Friday, December 27, 2013

About goodies, baddies and two little girls

Communications media are an integral part of society. They reflect but also shape the common conceptions of their society. Societies at war cultivate the perception that we are the Good Guys.  It is this perception which facilitates the use of weapons, making it easier for the Good Guys to kill the Baddies facing them. Our fighters are heroic and humane soldiers, theirs are terrible monstrous terrorists. Our dead civilians were innocent victims of cruel  murder, theirs are unfortunate mistakes, collateral damages . And even our  children are sweeter and far more precious than theirs.

1 ) November : Avigail, two years old, from Jerusalem

It was a month ago, on the night of November 28, 2013. Shirin Ben Zion , resident of the Armon HaNatziv neighborhood in East Jerusalem, returned  home in her car, with her  three children in the back. On the road separating the Israeli Armon HaNatziv neighborhood from the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher, stones were thrown at the car. One of the stones hit the head of the two year old Avigail. The terrified mother rushed her to medical treatment. Emergency services reported later that evening that "the toddler is not in life danger, she was conscious and in a stable condition when hospitalized in the trauma unit of Hadassah Hospital."

Armon HaNatziv is one of a string of Jewish neighborhoods founded in the early 1970’s in East Jerusalem, recently conquered and annexed to Israel, with the aim of "creating facts on the ground ", "thickening the Jewish population” and creating “a Jewish ring” all around the Old City.  Armon HaNatziv was built on a large area expropriated in 1970 from the Sur Baher  Palestinians, who until then used this area to pasture their  herds . There was some friction between the Palestinian residents and the Israelis living on their former land, flaring into violence during the First and Second Intifada and again in the past year. Outside the borders of Israel, such neighborhoods as Armon HaNatziv are  considered as Occupied Territory, and were counted as such in the EU guidelines which recently got to the headlines. But Shirin Ben Zion was not aware of all that, when she moved with her ​​husband and children at a relatively quiet time two years ago. To her, as to most Israelis, Armon HaNatziv is no more than an ordinary Jerusalem neighborhood where housing prices happen to be lower than otherwhere.

The injury of toddler Avigail Benzion immediately got the headlines, and newspapers competed with sensational formulations: "Toddler Injured in Terrorist Attack", "Stone Terrorism On The Rise", "Intolerable Escalation On Jerusalem Seam Line". Little Avigail's picture appeared on every front page, and extensive interviews were published with the distraught mother (who plans to move to another neighborhood as soon as possible) and with other family members who told how they heard the devastating news .

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat , recently re-elected in elections which Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem completely boycotted, hurried to the hospital to visit the toddler and make a statement to the numerous press representatives present: "This is intolerable. The punishment for throwing stones should be increased, a stone is a weapon, pure and simple."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that "the security forces will take all measures to get the bastards who hit little Avigail". Already in the wee hours of the same night , detectives arrived at the homes of four young Palestinians in Sur Baher and took them into custody on suspicion that they were the perpetrators. The capture was reported with great satisfaction on the following morning, and no journalist expressed the slightest doubt about the detainees’ guilt.

Three days later, the media reported the good news that Little Avigail was discharged from the hospital, apparently without long-term injury although she would remain under medical observation. Thus, more or less, ended this story and the media spotlights shifted elsewhere.

2 ) December: Hala, three years old, from Gaza

It was a week of escalation in the relations between Israelis and Palestinians . Last weekend, the 23-year old Nafi A-Saadi was killed in Jenin Refugee Camp when the Palestinian inhabitants brazenly dared to oppose a late night raid and detentions by Israeli soldiers. At Qalqiliya, the 28-year old Saleh Yassin was killed under similar circumstances . And Odeh Hamad, 27, killed when he approached the border fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel. The Palestinians say he just wanted to collect junk metal for recycling, which was his source of livelihood, while according to the military he was trying to sabotage the fence. Anyway, he entered the area of three hundred meters from the fence, and under the rules established by the IDF anyone who does that is liable to an immediate death penalty .

These cases got hardly any mention in the Israeli media, which did report on Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the following days.  An explosive device was placed on a bus in Bat Yam, and due to the vigilance of passengers and driver detonated without casualties. On the next day Ramy Ravid, 41 , a settler who served as a community policeman in the Geva Binyamin settlement near Ramallah, was stabbed in the back while directing  traffic at the entrance to the settlement, but luckily the knife missed his vital organs. And on the following day, the 22-year old Salah Abu Latif, a civilian contractor from the town of Rahat in the Negev working for the Israeli Defense Ministry went to repair the Gaza border fence order to earn money to buy a house and get married, was fired at by an anonymous Palestinian sniper, and was killed on the spot.

Salah Abu Latif was a Bedouin from the Negev, a community targeted by the government plan to displace tens of thousands of its members from their homes and lands. Just a few weeks ago, Bedouin demonstrations were dispersed with great police violence, with some of the detained demonstrators – Bedouins of Abu Latif’s age - still behind bars in a particularly prolonged detention. Abu Latif had been killed as a civilian employee of the military. The Government of Israel decided that the killing of an Israeli citizen cannot be tolerated, and ordered the army to take immediate retaliation.

As noted by veteran commentator Alex Fishman, there has long existed an explicit directive by the Army Chief of Staff and the Commanding General South, to be effected when such reprisals are called for, entitled "Zero Collateral Damage". I.e., the targets and weapons for a retaliatory action should be carefully selected so as to avoid harming non-combatants .

Among other things, it is well known that the guns installed on tanks are effective and appropriate means of doing battle with other tanks, but their use otherwise is likely to culminate with "Collateral Damage". For reasons which remain unknown (and it is far from sure that anyone would ever try to investiagate them) it was decided that firing tank shells would be  a quick available retaliation for the death of Salah Abu Latif. A tank crew was instructed to fire a few shells in the general direction from which the sniper had shot (and from where he had long since departed) .

The Al Buheiry Family owns a small chicken farm east of the Maghazy Refugee Camp  in the central Gaza Strip. One of the tank shells scored a direct hit on the family home. Three year old Hala Buheiry was killed on the spot by shrapnel in her head. He brother Bilal, also three years old, was wounded as were the six years old Muhammad and the children’s mother.

In the Israeli newspapers of the next day it was very difficult to find any trace or reference to the death of three year old Hala Al Buheiry. Her photo did not appear on the front pages, nor was it to be found on any page. Also in the banner headlines telling of the army’s retaliation in Gaza her death was not mentioned.  Those who read newspaper reports carefully without missing a word could find, buried inconspicuously among many other details, a reference that "the Palestinians assert that a child of three was killed”. Not an objective fact. It is something which the Palestinians assert.

What was the name of the girl? Who were the members of her family? How did it happened, exactly? Those who wanted such needed to access the Palestinian news sites. Technically, that is very easy for anyone whose computer in connected online, a click with the computer mouse is enough . But very few Israelis even consider looking in Palestinian news sites .

What did get the wide attention of the media were the reports of a high alert in the Gaza Border region, in expectation of a Palestinian retaliation. Long-suffering border communities made feverish preparation, and the army  placed batteries of the Iron Dome anti-missile-missile as far away as Be'er Sheva, and that army prepared for a new round of major. But in recent weeks the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have already suffered greatly from the devastating combination of torrential rains and floods, of the long standing Israeli siege and of the Egyptian military regime’s manifest hostility towards the Hamas government in Gaza.  From the Strip came only a symbolic response to the death of the little Hala Al-Boheiry, two rockets fired at night towards Israeli fields, causing no casualties or damage. Escalation was halted . At least in that sector, at least for the time being.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Israeli heel of Achilles

Written Dec. 17, in Dutch, by Beate Zilversmidt  for "Een Ander Joods Geluid" (A different Jewish Voice)

Europe starts at last to show some muscle regarding the aim of "peace in the Middle East." The beginnings we saw in the official exclusion of the Israeli settlements from the lucrative Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation project, formulated in a document which the government of Israel finally co-signed.

