Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An order on which a black flag flies

"In my government there will not be a minister who supports soldiers'  refusal of orders" declared Prime Minister Netanyahu at the beginning of this week, and his words got banner headlines in the papers. It has been long since the last time that soldiers' refusal got to the focus of public attention in this country. And all due to Naftali Bennett.

A few weeks ago I took a long ride in a taxi, and in talking with the driver I found out he was among the first of the Israeli military refusers. In the early 1970's, when the West Bank military government and settlement movement were brand new, he was called up for reserve duty in the city of Hebron, was ordered to accompany Rabbi Moshe Levinger in the streets of Hebron and refused to obey and got sent to a military prison. At the time, this kind of act was not published and did not get into the media at all. "I'm not a political person. It is just that this Levinger is a bastard. He was going around in Hebron marketplace and overturn the Arab vendors' stalls. I told my commanding officer that I did not join the army to help bastards like that."

In the early years of the occupation, refusers were few and isolated. The poet Yitzhak Laor spent time behind bars at the beginning of his literary career, and Giora Neumann was repeatedly jailed and graffiti calling for his release remained for many years afterwards on the streets of Tel Aviv. The organized refusal movement, began in June 1982 when Defense Minister Ariel Sharon launched Operation Peace for Galilee which became the First Lebanon War and later became known as the War of Deception.

It was the time when soldiers heard their Prime Minister Menachem Begin stating on the Knesset floor that the army will not go deeper than forty kilometers into Lebanon and looked at the map and saw that they were already on the outskirts of Beirut, at least a hundred kilometers from the Israeli border. And they sung "Go to Lebanon/Fight for Sharon/Return in a coffin"(in Hebrew it rhymes).  And a few months later they were ordered to shoot flares over the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and then found that they had illuminated the path of those who indiscriminately slaughtered hundreds of men and women, elderly and children.

Sharon's followers dismissed it as "Just Arabs massacring Arabs", but resentment and disgust of the war grew ever higher. Thousands signed a petition declaring their refusal to go to Lebanon, entitled "Yesh Gvul" – translated as both "There is a Border" and "There is a Limit". It was in 1984 that I went to the  military prison for the first time, when I refused to take part in escorting  supply convoys to the military outposts established throughout South Lebanon.

In December 1987 the Palestinians revolted and demanded to have the right which Israelis long enjoyed, the right to be a free people in their own country. It was just as the occupation became twenty years old, and at the time it seemed that twenty years was a long time, even that it was too long. There were Israelis who considered the Palestinians right in their aspiration to be free, Israelis who could not wholeheartedly take part in the army's operations aimed at suppressing the Palestinians and keeping them under occupation. Again, thousands signed the re-launched and extended Yesh Gvul refusal petition, and some spent time in prison instead of going into battle against the stone throwing youths.

In April 1988 I was doing a term of military reserve service and on the evening news I heard of soldiers forcing a Palestinian passer-by to climb an electricity pole and with his bare hands remove the Palestinian flag flown on it, whereupon he was electrocuted and died. On that night I went through the camp where I served and I wrote on 117 tanks, trucks and forklifts the following words: "Soldiers of the IDF, refuse to be occupiers and oppressors! Refused to serve in the Occupied Territories!".

After I was apprehended by Military Police Investigative Arm, the Southern Command Court Martial sent me to three months' imprisonment and also demoted me from corporal to private. And after another round of confrontation with the military authorities and a hunger strike in prison I was taken to a military psychiatrist who prescribed a psychiatric discharge from service. At that time I wrote a letter to the Army Chief of Staff: "If, in the army under your command, my conscience is considered to be madness, than I'm proud to be crazy."

In 2002 my son Uri got to the age of eighteen at the height of the Second intifada, and took the decision to refuse to join an army of occupation. I accompanied him during six months that he went in and out and in and out of the military prison, again and yet again, until a military committee declared him "unfit for military service" (which he is). He was lucky - five of his fellow refusers ended up facing a court martial and spending more than two years in prison. Among them was Hagai Matar who later became known as a journalist and intrepid anti-occupation activist, most recently  also heading a workers' union.

