Saturday, March 16, 2013

A government with a civil agenda

After all the grueling and long-lasting negotiations it seems that we have a new government. A government with a civil agenda, focusing on domestic matters – particularly on hitting out at the ultra-Orthodox Haredi community.

And what about the occupation? The Palestinians are supposed to wait for another government.  

 And if they don’t wait?

On Tuesday morning the newspaper headlines had proclaimed the mighty achievement  of Yair Lapid, who forced Netanyahu to agree that the next government will have only 21 ministers, rather than the 30 in the outgoing cabinet. Just at the time when these headlines appeared on the newsstands throughout the State of Israel, a security guard came out of the "Abigail" settler outpost in the South Hebron Hills - and attacked the shepherd Na'al Abu Aram from Susya village. The security guard -  whose name we do not know - beat, punched, kicked and shoved the shepherd, then ran after the flock of sheep, to scare them and scatter them in all directions. Then the security guard went back to the outpost. Who knows, maybe he sat there drinking coffee and keeping track of the negotiations to form a new government. By the way, the Avigail outpost is considered illegal, also under  Israeli law. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, before he fell into a coma, promised to dismantle it.  Nobody took care to keep that promise. Nor is the new government, to be  established by Lapid and Bennett and Netanyahu likely to do it.

On the evening of that same day, Tuesday night , a last minute crisis developed in the negotiations. Conflict got to a very pitch over the issue of who would get the Education portfolio. Indeed, who is better fitted to stand in the vanguard of educating the children of Israel? Should it be Gideon Saar, who sent  school kids on educational tours of Hebron, so as to make them aware that this is the Land of Our Fathers and therefore ours forever? Or is it better to entrust the job to Rabbi Shai Piron who ten years ago expressed his considered Halachic opinion that Jews should not rent apartments to Arabs, but who since changed his mind completely and became a moderate, liberal and staunchly anti-racist rabbi.  At this same time when this great crisis developed in the government coalition talks, soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces - young men who only a few years ago graduated from the Israeli education system – broke into the Fawwar Refugee Camp near Hebron. The soldiers clashed with camp youths and opened fire and shot and killed Mahmoud Al-Titi and wounded several of his fellows. Mahmoud Al-Titi had been twenty-two years old. Two of the years of his life he had spent behind bars in the Israeli occupation’s prisons, and after being released he had studied Media and Journalism at the Polytechnic Institute in Arroub. He  will not get to hear the speech of President Barack Obama who is due to arrive here next week, and will never form an opinion on whether or not Obama's visit would give Palestinians any measure of hope of  breaking free of the Israeli occupation. But probably Al-Titi, like many young Palestinians, did not have any shred of hope from this visit. Certainly not with the new government about to be formed in Israel.
Wednesday morning the media was filled with reports of the escalating coaltion talks crisis and the severe threats hurled and ultimatums set by the leaders of the various parties to each other. It was exactly at that same time that an army detachment reached the tiny  and faraway  village of Maghayer el Abeed in the South Hebron Hills, and ordered the villagers to themselves demolish at once the solar power system in their village, erected  by the Comet – ME foundation. Comet-ME is an Israeli-Palestinian non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable rural electrification - i.e. "providing renewable energy services to off-grid Palestinian communities using sustainable methods" – an aim which the military government considers utterly illegal. As far as the Israeli military government is concerned, the entire village of Maghayer el Abeed should not be there. Like several other small villagers nearby it should be destroyed and disappear, making place for “Fire Zone 918” which is needed as training area of ​​the Israel Defense Forces as well as for the expansion of several settlements in this area. Most of these settlers had voted in the recent elections for Naftali Bennett who pledged that “something new is beginning". But his talking about “new things” certainly did not refer to providing a solar power system to a Palestinian village not linked to the extensive power grid serving the flourishing and expanding settlements all around.

In the afternoon of the same day, just at the time when Naftali Bennett embarked on the task of mediation to end the crisis in the government coalition talks, there was held in the Fawwar Refugee Camp the funeral of Mahmoud Al-Titi. Almost all residents of the camp attended, and waved Palestinian flags and chanted angry slogans. The Israeli TV crew covering the funeral did not forget
to remind viewers at home that the young people they were seeing had been incited and that was why they were crying out such nasty things. Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett succeeded in his mission, and a compromise was agreed upon  whereby Lapid's party will win the Ministry of Education for Rabbi Piron and while Sa’ar of Netanyahu's party will get the Ministry of Interior. And for his own Bennett got a handsome mediator’s fee in the form of the Chairmanship of the key Knesset Finance Committee - which is considered as the main faucet  through which state funds flow, and Bennett will of course divert a considerable part of them to his settler constituents. Not that this would really be something new; previous governments have already pumped quite a lot of money to settlements and gave many benefits to Israeli citizens who went to live in them.

Among other things, it was the benefit granted by previous governments which convinced a woman called Adva Biton to move to a settlement called Yakir and raise her children there and win the many benefits offered by the government.  On Thursday afternoon, when formation of the next government of Israel was assured, only minor details left to hammer out, Adva Biton went out on a routine trip with her daughters on the Trans-Samaria Highway, a modern multi-lane throughway built for the benefit of settlers. Her car was in a long string of cars which passed near the village of Kifl Haris, where young villagers hurled stones at settler cars traveling on the road which had been erected on their village lands. A stone struck the truck which was before her car. The truck driver was not hurt, but he abruptly slowed down, and Adva Biton’s car collided with the truck, and her little daughter was injured and taken to hospital in a severe condition. And because it was an Israeli girl the case made the headlines in the Israeli press. The other incident which happened at exactly the same time, when soldiers opened fire for the second time in two days, seriously injuring a Palestinian boy, was set aside. Regardless of all that, the negotiations for formation of the new government progressed successfully and overcame the last minor sticking points.

And just when the party leaders heaved a sigh of relief and prepared to sign the finally completed coalition agreements, the Head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, rose to speak at the Herzliya Conference and talked of the current situation on the West Bank. As he remarked, "we can all see the bubbling and hubbub on the Palestinian streets in recent months".  He then added that "The economic situation is the primary motive of this phenomenon, along with the issue of prisoners which is fueling discontent.  The settlers’ 'price tag' [retaliatory raids on Palestinian villages] and the stagnation in the political and diplomatic process contribute to the boiling and ferment”. However, the General reassured his listeners that this ferment on the Palestinian streets is of "a limited magnitude" and certainly does not constitute  a Third Intifada. So there is no real reason to worry.

Israel gets a new government, just as the Catholic Church gets a new Pope. Upon his entry into his new job, the new Pope chose a new name, a name  indicating his aspirations and intentions. He chose Francis, the first Pope to ever use that name.

Francis of Assisi was one of the important Saints in the history of the Catholic Church, and well-known also outside the church. Among the things told of him was his unique personal peace initiative. At the very midst of the Crusades, when Christians and Muslims communicated with each other mainly by the sword, St. Francis of Assisi went  alone, unarmed, to meet the Muslim King of Egypt, and was very honorably received .

No reason to worry. This is a source of inspiration for the new Pope in Rome, not for the new government in Jerusalem.