Then, there was the controversial canceling (by Holland) of festivities planned for the state visit to Israel of Dutch PM Rutte. It was about the inauguration of equipment donated by the Dutch taxpayer which quickly scans truckloads of fruit and vegetables, thus circumventing the Israeli obstacles for export from Gaza. But still the strawberries were not let through and it turned out that the obstacles were not just security considerations, as asserted earlier.

Soon afterwards - another reason to be proud of Holland: the decision by the  Vitens Company not to embark on cooperation with the Israeli water company Mekorot, which is exploiting Palestinian resources. While the Dutch government not yet blacklisted Mekorot, the Vitens directorate seems to expect that measures against business involvement with the settlements might acerbate in the future.

And today I read in Haaretz that the ambassadors of the five biggest EU states jointly visited the Israeli Foreign Ministry and warned against further plans to expand building in settlements. So far, after every positive gesture squeezed from Israel, such as releasing prisoners, the ultra-right was pacified by the Netanyahu government with building plans.

These are badly needed points of light. With an impossible Israeli government and a declining superpower America, it is the time of doom scenarios.

But ... there are also signs that the Obama rule is making the transition of U.S autocracy to the broadening of power. Without cooperation with Russia there would not have been achieved an agreement about Syria's chemical weapons, nor about Iran's nuclear process. And, apparently, Washington holds the opinion that without cooperation with Europe nothing will come of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Obama and Kerry preserve for themselves the role of "good cop" - for reasons of internal American politics. To Europe falls the task of swaying the stick.

There are those in Israel who see it coming and try to escape from Israeli isolation by strengthening ties with China. But it is a question whether that would keep Israelis happy.

It's not only academics for whom access to the Western World is a high priority. Israel's sport scene is particularly Europe oriented. So far, Israeli footballers and fans feel quite at home there. But perhaps that's where the Israeli heel of Achilles is located.

Friday, December 13, 2013

‘Security’ or hidden motives? A video answer

I intended this week to write about what is going on in the so much debated Jordan Valley.  Is the Jordan Valley really needed for Israel’s security? How could Israeli troops, stationed there, help against missiles which target Israel's cities? Just an old-fashioned military concept? Or are there hidden motives at work?

Instead of writing about it, I post the following video, provided by 'Israel Social TV' – Hebrew-spoken with English subtitles

Saturday, December 7, 2013

And then came the Bedouin Day of Rage

The media usually weren't interested. "So the Bedouins are demonstrating again? Against the Prawer Law? You mean this law of Minister Begin? And also Jews will demonstrate with them? A few leftists perhaps. How do you call this village where they demonstrate? I never heard of such a place. An unrecognized village? Well then, who can recognize it. Twenty kilometers from Beershebah? I see. Tomorrow evening at seven? Well, we'll see if we have somebody free. Say, why are the Bedouins crying so much, anyway? The government wants to give them modern houses, what's wrong with that. What do you say? They are going to be expelled from their lands? Tens of thousands? But Bedouins are nomads. Nomads don't have lands. What do you say? Bedouins aren't nomads? But everybody knows Bedouins are nomads. No matter, say, is there going to be something hot in this demonstration? Some clash, something sexy? What? You are not planning to clash with the police? No action? Well, I will see whether we have somebody free in the South at that time. Bye."

On lucky occasions, a photo did make it into the back-pages: a sheikh in traditional clothing, and behind him young Bedouins in jeans together with students from Tel-Aviv University holding signs "Prawer will not pass!" in Hebrew and Arabic. But it quite often happened that a demonstration - even a big one - took place without the Israeli public knowing about it even by a hint.

Politicians and commentators were heard saying that this was a good law which would greatly benefit the Bedouins and what a pity it was that the ingrates did not grasp this. There were also who said that the law would give the Bedouins far more than they deserved, that indeed they deserved nothing at all,  since the Bedouins “are taking over State Lands and building on them illegally " and “constitute a demographic threat" and “organized crime is rampant among them " and so on and so on. " State Lands" was the term commonly used, which is their status under Israeli law.  

The Bedouins tried their best to reiterate that they had lived in the Negev centuries before Israel dreamed of being born, that land ownership by every tribe and every family within each tribe had been determined by Bedouin Tribal Law and has been recognized by the many changing rulers who had power in this country. For example, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II had not always been a paragon of enlightenment in his conduct, but when he decided to build the town of Beersheba in the middle of the desert he made ​​sure to buy the land from its Bedouin owners at full price. When the land came under British rule, Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill came to Jerusalem in March 1921, where he met with a delegation of Bedouin sheikhs and assured them that the tribes’ ownership over their lands would be respected and that land ownership cases in the Negev would be adjudicated according to Bedouin Tribal law - a promise which was honored until the day when the last British High Commissioner sailed away. Also the Zionist movement at the time, when seeking to set up Kibbutzim in the Negev, saw no problem in approaching  Bedouin land owners, paying for the land and signing with them deeds of sale.  

Only when the Negev became part of the newly founded Israel was the legal situation changed and with a stroke of the pen all Bedouin lands became State Lands, a property of the Government of Israel earmarked for the settlement of Jews. Overnight, the Bedouins became "intruders" and "squatters" in their own ancestral lands, and many of them were expelled in the early 1950’s. Some were transferred by force beyond the borders, and those who remained inside Israel were concentrated in a small area called "The Sayyag”. It is from this small remnant that the "Prawer Law " would expel them.

The facts of this history had been written down by Bedouins with a university education and by several Human Rights organizations.  This was published in articles and brochures and internet websites as well as in several thick tomes, full of documents and photos. But all this stuff reached mainly those who were  convinced already. Most citizens of Israel neither knew nor cared.

The Prawer Law’s  public relations were greatly helped by its being identified  with former minister Benny Begin, a man with a reputation for honesty and integrity who was considered a Liberal by Likud Party standards – which led other Likudniks, who have no fondness for Liberals, to terminate Begin’s career early this year.  The “Regulation of Negev Bedouin Settlement Act", to cite its official name, was Begin’s swan song. He gave repeated assurances  that his bill was drafted in consultation with Bedouins; that it was designed to help them and improve their conditions and to give their children better opportunities in life. It is quite possible that Begin himself honestly believed so.

But Human Rights activists have examined the text of the bill presented to the Knesset and found that, as in many cases, "the devil is in the details." When the details were looked into, it emerged that the bill which Begin introduced in the cabinet and the Knesset was virtually identical with that proposed a year earlier by Ehud Prawer, former military officer and a senior official of the Prime Minister’s bureau.

The bill states that any Bedouin may file a request for a piece of land to be registered in his name and that "whenever possible" this would be the land on which he is living at present. But what will determine whether this is "possible" or "impossible"? The bill does not say. And where will those who are moved get alternative land? Would it be in one of the Bedouin townships, very densely populated and poverty stricken, where the State of Israel already concentrated tens of thousands of Bedouins in the seventies? On this, too, the bill remains  silent.