This was also when the Courage to Refuse movement flourished, a special breed of Zionists who demonstrated with large banners stating "Refusal of the Occupation is Zionism." And there was David Zonshein, the paratrooper officer who specifically wanted and indeed demanded of military authorities to court martial him for his refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories, which would have ended with his being sent for years behind bars - and, oddly, the army high command vehemently refused to take up the challenge.

A year later came the Pilots' Letter, whose signatories announced that they would refuse to bomb Palestinian cities. They did not yet know that in January 2009  other Israeli pilots, of a bit less sensitive conscience, would go out to bomb Gaza and manage to kill 1300 people in three weeks.

Altogether, during the forty-five years of the Israeli occupation over the Palestinians, there were thousands of refusers and objectors – conscripts  and reservists, young people at the start of their adult life and family men in their forties, and in the past decade also quite a lot of women. Many of them spent time behind bars, at Military Prison 4 and Military Prison 6 and Women's Prison 400. The latest is Nathan Blanc of Haifa, who had so far three times gotten the order to join the occupation army and three times refused and was three times sent to prison where he is incarcerated at this moment.

Naftali Bennett was certainly not among these refusers, neither among the early ones not among the latter. An occupation lasting forty-five years did not bother him at all, and he remained unmoved by the ongoing oppression of millions of disenfranchised people. And quite certainly he did not mind that the Israel Defence Forces became more and more The Settler Defense Forces, an army whose primary role is to take over the land, pass it on to settlers and to protect and maintain tight guard over the settlers as they take firm control of the land.

All this was, in fact, quite to Naftali Bennett's liking. He had joined the army, and served in the ranks of Sayeret Matkal and other elite units (and definitely was not among the Sayeret Matkal refusers of 2003) and reached the rank of major, and then went into high tech and took up a position in Netanyahu's bureau until they broke in an angry row. Then he took charge of the settlers' Judea and Samaria Council and struggled mightily against the construction freeze in the settlements and for their expansion and deepening without limit and without restraint. He also came up with a sophisticated ,plan for perpetuating the occupation and annexation of the settlements and all lands around them and thus confining Palestinians in tiny enclaves which would be "autonomous under supervision of the IDF and the Israeli Security Services" (in South Africa they used to call  it "Bantustans"). And in recent months Naftali Bennett managed to take over an old and rotten political party and make it seem brand new and fresh and attract the right-wing voters and pose a tangible electoral threat to the Likud Party of his former friend Binyamin Netanyahu.

But still, a refuser? His words on TV echoed throughout the country in the past week. If Major (res.) Bennett is ordered to evacuate settlers, he will regard that as an order on which a black flag flies. He would not be able to carry out such an order, he would ask his superior officer for a personal exemption from doing it, if no option presents itself he would also go to prison. After the big furor which followed, he half retracted his words, at least partially, and asked it to be clear that what he had said had been a cri de coeur, truly from the very depth of his heart.

A cri de coeur? Quite possibly it truly is such . One may grant that indeed in Naftali Bennet's eyes the settlements are dear and precious and downright sacred, and the idea of evacuating settlers arouses in him horror and repugnance, and that for him this a genuine issue of conscience.

Still, all that a politician says and does is liable to be suspected of having political motives. All the more so with what a politician says at a very hot moment of an elections campaign. And Naftali Bennett certainly has a political interest in flirting with refusal and insubordination. First of all, according to recent polls this seems to helps him capture the hearts of voters in his segment of the political spectrum, towards the January general elections. In the longer term, there might be a consideration of creating a kind of deterrence.

Bennett belongs to and represents a sector of the Israeli society which in recent years is taking an increasingly  prominent place in the army, among both conscripts and reservists as well as in the officer corps, over and above their proportion in the general Israeli citizen body. For an obvious reason: they are the only sector that truly identifies, ideologically and emotionally, with the role that the army plays vis-s-vis the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

What if at some future time this military is asked to play a quite different role, under a different government pursuing a different policy? What if there would be on the agenda such issues as ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state and evacuation of the settlements? Would  observant soldiers and officers,   placed in key positions, in great numbers  take Naftali Bennett's road, declaring "It is not that I'm refusing, I just cannot do it, this is really a cri de coeur from the depth of my heart"?

