights, nor of settlements growing and expanding. It is generally agreed that we have no partner, and since there is no partner the Palestinians themselves are to blame for everything that happens to them. So,  one can forget about the Palestinians until the partner arrives (or the Messiah - whichever comes first).

At a discussion on TV First Channel prime time, the well known commentator Ari Shavit astonished his colleagues, predicting that dramatic events in the coming months will force politicians from all parties to end their silence and prominently address the Palestinian issue, already in this elections.