What does appear very explicitly is the penal clause: a Bedouin dissatisfied with the deal offered him could not challenge it in court - and if insisting on remaining at his current location, he would be evicted by force and might be liable to as much as two years’ imprisonment. At the cabinet meeting where the bill was adopted as an official policy of the Government of Israel, the estimate was made that implementation of the law would necessitate the recruiting of  several hundred new police officers. By now, even without the law being finally adopted, the officers have already been recruited and a new police unit,  called "Yoav " has already started operations in the Negev Bedouin villages.

How many of the thirty-five “Unrecognzied Villages”, which have existed for many years though denied links to water and electricity, are condemned by the Prawer Law to be demolished and razed to the ground? No one knows. How many residents would be expelled? No one knows this, either. The figure of thirty to forty thousand, mentioned in various demonstrations and protests, is only a reasonable estimate. To be more precise, somebody – or a few select somebodies – might know. Already for some time, journalists with good sources in the corridors of power tell of a map depicting exactly what the consequences of the Prawer Law would be on the ground, which villages would be destroyed and which would survive. But this map, if it exists, is kept a closely guarded secret, as if it were a top secret military document. Certainly no one had presented it to the Knesset Members who are expected to vote on this bill.

By the way, it might be that the similarity to military secrecy is not completely coincidental, considering that most of the government officials involved in the issue have an extensive military past. In charge of the implementing the Bedouin Resettlement Project is none other than Major General ( Ret.) Doron Almog – the same Doron Almog who in 2005 fled in haste from Heathrow Airport in London when being told that a British arrest warrant had been  issued against him on suspicion of war crimes, because of his involvement in the destruction of fifty Palestinian houses in the Gaza Strip .

The Bedouins have very many good reasons for protesting and crying out with all their might against this bill, but until this week their cry did not really reach the ears of the general public. Out of Israel, it got a bit little more of an echo. In  many places there were protest demonstrations at Israeli embassies and institutions (including some by young American Jews ). Quite a lot of people went into YouTube to view “Fiddler Without a Roof”, the video produced by " Rabbis for Human Rights and featuring Theodore Bikel , well known for portraying Tevye  in “Fiddler on the Roof”. " A comparison is drawn between the expulsion of the Jews from the shtetl of Anatebka in Czarist Russia - with which the musical ends - and the expected expulsion of the Negev Bedouin, touching many sensitive strings.

Also the European Parliament held a special session on the Prawer Law and its implications. This did get covered in the Israeli media, mainly in a tone of exasperation at the European interference in internal Israeli affairs and broad hints that this was due to anti-semitism.

The Prawer Law rolled forward through the Israeli legislative system – approved in its First Reading after a tense and heated debate and going on to the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee – towards final approval and entry into the statute books of the State of Israel and implementation on the ground by the hundreds of police officers who were already been recruited. But then the ​​government of Binyamin Netanyahu went one provocation too far. A few weeks ago the ministers went southwards to the Negev and held a special cabinet meeting at Kibbutz Sde Boker, where Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion lived in his last years and where he is buried. So as to celebrate Ben Gurion’s heritage, a special “Facing towards the Negev” governmental program was adopted. Its centerpiece would be the demolition and complete razing of the Bedouin village of Umm Al Hiran and the creation on its site of a  a Jewish community called - how original – Hiran. A kind of appetizer towards the main course to be served once the Prawer Law is enacted by the Knesset. The intended new residents of Jewish-Hiran-to-be have already been selected and are getting ready to move in. Interestingly, they are religious-nationalists, mostly young settlers who will be coming directly from settlements on the West Bank. "The Negev is Eretz-Yisrael, too, and it is incumbent on Jews to settle there." said their leader on the radio. " I don’t understand all this fuss.  When we went into Judea and Samaria, Peace Now called upon us to go down to the Negev instead. Now we are really going there. Has that become forbidden, too?" Yes, mister settler, also within the Green Line stealing somebody else’s property is a morally unacceptable act.

The Umm al-Hiran affair was the spark which set off the  “Bedouin Day of Rage", on November 30, 2013 – a date which might well go down in the history of the Bedouins in Israel, and not only theirs. There was a major demonstration of Bedouins and their supporters at the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev, as well as solidarity protests in Haifa and Jaffa and  Taybeh and the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. And the media editors were certainly not disappointed this time. These demonstrations were very hot indeed, with a lot of "action " .

"A policeman grabbed a girl by the throat, right near me. When I tried to convince him to leave her alone, he hit me in the leg with his club” wrote veteran activist Alma Biblash a few hours after returning from Hura. "Another officer grabbed me by the arms and dragged me away. A moment later the second policeman grabbed a little boy standing next to me, and stuck his face hard into the ground, screaming and threatening to kill him . A young woman called out “Relax, stop beating everybody!”. He slapped her hard in the face and she fell. They started spraying the crowd with a strong stream of stinking water, and I run and run to get away from this horrible smell. A man ran near me. Suddenly the mounted police came, throwing him up into the air. I hid behind a parked car with stun grenades exploding all around. At a quiet moment I decided to go back again towards the buses. On the way I saw a crying child on the floor, I told him it was dangerous to sit there like this, but he did not hear me or maybe did not understand Hebrew . Finally he got up and ran with me. Suddenly somebody called him, he recognized the voice, snatched away his hand and run off. Finally I got back on the bus, more or less a safe place. One friend came in with a swollen face, another with a deep gash in her back, blood on her face and her shirt. Some who were at the demonstration did not return, they were left in police detention. Some had been taken off to detention in ambulances . "

The next day, the Bedouin made the headlines in every newspaper in Israel. "Riot, Disturbances, Clashes". "Bedouins take to the streets." "Bedouins burst out in furious demonstrations." "Bedouins rioted and rampaged." "Violence in the Negev." "Bedouins threw stones at police officers". " Brutal police violence against Bedouins, children and youths dragged on the pavement". “The Negev is exploding". “Is The Third Intifada starting - in the Negev?". The angles of coverage were different and contradictory, but certainly a few hours of clashes in front of clicking cameras did what a year of peaceful protests never did. The Bedouins and their problem with the Prawer Law got to the top of the public agenda .

"This was only a minority of radical law-breaker, the Bedouin silent majority supports the government’s plan. We will not yield to violence" declared PM Netanyahu. Also President Peres declared his support for going on with the legislation as “the best available solution”. But precisely Netanyahu’s partners on the far right seem to have a different opinion. "Bennett and Lieberman agreed to torpedo the Bedouin Law " announced a banner headline in Ma’ariv”. As the reporter noted, there is only a narrow margin in the Knesset separating the left-wing which opposes the Prawer Law and the government supporters. If it will also be opposed by two major right wing parties, Naftali Bennet’s “Jewish Home” and Avigdor Liebarman’s “Israel is Our Home”, it would be a death blow to the Prawer law. "This law was a personal project of Benny Begin. Begin assured us that the Bedouins will support it. Now we see the Bedouins are violently resisting it, so why should we support it? Why should we give them anything at all? We will teach the Bedouins a lesson,  torpedo this law and then go on to defend the lands of the Jewish Nation, with no concessions. No holds barred" said KM Robert Iltov, Lieberman's representative .

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, a veteran Human Rights activist, compared the “punishing" of the Bedouins by torpedoing the Prawer Law  with the story of  the mischievous "Br’er Rabbit" in Black American folklore, who tricked his enemies bent upon punishing him and made them throw him into the thicket of thorns which was his home.

And seriously - with or without the Prawer Law , the struggle for the rights of the Negev Bedouins has just begun.