And then, what? Should consideration and respect for people's acts of conscience be extended also to the conscience and sincere faith of the settlers and their supporters? And if so, how could an Israeli  government ever take the way of peace – either from its own free choice or out of  recognizing the facts of life in the international arena in which the state of Israel must survive? Was an impassable barrier erected here?

Here, history might come to our aid. All of this had happened before. France ruled Algeria for a hundred and twenty years, and sent hundreds of thousands of settlers to live there. The war which ended French rule in Algeria was harsh and bloody, more so than even the worst moments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. French settlers in Algeria were bitterly opposed  to a French evacaution, and fought with all their might for the preservation of  l'Algérie Francaise, and they had quite a few supporters within the ranks of the French Army. Moreover, there were more than a million settlers. Even without any refusal of orders, had soldiers and officers been required to physically grab each and every settler and drag them on board a ship sailing off to France, the entire French Army would not have been equal to the task.

French President Charles de-Gaulle, the man who got France out of Algeria, did not dream of such foolishness. In 1962 he signed the agreement which ended French rule in Algeria. This agreement stipulated that French settlers were free to choose whether to return to France or remain in independent Algeria. In the second case they could choose between French citizenship, Algerian citizenship or dual citizenship. In practice, almost all of them chose to evacuate, getting by their own power on the ships leaving the coast of Algeria.

If ever an Israeli government takes the path of peace - either from its own free choice or out of  recognizing the facts of life in the international arena in which the state of Israel must survive – it can be assumed that it will do so using the De Gaulle Method. The settlers will receive in good time a notification of the date for the evacuation of the Israeli military and the enactment of full Palestinian control and sovereignty. They will be able to decide freely on their future, each in his or her own way. Those who wish could remain in Palestine and establish there a Jewish community. Those who prefer to leave together with the army will get free of charge furniture removal trucks to transport their belongings. No soldier or officer will get the repugnant order to go in and drag them off by force.

Naftali Bennett and his fellows will not be faced with the difficult dilemma. They will not have to ask for a personal or a group exemption, nor face the possibility of refusing to obey an order. Will that satisfy them? That is far from sure.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Who has shot and who has there fallen

Mount Gilboa is darkened
A horse gallops from shadow to shadow.
A screaming voice cries high
From the fields of the Jezreel Valley.
Who has shot and who has there fallen
Between Beit Alpha and Nahalal?

What, what of the night?
Silence over Jezreel
Sleep, Valley, land of glorious beauty
We stand guard over you.

Who has shot and who has there fallen? Nathan Alterman, who wrote these words, left the question open and unanswered. He wrote it in 1934, as a young man making his first steps as a poet. Most of us were not yet born then, and the very old among us were children. The State of Israel was not yet created, and the Israel Defense Forces not yet been established, but the war in which we are involved today was already going on.

Just a year ago, December 9, 2011 there was not much doubt as to who shot and who fell at the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah in the West Bank. Like every Friday, villagers along with Israeli and international activists had embarked on a protest march towards the fresh water spring which the villagers had used until in 2009 it was taken over by settlers from the nearby settlement of Halamish. As always, their way was blocked by soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces, and as always there soon developed a confrontation in which soldiers fired tear gas and Palestinians threw stones, and as always it was difficult even for eye-witnesses to determine with any precision "who had started it".

But on this Friday something unusual did happen there, a bit different from the normal weekly routine. A soldier fired a gas grenade at close range directly to the head of a protestor. Firing tear gas grenades at close range can be lethal and therefore military orders explicitly prohibit to shoot like that. Indeed, this time the shooting was fatal.

The photographers who were present took photos of Mustafa Tamimi in real time, just after being hit, lying on the ground in a pool of blood. A gut-wrenching photo, and there is an ongoing debate on whether or not it should have been published.

But who had aimed and shot him at close range, directly to the head? Actually, this should not have been so much of a mystery, either. Photographer Haim Schwarzenberg documented the shooter at the very moment of shooting. His name and rank and all the details are well known to the IDF, but the military censor does not permit their publication. (A few days ago I saw a facebook page where the hidden name was published, but that page no longer exists. Someone had taken care to  remove it.  But searching in websites which are not based in Israel and not subject to Israeli censorship might still turn it up.)

It so happened that all this took place exactly on International Human Rights Day, when thousands of activists marched through the streets of Tel Aviv to mark this date. The soldiers probably never heard of such a day. What the anonymous shooter should have known is what are the military orders which he was violating.

The Military authorities, who do know this unknown soldier's identity, were supposed to interrogate and prosecute him. If not for murder or manslaughter, at least on a lesser charge such as a breach of military orders, or an improper use of firearms, or conduct unbecoming. At the very least, an offense which carries a sentence of a few months' suspended imprisonment. To date, nothing of this happened. The B'Tselem Human Rights group approached the Military Prosecution several times, and each time got the same answer: "The investigation is still underway."

A week ago, with Human Rights Day coming around again, a group of activists tried, maybe a bit naively, to arouse the conscience of Israeli society. Under the title "Who Killed Mustafa Tamimi?" they campaigned online and on Facebook and distributed leaflets in the streets and explicitly mentioned the name of the unknown shooter and also the names of those above him in the chain of command up to and including the Army Chief of Staff and the record each one of them has with regard to the killing of civilians. It is not always easy to get citizens of Israel to listen to messages of this kind (more on that later).

The Israeli media were not really interested in the story of a Palestinian resident who was shot and killed precisely a year ago and a of a soldier who shot to kill in contravention of the military orders and was not even slightly punished.  Editorial offices where bombarded with press releases prepared by activists and Human Rights organizations alike, but not a single word on the printed page nor on the air waves.

The media had no space for such moral stuff.  It just didn’t fit. These days they were in the mood of asserting again and again that IDF soldiers are fleeing before Palestinian demonstrators, and that this is a disgrace and an insult to national honor.

What made headlines were soldiers complaining about the military orders forbidding them to shoot demonstrators. These orders, they said, are too strict and harsh. They are being sent to "fight with tied hands" and their commanders are restraining them out of fear and apprehension of the photographers present at the arenas of clashes with Palestinian protesters and of the images which these photographers distribute worldwide. One soldier who is a fan of American  comics compared the photos taken by these photographers to kryptonite, the green substance which is the single weak spot of the otherwise mighty superhero Superman.

"A soldier symbolizes the sovereignty of the state. Throwing stones at him is an injury to national honor. National honor is power, hitting it hurts the country's very spine. The photographers documenting these events and distribute them are gravely damaging the position and power of the IDF" stated Former Chief Army Rabbi Avichai Ronsky. For his part, the once liberal columnist Dan Margalit demanded that the Army Chief of Staff no longer allow soldiers to retreat from protestors, but rather instruct them to open fire "even if the photos would not be good for Israel's public relations."

The most unequivocal was Avigdor Lieberman, just two days before he was forced to resign as Foreign Minister because of the affair of his underhand dealings with the Ambassador to Belarus. The Foreign Minister stated that "The open-fire regulations by which the IDF operates in Judea and Samaria do not contribute to calming the area but further fan the flaming passions. It is unacceptable that Palestinians who attack IDF soldiers will get out alive."

Certainly, all this talk had an impact. The immediate result of several days'  passionate calls upon soldiers to open fire in order to save the national honor of the State of Israel could be seen in a banner on the front page of the mass circulation "Yediot Ahronot": "Border Guard Fighting Woman Liquidates  Terrorist in Hebron. " And under it the details in smaller characters: "A young Palestinian attacked the Border Guard position at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a woman fighter responded cool-headedly, fired three bullets and liquidated him, the army is apprehensive that the wave of incidents would deteriorate into a Third Intifada." And a photo of the fighter appeared, her face blurred, under the caption "The Border Guard Heroine".  (As is well known, the Border Guard is at the forefront of promoting women's equality and has already given several of them ample opportunity to take part in the daily maintenance of the  occupation and show that they can be just as tough and brutal as their male colleagues.)