Stop the Begin-Prawer Law -

Demonstration in Tel - Aviv
Today , Saturday , December 7, 2013 at 19:00
Ben-Zion Boulevard corner King George

We call:
No to the Begin-Prawer Plan!
No to displacement of 40,000 Bedouin from their homes!
No to the destruction of dozens of villages!
Yes to the alternative zoning plan formulated by the Bedouin community!!!
 Stand with the Bedouin Community! Come and be counted!

(signed) The Recognition Forum

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Light unto the Nations - anno 2013

On the day where there was signed in Geneva the agreement between Iran and the six powers I was on a family vacation in Holland.  In order to understand the main message of the headlines and the editorials,  no need of a perfect command of the Dutch language. There was an obvious relief at the receding shadow of a new war to be fought in the Middle East. Only at the bottom of the news item could be found the word "Netanyahu."

On the day when I came back to this crazy country, I opened the TV and I saw my prime minister speaking at a Chanukka ceremony near the Wailing Wall. It was there that he said: "We have come to expel the darkness, and the darkness is a nuclear Iran. If possible, it is better to do this by diplomatic means - and if not, we will be a Light unto the Nations."

"Light unto the Nations" is a ancient expression first used by the biblical prophets.  It conveys a vision of World Peace, "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks". The days of  "Light unto the Nations" were supposed to be an Utopian future in which Jews will set an example of sublime moral and peace-seeking behaviour. Not exactly what is reflected in the real existing state of the Jews...

The term has now gotten a meaning, rather different from how for example Israel's first prime minister, Ben Gurion, still used it.  Nowadays, "Light unto the Nations" means the blazing fire of a big war which the State of Israel will initiate and into which it will drag the rest of the world. Indeed, an innovative interpretation of the ancient term for which Benyamin Netanyahu deserves all the credit.

This week, we also saw another Benyamin Netanyahu, a bit less assertive and militant, conducting negotiations with the European Union on the sensitive issue of the settlements. Already several months ago, the EU declared that in the framework of the "Horizon 2020" scientific cooperation program European funds will be given only to Israeli institutions located and active in the recognized sovereign territory of the State of Israel. Not to any settlement institute located in occupied territory, neither in the West Bank, nor in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, whose unilateral annexation was never recognized by any other state. This week, there was no further time for delays. The government of Israel had simply to decide whether or not to adhere to the program under the European conditions.

For a moment, it had seemed that Netanyahu was bent on a head-on confrontation. He considered defending at all costs the settlements created in the territory where our ancestors lived 2000 years ago, to the extent of giving up for their sake half a billion Euro in grants to Israeli universities and research institutes, and also cut off the extensive networks of priceless contacts between Israeli scientists and their European colleagues. But, at the anguished outcry of the university heads gave in, and signed the agreement finalizing what was named by the media as "the European boycott."

"This agreement is a moral, diplomatic and judicial disaster" cried ultra-right former Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad.  "In the emergency cabinet meeting the right-wing ministers were stammering and finally folded up. For some dozens of millions of Euros per year, they are willing to sell their mothers, Jerusalem, sovereignty and national honour. They are trampling the Boycott Law which was a major achievement of the Greater Israel lobby in the previous Knesset." Eldad bitterly concluded: "They are nothing but rag dolls! When Netanyahu will go towards creating a Palestinian state in Judea and Samariya none of them will stop him."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Small sparks

At the border of Gaza, the Hamas tunnel experts and the IDF’s counter-tunnel  specialists are conducting a ceaseless battle of wits, of which only a small portion is seen on the surface. Two  weeks ago, the IDF announced with great fanfare the uncovering of a Hamas tunnel dug under the border and reaching a few hundred meters into Israeli territory. A week later, soldiers entered the Strip in order to drill and destroy the tunnel from its Palestinian end. But the Hamas had anticipated this move and booby-trapped the tunnel. The Israeli drill detonated a large explosive charge. Six tunneling experts of the army’s Engineering Corps were wounded in the explosion. One of them - Second Lieutenant Achiya Klein - was severely wounded and he several days hovered between life and death.

Three days later the mass circulation "Yediot Aharonot " published a major news item, written in a highly sentimental language: "The country’s eyes on you! Officer injured in the Tunnel of Terror wakes after  three days’ coma - Doctors struggle to save engineering officer’s eyesight - " We are very happy and excited" says mother, but the struggle for Achiya’s eyes will be long  and hard". Illustrating the article was a photo of the Second Lieutenant before his injury, in a very combative and militant position with the muzzle of his sub machine gun aimed straight at the viewer. At the end of the article, following a detailed description of the officer’s medical condition, his mood upon awakening and the words of doctors, family members and comrades in arms, there was a short and dry piece of further news: "The air force successfully liquidated four Palestinian tunnel experts."

On the same day that this story of Second Lieutenant Achiya Klein was published, Palestinian prisoner Hassan al-Turabi died at Ha’emek Hospital in Afula. The 23-year old Turabi had been arrested in January, on charges of membership in the Islamic Jihad and of hurling stones and Molotov cocktails. During his detention in Megiddo Prison the leukemia from which he was already suffering burst out. The prison medics did not take his situation seriously. Even when he collapsed and started vomiting blood, ten days elapsed before the authorities decided to send him to a hospital intensive care unit.

News of his death sparked protests among all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. At Megiddo Prison, twenty prisoners were injured when holding a protest in the prison yard and being forcibly dispersed by guards.  Issa Karaka, PA Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs, blamed his death on negligence by the Prison Service . The Israeli public barely heard any of this, there was only one brief news item on a single news website.

It was also the same day that National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror warned PM Netanyahu and his ministers of the serious consequences which might follow upon collapse of negotiations with the Palestinians. The Situation Report he presented at the cabinet meeting was described by government ministers as "honest and sober ."

Amidror stressed that the resumption of the peace process with Palestinians had contributed significantly to Israel's international standing. And he warned that, conversely, "failure of the negotiations would increase the trend of boycotts against and international isolation of Israel." He cited the sanctions imposed several months ago by the EU against settlements in the West Bank , East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. This, he said, was a conscious decision of the EU to confront Israel, politically as well as economically. Amidror stressed that Israel must take seriously the EU move, which constitutes a kind of economic boycott .

This was the very last Situation Report which Ya’akov Amidror provided to the government ministers. Amidror, who had held the powerful position of National Security Adviser for two and a half years and was for a time one of the closest advisers to PM Netanyahu, had handed in his resignation.

When Amidror started on his job he was considered to be on the deep right. After a while, however, foreign diplomats came to consider him “one of the more pragmatic and responsible Israeli officials”, while the settlers and their supporters in the government started calling him “The leftist of Netanyahu's bureau”. On one occasion Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sarcastically asked  Amidror  “Did you already acquire your Meretz member card?”.

Several months ago, rumors started circulating of a growing friction between Amidror and other members of the Prime Minister’s entourage, and later also with the PM himself. Eventually, Amidror was reported to have told his associates that he has defined a deadline to end his job. He said that the work was wearing him down and that “non-optimal working conditions at the PM’s bureau” led him to a feeling he'd had enough and that it was time to retire. For its part, the PM’s bureau denied all such rumors and reiterated that Amidror had left at the time which had already been predetermined upon his taking office .

As it happened, the departure of Amidror occurred just days before the return of Avigdor Lieberman to the Foreign Ministry. The prolonged judicial proceedings which had cast a shadow on Lieberman's political position had ended in acquittal. There was no dispute of the fact that some years ago the Israeli ambassador in Belarus did provide the Foreign Minister with classified information on a criminal investigation, taking place at the time, into the minister’s private international business activity. However, the judges of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled that no clear evidence was produced of a criminal conspiracy linking the ambassador’s providing this information with the minister's action several years later in promoting the ambassador's diplomatic career.

The judges did write that Lieberman 's conduct  was "unworthy  and immoral”,  and that it definitely “did not meet the standards of behavior expected of a public figure in general and of a senior cabinet minister in particular." Lieberman, however, brushed all this contemptuously aside, being solely interested in the judges’ bottom line: "It remains unclear whether these acts amount to a criminal offense." Which means that Lieberman is triumphantly returning to the Foreign Ministerial position, which had been kept for him over the last year.

Avigdor Lieberman is known for his disdainful attitude to the negotiations with the Palestinians, and has repeatedly declared that it is impossible to reach peace and there is no point in trying. At exactly the time of Lieberman’s acquittal, "Yediot Aharonot " published a list of the stumbling blocks over which negotiations with the Palestinians are in danger of breaking up. These include a demand to maintain an Israeli corridor penetrating deep into Palestinian territory, so as to maintain control over the settlement of Nokdim at the edge of the Judean Desert . It happens that the Nokdim  settlement is where the old-new  Foreign Minister has made his home.

Stumbling blocks do go on accumulating at a dizzying pace . Last week, Netanyhau sent Deputy Minister Ophir Akunis, one of the most prominent hawks in the Likud Knesset faction, to announce on the Knesset floor an accelerated settlement construction drive – designed to "counter- balance” the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, which so much infuriated the right-wing. 

The mission was very much to Akunis’ liking: "The government of Israel considers Judea and Samaria to be the Cradle of the Jewish People, and therefore construction in Judea and Samaria will continue and intensify" he explained.  "More than 3,500 units are being planned now. These include 255 units in Ofra, 509 in Givat Zeev, 256 in Ma'ale Adumim and 196 in Karney Shomron . Also at Beitar Illit, plans are promoted  to build 398 new housing units. Additionally, there will be advance planning for  altogether more than 2,000 housing units apportioned among the following settlements: Givat Ze'ev , Karney Shomron , Almog, Aley Zahav , Yakir , Kfar Adumim – Nofey Prat, Mechola , Talmon , Bracha, Ofra , Beit El and Shilo." Also in the settler neighborhoods in East Jerusalem extensive building plans were approved, and for good measure a National Park on the slopes of Mount Scopus, whose main objective is to forbid construction there and thus prevent the expansion of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods .

On the next day, this entire settlement expansion list was reproduced in the Palestinian media, precipitating protest and outrage. The method of "Carrot and Stick" is well-known.  Here there was, however, such a miniature carrot, a few dozens of released prisoners out of thousands in the Israeli jails, as compared to a very long and heavy stick dealing out very painful blows.

"Until the end of the nine months of negotiations, will there remain land in which to establish the Palestinian state?” read a statement issued by the Palestinian Authority. Saeb Erekat , the veteran Palestinian negotiator, threatened to resign but was persuaded to stay on. "By dividing the release of prisoners into four stages during the nine months, Netanyahu succeeded to trap the Palestinians and deprive them of what is virtually their only diplomatic weapon – the threat to quit the negotiations" wrote Palestinian commentator Daoud Kuttab .

With headlines heralding the imminent collapse of the talks and of the entire process, Secretary of State John Kerry landed at Ben Gurion International Airport. It was the precise anniversary for the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and from the airport Kerry went to lay a wreath on the memorial at the scene in Tel Aviv - before embarking on an emergency effort to lower the flames. First and foremost, he strove to mollify the Palestinians and provide them with some measure of hope.

In public statements, especially a prime time joint interview with the Israeli and Palestinian TVs, Kerry reiterated: "What is the alternative to peace? A continuation of the never-ending conflict. The alternative to talks is chaos. Does Israel want a Third Intifada? If we do not resolve the issues between Israelis and Palestinians, the international isolation of Israel will increase, the campaigns of de-legitimacy against Israel will increase. Unless we solve the settlement issue and put an end to the presence of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank , unless we make peace while there is a [Palestinian] leadership committed to non-violence, then we will eventually find ourselves facing a  leadership which advocates violence."
Kerry warned against continuation of the status quo: "I know that there are Israelis who say something like 'We have a separation fence, there is no everyday friction, our finances are pretty good.' Well, I have news for you: the status quo of today will not be the status quo of tomorrow or of next year.  If we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab World and the Palestinians will once again start to push in a different direction."

Yet Kerry also added "The good news is that both leaders are committed to moving forward. They are both aware of the difficulties, but we will overcome them".  He also denied the persistent reports of the U.S. planning to impose an agreement on the parties, and said that he believes an agreement can be reached by the stipulated deadline, namely in April 2014 .

On the night when John Kerry left our country, two Palestinians were killed at   IDF checkpoints placed on Palestinian roads. At a checkpoint north of Bethlehem, the 23 year old Anas Fuad al-Atrash was killed and the soldiers asserted that he had tried to stab one of them. A few hours later, at a checkpoint south of Nablus, the 28 year old Bashir Hananeen was killed. In this case the soldiers reported that he had shot at them with a flare gun. It appears that there had never been any contact or cooperation between the two of them, and neither had been active in any organization. It is small sparks which can start a great fire.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Confidence-destroying measures

An interview with a Palestinian in the Israeli media:.

Even though the Palestinian speaks impeccable Hebrew, interviewer and interviewee seem to speak two different languages.

It was this week that Esti Perez of the noon news bulletin of Kol Yisrael (the Voice of Israel) spoke with Ashraf Al-Ajami, the PA's former Minister of Prisoner Affairs.. The following is from my notes taken:

Perez: We have released despicable murderers from prison, and as you know this caused a lot of debate among us. It is disturbing to many Israelis to see that among you these murderers are received with great enthusiasm and celebration. This is causing doubts about your wish for peace,

Al-Ajami: These are people who have been in your prisons very many years. They have been imprisoned even before the Oslo Agreement. Their families were missing them and dreamt of seeing them back home. On many previous occasions the Palestinian Authority asked for their release and Israel each time refused. Now, that after all the years they go free, then it's true, there is happiness.

Perez: But these are murderers who murdered civilians!

Al-Ajami: Very many people were killed among you as well as among us. I must say that the number of Palestinians that were killed, the women and children who were killed, is much bigger than the number of Israelis who were killed. Many times more. Especially when your airplanes went to bomb Gaza.

Perez: That is something else! That is war! We are sorry about it, but "à la guerre comme à la guerre". Here we are talking about murderers; about people who attacked with axes and with pitch-forks or blew up an explosive charge!

Al-Ajami: I hope very much that we reach peace, and then nobody will killed anymore, neither Israelis, nor Palestinians.

Perez: We all hope so, Goodbye Mr. Al-Ajami. Thank you very much for speaking in our broadcast. [end broadcast]

To a society which is in conflict and war, it is natural to believe that our boys are the good guys, and theirs are nasty murderers. Israelis have difficulty understanding why Palestinians regard the thousands of  their imprisoned compatriots as national heroes, freedom fighters. "Why are all Palestinian leaders insisting on the release of those terrorists?" And, on the other hand, it is self-evident that the State of Israel is obliged to make superhuman efforts to bring home even a single IDF soldier held prisoner by the enemy. But, "who can make such a comparison? The IDF is the most humane army in the world! How can its soldiers be compared with terrorist murderers?"