Buried deep in the news item was the information that the weapon in the hands of the dangerous dead terrorist had been in fact no more than a toy pistol.  Was it true, as the Heroine of the Border Police claimed, that he made very threatening gestures with it and that she had acted swiftly in order to save the life of a fellow fighter from a perceived real danger? Or is the correct version that of his family, who said that he was a boy celebrating his 17th birthday and going out to buy a cake rather than attack soldiers or border guards? Perhaps he had simply taken the plastic pistol out of his pocket to get to his ID card.

Human Rights organizations sent researchers to Hebron, trying to locate reliable witnesses and crosscheck and get a real idea of what did happen there. But it is unlikely that the papers would publish the results of the inquiry – certainly not in a banner headline on the front page. Most citizens of Israel already know exactly what happened: a warrior heroine killed a terrorist bastard, three cheers.

And in this case, who has shot and who has there fallen? The one who fell was Muhammad Salim, killed on his 17th birthday (on this, at least, there is no disagreement). The one who shot was a Border Guard fighter whose name starts with an N', whose identity we might or might not find out once upon a time. In the near future, during the elections campaign for Israel's  Knesset, there is likely to be a lot of shooting and a lot of people falling, there in the territories under Israel's military government over the past forty-five and a half years. As all experts say, every shooting incident helps to focus public attention on security issues, which directly facilitates the elections campaign of Binyamin Netanyahu and his partner Avigdor Lieberman. But what if the Third Intifada will indeed break out? Sufficient unto the day, first of all the Nationalist Camp must win the elections and form the next government.

And who killed Mustafa Tamimi? Really, who is still interested in such ancient affairs from a year ago?


Michal Vexler is one of the activists attempting to arouse interest among the citizens of Israel in the death of Mustafa Tamimi - and in the fate of the Palestinians under occupation in general. With her permission I publish here her story

On the Refinement of the Soul
By Michal Vexler

Right after the Human Rights Parade I met a hippie who knew me from Facebook, at the organic falafel stall opposite the Rabin Square. Young, sweet and smiling, full of light and love. She jumped at me a stormy hug windy and shook hands excitedly. At the questioning look on my face she explained that we know each other from Facebook, and some group called "The Academy for Superheroes", a group full to bursting with positive energies, seeking to improve the world by expanding concentric circles – first the superhero himself and his inside, then the community and finally the whole world.

I asked her if she enjoyed the parade, and she said she had skirted around it since "All these angry demonstrations are just not the right thing". As far as she was concerned, the parade was "full of negative energies."

I shrugged and walked away, but I kept thinking about her reaction. Perhaps the large turnout in the parade made me optimistic, or I believe in the ability of superheroes to at least listen and use their brains and emotion. One way or another, I decided to return to the falafel and talk to her, try to explain why I and a lot of other people are angry and why it is legitimate to be angry.

I tried to tell her how a year ago, just at the time of last years' parade, there was man -  somebody whom I know, with whose family I was friendly – demonstrated a few meters from his home, in his own village and ...

She stopped me:
"I don't want to hear."

"... But ... a,"

" I don't want to hear. It is rude of you to force me to hear things which have nothing to do with my life."

"It IS your life. It is your country, your army!"

"But it really does not interest me. Stop it!"

Then I did something that I had not planned to do, and I slammed on the table the shot of the bloody mangled face of Mustafa Tamimi -
"Bon appetit"
And I went away.

It was a bad and violent thing to do, like giving this photo of horror to a small girl.

Hippies with a developed spiritual awareness such as this girl make enormous efforts to preserve the tranquility  of their minds – never get angry, positive thinking, searching everywhere only for the light and pushing  the darkness as far away as they can. The soul of that hippie thing was probably the most pure and immaculate thing in that spotlessly clean Falafel stall.