In the period immediately after the signing of the Oslo Agreement, the subject of releasing Palestinian prisoners was included under the definition of "Confidence-building Measures", and a special joint committee of Israelis and Palestinians was put in charge of it. It was part of the concept of Conflict Resolution, common in America. It might have even succeeded if a grant gesture would have been made - to open a new page and completely empty the prisons, immediately after the handshake between PM Rabin and PLO Chair Arafat. Especially, because many of the Palestinians, imprisoned at that time, have been sent to their missions at the direct order of those who sat down at the negotiating table with Israel. Such a gesture could have made a strong impression in the Palestinian society where nearly every family has a member who is or was in the Israeli prison.

But,  this was not the road taken after the handshake. The Israeli security services strongly objected and put a veto on the release of "prisoners with blood on their hands" and on anybody considered "still dangerous." The right-wing, including then Knesset Member Netanyahu, made a great outcry about "the release of the murderers."  In what was called The Confidence-Building Committee, there was a very tough and exhausting bargaining about every single name. Prisoner release was carried out very sparingly and quite a few of the prisoners then held, spent another twenty years in prison, until these days. The Palestinians learned  that the occupation was all but over. Across the negotiating table they often met with the same Israelis whom they met before at the Military Governor's Office or the Security Service interrogation room. 

Meanwhile, the whole concept Confidence-Building Measures has gone out of fashion. If there is a release of prisoners it is the naked result of political calculations and power struggles on both sides. Hamas managed to capture an Israeli soldier, called Gilad Shalit, and eventually secured the release of more than a thousand prisoners. Therefore, the prestige of the Hamas leaders rose, while that of President Mahmoud Abbas was hurt. Abbas demanded to get a significant release of prisoners of his own, so as to show that it also can be achieved diplomatically.

Netanyahu, for his part, is facing  Israel's increasing international isolation, for example the recent European move against settlements. In order to deflect international pressure it was important to the prime minister to enter into the negotiations, brokered by Secretary of State Kerry. Therefore, Netanyahu was willing to release 104 prisoners, held even before Oslo, so as to sweeten for the Palestinians the pill of negotiating while settlement construction goes on. In order to prevent Palestinians from escaping from the talks even when they look completely futile and hopeless, Netanyahu took care to divide the prisoner release into four stages, separated by several months from each other. Each of these stages is accompanied by a very loud outcry by the Israeli extreme rights, with very emotional and melodramatic interviews with bereaved families catching the headlines.

In short, the Israeli mass media have  in the past week conveyed to the Israeli public a clear message:  the Palestinians are terrorists and despicable murderers, and the government of Israel decided to release some of them for no reason. The Palestinian public got a message just as clear: with a big effort, several dozen prisoners were extracted from the occupation's clutches, but the army was quick to replace them through nightly raids and detentions, and for good measure the government of Israel the construction of several thousand new housing units in settlements.

In all, an especially effective combination of Confidence-destroying measures - if there was still something to destroy.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Of mayors and elephants

On the day after mayoral elections at a chance meeting peace and social activists from different cities exchanged experiences.

The Tel-Avivians among us felt frustrated by the fact that Mayor Ron Chuldai was re-elected, the man who prefers prestigious towers for the rich over affordable housing for ordinary people. The social protest movement of two years ago, starting from Tel-Aviv, manifested itself mainly by complete absence from the polls (instead crowding massively at the performance of Rihanna), 

Some Jerusalemites, for their part, have cast a protest ballot paper bearing the words "Down with the Occupation!" They could not express this in any other way - with the only choice being between the incumbent  Barkat who strongly supports settler activity in East Jerusalem, and the challenger Moshe Leon, who was nominated by the notorious Lieberman, and who called for creating a national park on the eastern slope of Mount Scopus "in order to prevent Arab construction there, because Arab construction will increase crime".

In Carmiel, there was a joint Jewish-Arab list which did not succeed to get into the city council, but did manage to confront racist phenomena and make it a significant issue during the elections campaign. 

The people of Givatayim were, as a matter of fact, happy about a local overturn in their city, and the unexpected victory of an independent oppositionist over a much-disliked incumbent.

For quite a bit of time we talked about these municipal elections -  not immediately plunging in occupation matters. But in the end, the elephant in the room could no longer be ignored. On the list of  the election results appear among the cities also such places as Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim, Karney Shomron and Kiryat Arba - settlements in the depths of the West Bank, which the election law considers full-fletched Israeli cities.

In Kiryat Arba Mal'achi Levinger, son of the notorious Rabbi Levinger, won a very narrow victory over a local rival. Not that we were really interested in the titanic struggle between settler candidates. We did enter a discussion on whether the settlement have  passed the point of no-return; on how to dismantle them if at all.  

I hesitantly mentioned the negotiations and Kerry's promise that they would be finalized within nine months. "From this pregnancy there will not a baby", said a veteran activist who had been struggling for peace even before 1967. "And if there will be, we will be sorry that there had been no abortion".

During the hours that Israeli citizens were invited to the polls, a life and death struggle was going on in the fields near the village of Bil'in on the West Bank. Many hundreds of soldiers on foot and in jeeps and in helicopters hovering above took part in a hunt for a single person: a 28-year old Palestinian named Muhammad Assi. He refused to surrender, hiding in a cave and from there returning fire to the soldiers, until bulldozers were brought in, destroying the cave and enabling the soldiers to shoot on him an anti-tank missile.

According to the army communique, Muhammad Assi was an activist of the Islamic Jihad, and was one of those who planned an attack on a Tel-Aviv bus on November 21, 2012, when the Israeli Air Force was bombing the city of Gaza. It seems that since the cease-fire in Gaza, he did not try further such attacks but according to the communique "he constituted during the past months a grave threat to military forces in Judea and Samaria". In the headlines on the mass circulation Israeli papers was expressed satisfaction with the "liquidation of the dangerous terrorist" and the success of the army to settle accounts. The term "liquidation" usually refers to an operation where it was decided in advance that the hunted person will not come out alive. And indeed, when a flesh and blood person is shot with a missile designed to penetrate the steel plating of a tank the result cannot be in any doubt.

Following these events in their fields, the youths of Bil'in who are rather used to skirmishing with the army, rose up to hours of  clashes. On them, the soldiers did not shoot anti-tank missiles, only very many salvos of tear-gas and rubber-coated metal bullets which sent several TV-crews to days of hospitalization. Only towards the evening the struggle in the fields of Bil'in ended - until  next time.

Also on the same election day, there was another struggle, in other fields. A smaller event than the manhunt, just a chase after shepherds. Shepherds from the tiny village of Ein el-Hilweh, which does not appear on any map,came close with their herds to the fences of the Maskiot settlement. Settler security officers arrived and started a chase, and alerted military forces to join them. The soldiers who soon arrived arrested two young shepherds, named Yasir Qadri and Jilal Adel. The other shepherds were warned by the soldiers never again to come near the settler fences. If it happens again, the army would not only arrest shepherds but also open fire on their sheep.

That godforsaken hamlet Ein el-Hilweh, not appearing on map - I was there bit more than a year ago, in July 2012, and here is what I then wrote:  

When the people of Ein al-Hilweh 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.

Since these words were written nothing changed, except for a great increase of the army's pressure on isolated Palestinian villages in the Jordan Valley - ever since the Jordan Valley became a top issue in the "peace talks." As it happens, exactly now these negotiations centre on the water issue. Dr. Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestinian negotiator, raised (and not for the first time) the unfairness of the division of water in the West Bank, asserting that Israel is taking for itself most of the water available. It was not published what was the reaction of Justice Minister Livni on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

One day later, Secretary of State Kerry invited Netanyahu to meet him in Rome, and asked him for his concept of the future borders and  what he suggests to overcome the deadlock in the talks. Seven hours the discussion lasted in which also participated the senior aids of both, and also the US ambassador to Israel and the Israeli ambassador to the US. But a lot of results there were not, at least to conclude from the prime minister's words at the concluding press conference. Like on many previous occasions, Netanyahu re-iterated his strong wish and desire for peace, at the same declaring that under no circumstances would he give up "territories vital for the security of Israel" (i.e. the Jordan Valley).

So, what is going to be the next step of Secretary of State Kerry, and how does he intend to reach an agreement within the stipulated 9 months? It seems that nobody asked that  question in the Rome press conference.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A state within a locked cage? No, thank you.

Until last week Lieutenant General Benny Gantz was not especially known as a demagogue. A professional military officer who had been steadily promoted until reaching the head of the pyramid, and his public appearances were rather dry and matter-of-fact. But at Bar Ilan University he entered with considerable skill into the sphere of horror propaganda, setting out a long list of nightmare scenarios: cybernetic damage to vital services, disrupting daily life in Israel; blood and fire on the Golan Heights;
salvo's of precise and destructive missiles all over the country; and ever more troubles which are about to come down on our heads - unless the government ministers come to their senses and immediately cancel the cuts in the Defence Budget.

Among  his gruesome speculations the Chief of Staff included  "the blowing up of an explosive tunnel, directly under a Kindergarten in a community near the Gaza Strip border." When he delivered his speech, the Chief of Staff already knew that a unit of the army under his command  uncovered a long and well-built tunnel beginning in the Gaza Strip and penetrating several hundred metres into Israeli territory. He knew well that the tunnel ended under ploughed fields, and not near to any Kindergarten whatsoever, and that there was no indication that those who dug the tunnel intended to harm a Kindergarten. The last time when such tunnel was dug from the Gaza Strip, he diggers used it to attack a military camp and capture an Israeli soldier in order to exchange him for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But "the blowing up of a Kindergarten through a tunnel from Gaza" sounds much more dramatic and frightening.

As public opinion polls have shown over the years and also recently, the citizens of Israel have confidence in the IDF and its commanders. Much more confidence than they have in civilian politicians, communications media, courts of law or any other civilian institute. The Chief of Staff said something? Then, certainly, he knows what he is talking about. Some of the right-wingers with whom I correspond regularly, wrote this week: "Did you hear what your Palestinian friends intended to do? To blow up a Kindergarten! Are these the people with whom you want to make peace?"

Exactly this week, right-wing Knesset Members launched a big offensive against "the incitement by heads of the Palestinian Authority"...

Meanwhile, what is going on in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?
So far, it seems nothing much. Veteran journalist Shalom Yerushalmi penetrated this week much of the black-out over the talks in two extensive articles, which were published front page by Maariv:

"Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are on the verge of of collapse over the issue of the borders. Israel demands that the IDF be permanently stationed on the border with Jordan, is not willing to consider any alternative, and is also opposed to placing international forces in that area instead. One of the `creative proposals` brought by the Israeli negotiators was that the Palestinians will let the Jordan Valley to Israel under a long-term lease. The Palestinians rejected it out of hand and demanded that it would be their own forces and only them which will be placed in the Valley on the border line, as any other state guards its sovereign borders. The Israeli firmly refused.

"`We are willing to give you a demilitarized state' said the Israelis in the latest round. `What is a demilitarized state?' asked the Palestinians. `A demilitarized state is a state where we control the air space, the sea traffic and the border crossings', answered the Israelis. `A state with such limitations is not a state. It is not even an Autonomy' answered the Palestinians and threatened to break up  the talks. `We demand to have control of our borders, our own international airport, and are own deep water sea port, without any control by you.' We prefer the present situation over getting a demilitarized state within a locked cage.' "

Last Saturday night some 35000 people gathered at the Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv, to mark the 18th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Most of them were young, including many who were not yet born 18 years ago. The keynote speech was delivered by Rabin's grandson, Yonathan Ben-Artzi:

"Mister Prime Minister! My grandfather was murdered for the sake of peace, and you owe us, all of us, to achieve the peace. Sir, you have a unique opportunity to bring us peace. For the first time in years there i9s a special global and regional situation to achieve peace, to resolve simultaneously the Iranian issue as well as the Palestinian one, within a single framework and with the support and encouragement of the entire world. It will not be easy, and certainly will not always be popular, but that is how history shows that leaders are tested. It seems to me, this is your time. From here I call upon you to make use of this opportunity, and bring us peace."

"The word `peace` aroused the youngsters on the square to very prolonged applause", reported Eyal Levy in the NRG news website. The same was observed by Gush Shalom activists who were in the crowd distributing stickers with the two flags side by side; the flag of Israel and the flag of Palestine.

A few days later there was in Jerusalem the State Memorial. There, Rabin's children Daliya and Yuval said similar things in the presence of Netanyahu. So did President Shimon Peres, who had been Rabin's rival and partner. After a bit of lip-service to Rabin the person and general condemnation of assassinations, the prime minister answered all of them bluntly: "Peace you make with enemies, but peace you make with enemies who want peace. We will not let enemies have a foothold in territories which are vital for the state of Israel." In other words: the Palestinians remain our enemies, we don't believe they mean peace, and we are not going to give them the Jordan Valley.

So, what is going to happen? According to several well-informed commentators, some time in the beginning of next year the Americans will come up with their own bridging proposals. And if even so the negotiations will end in failure, the question is who will be saddled with the blame. "We might get into a very difficult situation" says Amnon Lord, the commentator who is very close to Netanyahu. "The Palestinians might bring us back to the harsh diplomatic battlefield in the United Nations, and this time without the American protecting umbrella,

All this will happen some time next year. Meanwhile yesterday morning a Palestinian riding a tractor tried to break into an Israeli military camp in the West Bank area north of Jerusalem, and was shot to death by the soldiers. The latest incident in a lengthening chain of Palestinians who are not members of any organization, who have no contact with each other - all of them fed up with life under occupation and having no expectations of these talks. The writing is on the wall.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A little girl and a little boy and 120 years of history

Psagot is an Israeli settlement created in 1981 at the top of a mountain overlooking the twin Palestinian cities Ramallah and Al-Bireh. The settlers came and made an accomplished fact placing mobile homes at the mountain. The Palestinian landowners turned to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem but their appeal was rejected. Since then, the settlement has developed and grown and nowadays some 300 families live there. All of them are national-religious families who believe that the whole of Eretz Yisrael was promised to the Jewish people and that it is the right and he duty of Jews to settle in any place of it.

Many times the settlement of Psagot was the focus of violent confrontations, during the first Intifada and the second one, and also in between, continuing after the Oslo Agreement and the creation of the Palestinian Authority. The inhabitants of Ramallah, the PA capital, can see from far Psagot on the mountain top, surrounded by high fences and guarded by soldiers.

Last weekend, a hooded Palestinian cut the fence and entered into Psagot. He encountered a 9-year old girl, named Noam Glick, who was playing in the backyard, and wounded her. The girl cried out and the Palestinian escaped. The girl's father, Israel Glick, who is among the founders of the settlement, told the media representatives who had immediately arrived: "My daughter is a heroine! She saved all of us." The girl was taken to hospital and her wound fortunately turned out to be light.

This case is known to everybody in Israel, even to those who give the news only a brief glance. It was the banner headline in all the papers. In Yediot Aharonot, the whole of the three first pages were devoted exclusively to the heroic child-victim Noam Glick and the anger of her parents and the other Psagot settlers, and the settlers in general, and the right-wing politicians who immediately demanded far-reaching measures against the Palestinians, and Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Also the international media, especially the American, took up this news item.