Until that moment I did not understand how the term "Refined Souls" (Yefey Nefesh) had become such a pejorative term, but now I'm beginning to understand: A Refined Soul is someone who hovers above us like an angel, not tainted by our hatred because her life is very protected and insulated. I hate her because her soul is refined while mine in injured. I must remember that I too might become a  Refined Soul , and that wallowing in the sweat and blood of others will not automatically make me immune of arrogance and insensitivity. I pray to the Jewish God – the vengeful and implacable and furious God: Give me the strength to live in the harsh world you have made, in it and not above it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Jurist’s and Ambassador's Dilemma

Such an event does not occur every day at the halls of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. A year and a half ago, the right-wing majority in the Knesset passed the "Boycott Law" which claims to be a law against boycotting Israel, but in fact defines boycotting of the settlements as a “boycott of Israel.” The net result is to prohibit Israeli citizens from calling for a boycott of products made in settlements, but does not prohibit any other boycott call. It is perfectly OK to call for a consumer boycott, or organize a boycott due to religious dietary laws or working conditions or vegetarianism and care for animals. Israeli law does not even have any ban on outright racist boycotts, specifically targeting members of an ethnic group. Boycotts of all kinds and types are allowed. The sole exception is when Israeli citizens call for a boycott of products originating in the settlements - settlements in Occupied Territory, created in violation of International Law with the declared aim of preventing the Palestinians from establishing a state. Making such a call exposes one to  heavy damage claims by settlers and their supporters.

Several appeals have been filed against this law. By Gush Shalom of which I am the spokesperson, by Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi, by the Civil Rights Association and Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights and Coalition of Women for Peace and the the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, and many other organizations and individuals. The Supreme Court judges were not quick to pick up this hot potato. It took them a year and a half to set a preliminary hearing, which was held this week.

The petitioners' attorneys spoke out, one by one, telling the judges that this is a manifestly unconstitutional and anti-democratic law, seriously violating Israeli citizens' freedom of expression and of political organization. Then it was the turn of the Knesset's legal adviser, attorney Eyal Yinon, to face the judges, make a reply and defend the law enacted by his client, the Knesset of Israel. Only, there was one small hitch: Eyal Yinon himself opposes this piece of legislation, and like the petitioners he regards it as unconstitutional and anti-democratic.

"Before the bill was voted in, I spoke at length several times with the Knesset Members who initiated it. So did the other legal advisers, the Attorney General's representative the legal adviser of the Foreign Ministry and the one for the Ministry of Trade and Industry. We all made them aware of how problematic the bill was, we did our best to make it fit into a proper constitutional frameworks. However, our opinions are not binding on the Members of the Knesset, they passed it into law by majority vote. The court here has the authority to overrule them, legal advisors do not [emphasis mine]."

And the bottom line: "In the meantime, I serve as the legal counsel of the Knesset. I am duty bound to represent the Knesset and defend to the best of my ability the binding resolutions  taken by the Knesset majority". The Legal Adviser's dilemma did notso much impress the three judges on the panel. "Actually, you were sent here without ammunition," remarked Justice Salim Joubran. Not that  Joubran himself and his colleagues seem in a hurry to render their decision on this loaded issue? Maybe next week, maybe only in a year or two. There is no obligatory time frame.

In Israel, 2012, more and more decent persons find themselves facing a dilemma. One  is left to wonder what was exactly said  inside closed rooms at the foreign ministries in London and Paris, Madrid and Moscow and Canberra and Stockholm and Copenhagen and Cairo and where not, when Israeli ambassadors were invited one by one to receive one sharp rebuke after another.

The Israeli ambassadors heard through the media, without any prior notice, of the decision to build near the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, in the area known as E-1, a large new settlements which will serve as a barrier to prevent the Palestinians' territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank, and thus block their way to having a viable state.  There were in the media some echos of the annoyance felt by Israeli diplomats. They learned that this significant decision was not taken by the full Israeli cabinet, nor  by the Inner Cabinet nor even by The Nine who are the Inner-Inner Cabinet. In fact, it was taken by Netanyahu in an informal meeting with the Minister of Education and the Minister for  the Environment, who have no authority whatsoever to make such decisions but do happen to be Netanyahu's main supporters inside the Likud Party.

The Foreign Ministry sent a clear and unequivocal message to all ambassadors of Israel all over the world and instructed them to convey that precise message to their host governments: "We will continue to build wherever we want. The decision to expand construction beyond the Green Line will not be changed. Israel has built and will continue to build in Jerusalem, and in all places which are included in our map of strategic interests. Israel will insist upon its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure. The responsibility for the stalemate in the peace process rests with the Palestinians, and with them only". This text, too, the Ambassadors could read on the Israeli news websites before getting it by the formal diplomatic channels.

Did all Israeli ambassadors indeed convey this precise message to their English and French and the Danes and Swedes and other interlocutors all over the world? Or were some of them tempted to translate it into a language a bit more subtle and diplomatic? Or even add the tiniest hint of a personal disapproval?

Won't all this hurt Binyamin Netanyahu's electoral prospects next January? Probably not. At least, not as long as the strong reactions from world capitals are purely verbal. This the PM could well contain. He can even boast to his supporters and voters of how he ignores and defies all the pressures and continues (talking of)  building. It might even raise his standing in the polls. For the time being, he has no serious reason to worry. International pressure won’t cross the boundary of the merely verbal and escalate into measures which may have an impact on the Israeli economy and thereby on the personal economic situation of Netanyahu's voters. At least, not before  these elections…

Meanwhile, there was held in Tel Aviv the Human Rights Parade which has already become an annual tradition at the beginning of each December. Thousands of Israelis who feel no dilemma  about dissenting and outspokenly opposing the policies dictated by Netanyahu and Lieberman and their fellows. Thousands marched through the streets of Tel Aviv and chanted slogans and beat the drums and waved flags of all colors and signs in Hebrew and Arabic and English and Russian and some French and Amharic and Tigrinya, the languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea which share their own very distinctive script. Young and old, feminists, and slum neighborhood activists, and gays and lesbians, and Negev Bedouins in traditional clothing whose homes are destroyed every two weeks and are immediately built yet again, and black refugees living in the slums of south Tel Aviv under the shadow of the huge detention camps being built in the Negev to house them, and Tel Avivian lower middle class couples with their children and babies and dogs and signs retained from the great social protests of last year.

Three Anarchists, who are going out every week to take part in demonstrations at  West Bank villages and breathe tear gas together with Palestinian villagers, performed a remarkable kind of street theater. Their fellow activists bound their hands behind their backs with tight and painful plastic handcuffs, and blindfolded them with rolls of military flannel originally designed for cleaning guns, a realistic and completely accurate simulation of Palestinian detainees. The detainees who are every night taken out of their beds by the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces and handcuffed and blindfolded  and taken in for questioning under moderate physical pressure at the facilities of the General Security Service of Israel. Sometimes five per night and sometimes fifteen. Two weeks ago, precisely on the night after the ceasefire came into force in Gaza, there were fifty-five detainees on one night in a special operation under the supervision of the Commanding General Center in person.

In these detentions the media is not present, and if someone takes photos of the bound and blindfolded detainees it is a military photographer and the photos enter the military files and get a high security classification. The three handcuffed and blindfolded activists were spread for an hour in plain sight, on the tarmac of Ibn Gabirol Street at the very heart  of Tel Aviv. Thousands of demonstrators marching past them looked with shock at this presentation, and the press photographers converged and took dozens of photos of the three lying handcuffed  on the road. Also the police forensic team arrived and took photos, for the classified files at police headquarters…

Nathan Blanc of Haifa had not taken part in this demonstration. Nathan Blanc is already for several weeks in the military prison. Since the day set by the Israel Defense Forces for his call-up came by,  when he arrived at the recruitment base and announced to the recruiting officers his refusal to join an army whose main business is occupation and oppression. He was   immediately sent off to the military prison, and after a week and a half taken from the prison back to the recruitment base and again given the order to join the army and again refused and again sent to prison. From the experience of earlier refusers, he can expect to run that gauntlet many more times, over and over again ordered and refusing and imprisoned, many  short terms of detention which could altogether accumulate to quite a long time behind bars. But this is a typical example of a stubborn and recalcitrant person, who faces no dilemma in saying no.