On exactly the same weekend there was another event, also centered on a child - at the entrance to the el-Fawwar Refugee Camp south of Hebron.

The  el-Fawwar camp was created in 1949 to shelter  Palestinian refugees from Bait Jibrin and Beersheba. Now about seven thousand people live there in crowded circumstances - the original refugees and their descendants. Like other Refugee Camps, el-Fawwar had always been a focus of agitation and militant Palestinian nationalism. Often, the camp youth confront Israeli soldiers who pass at the main highway near the camp, or penetrating into it. So also in recent months. There is certainly felt there the general warming up of the situation in the occupied territories. The same escalation about which Israeli experts again and again make statements such as: "It is not (yet) a third intifada."

Also on this weekend a confrontation developed between soldiers and stone-throwing youths at the gate of el-Fawwar.  The soldiers blocked the gate and started shooting tear gas as well as what is called "rubber bullets". In fact these bullets are of metal, covered with a layer of rubber and - when used   at short range - could be lethal.

On this occasion the range was not that close. Some 40 meters separated the soldiers from the Sarahneh family who were returning home to el-Fawwar after visiting relatives. The 6-year Musab Srahneh was holding his mother's hand when the rubber bullet hit him directly in the eye. He was immediately taken to hospital, but the eye could not be saved. "I still can't believe it. I went out of the home with a child, whole and healthy, and I come back with my little son having to live with only one eye until his last day," said the father to the Palestinian Ma'an press agency. The Palestinian media was the only press reporting on this case.

Two days after the weekend that the Israeli girl and the Palestinian boy were wounded, the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, delivered a speech at Bar Ilan University. He had once before spoken at this same location - four and half years ago. The 2009 Bar Ilan speech was the occasion where Netanyahu uttered for the first time the words "a Palestinian state", without specifying where it would be and what would be its borders. Also in the 2nd Bar Ilan speech, of this week, Netanyahu did not disperse the fog. He did present a long and substantive list of pre-conditions which Palestinians must meet before the possibility of creating their independent state comes on the agenda. They must give up the Right of Return, and agree that Israel has wide and deep security arrangements within the territory of their state, and of course "recognize Israel as a Jewish state".

Netanyahu drew his arguments from how he sees the history. "The conflict started in 1921 when Arab Palestinians attacked the Immigrants House. That was not because of occupation or territories but because they opposed the immigration of Jews into the country."

The above, at least, is how these lines were translated into English. But it is an inexact translation, since the Hebrew which Netanyahu used included terms whose connotations cannot really be conveyed in any other language. It was not "the immigrants house" but "the house of the Olim", not "immigration of Jews into the country" but "Aliya to the historic Homeland". The term "Aliya" means that a Jew who moves to this country from any other place has ascended upwards, performed a virtuous deed deserving  praise. This good deed can only be performed by a Jew. For example, Jews who came here from Egypt are "Olim" (i.e.: they came back from exile to the land of their ancestors). On the other hand, Muslims or Christians who did the same track from Egypt to here are not considered such. By this ideology, they are considered as "invaders, and unwanted guests in the Jewish ancestral land."

The concepts "Aliya" and "Olim" and the ideology behind them, the Palestinians refused and refuse to accept - in 1921 and nowadays. Also in the year 2013 the Palestinians will not declare the Zionist project to have been justified all the way, and proclaim that it was by right that the Jews have come to inherit the lands where their biblical ancestors lived - even if the Palestinians do accept the accomplished fact, called "the State of Israel" and are willing to make peace with it in the borders which it had until June 1967.

The right-wingers, who had been a bit apprehensive, sighed in relief after hearing Netanyahu - quickly congratulating the PM for "good, strong, Zionist words." Only Yossi Beilin, of Oslo agreement fame, spoiled the party, delving deeper into the depths of Zionist history. In 1891, precisely 30 years before the attack on the House of Immigrants, there arrived in this country Asher Ginsburg, better known as "Achad Ha'am", who was among the founders and important thinkers of the Zionist movement. He visited the first Zionist colonies and was quite disturbed by what he saw. After going back to Russia, he wrote an article which was called "Truth from Eretz Yisrael." This article is usually not included in the curriculum of Israeli schools, which gives precedence to his less controversial ones. But Yossi Beilin took care to publish significant quotations this week:

"Abroad, we are used to believe that the Arabs are all desert savages, who don't see and don't understand what is going on around them. But this is a big mistake. The Arab, like all Semites, has a sharp mind and is full of cunning. The Arabs, and especially the city dwellers, see and understand what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve in the country. However, they keep silent and pretend not to understand, because at the moment they don't regard our acts as a danger to their future. But if the moment will come when the life of our people in Eretz Yisrael will develop to the point that we will displace, to a lesser or greater extent, the people of the land, these people will not easily make place. (...)

"This certainly we could have learned from our past and present, that we must be careful not to arouse the anger of the people of the land by despicable acts. We must be very careful in our behavior towards the strangers among whom we come back to live, behaving to them with honor and respect, and needless to say: with justice. And what do our brethren in Eretz Yisrael do? Precisely the opposite! Slaves they have been in the land of their exile. And suddenly they find themselves in boundless liberty, wild liberty as can only be found in such a country as Turkey. This sudden change has aroused in their hearts a tendency towards despotism, as always happens when 'the slave becomes a king.' They are behaving to the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, unjustly trespass on their land; beating them shamefully without any sufficient reason, and even boast of all these deeds. There is nobody to stand in the bridge and stop this despicable and dangerous tendency. Indeed our brethren are right when they say that the Arab respects only who shows him strength and courage. However, this is only when he feels that his opponent is right. It is not like that when he has good reason to consider what his opponent does as outright injustice and robbery. In that case, though the Arab may keep silent and restrain himself for some time, he will keep the grudge in his heart and there is nobody like him to take revenge."

Hundred twenty two years after Achad Ha'am wrote these lines, Lior Dayan went to Ramallah. Lior Dayan, an Israeli writer and journalist, grandson of the general and politician Moshe Dayan, and son of the actor and film director Assi Dayan, has prepared an extensive TV reportage of what he has seen among the Palestinians in a city which is half an hour drive of the center of Jerusalem and which most Israelis never visited.

In addition to what was broadcast on TV, Lior Dayan expressed his impressions also verbally: In Ramallah I felt anger in the streets. Everywhere you get the feeling that you are on the threshold of a flare-up. My feeling, when I was there, that it is just a matter of time until the next Intifada breaks out. On the day when I came back from Ramallah, there already started stormy demonstrations following the hunger strike of the Palestinian detainees in Ofer Prison. Therefore there is in my eyes supreme importance to seeking an agreement with the Palestinians and moving to a two-state solution. That's what I understood in Ramallah: we live on boroughed time, we are two minutes before the next explosion. I saw it in the looks of the people, in the graffiti on the unpainted walls, in the eyes of Arafat and Abu Mazen which looked to me from framed photos everywhere where I entered; from the despair of the taxi driver who told me that his two sons can't find a job.

It is important to admit that this fury has good reason. To go through the Qalandiya checkpoint is as enjoyable as going through a meat grinder. From day to day there are more settlement buildings on the Ramallah horizon, and on the way to Ramallah you pass Refugee Camps which provide the human eye with unendurable sights."

The similarity to the warning of Achad Ha'am, not heeded by his generation, may not be accidental.