Saturday, June 22, 2013

Strategic assets and a threatening toilet

It was not the Naval Commandos’ best week.

Already for thirteen years, naval fighters afflicted with cancer are conducting an ongoing struggle for compensations. Att. Moshe Kaplinsky, who had taken them up as  a pro bono case, assembled a mass of evidence showing that for many years the commandos had been required to dive and train in the waters of the Kishon River, the most polluted body of water in the state of Israel and among the most polluted in the entire world. Into this rivulet were spilled over the years an impressive array of carcinogens from military bases, refineries, petrochemical plants, electricity stations and various other large and small factories and workshops.

But the state had hired shrewd lawyers, highly experienced in tort cases, and they were continually casting doubts. And indeed, the District Court found that“no causal relationship has been proven”.
 True, there is no doubt that there was a huge concentration of carcinogens in these waters. There is no doubt that a bunch of very enthusiastic and highly motivated young men were daily putting on scuba gear and joyfully obeying the order of jumping into these waters, feeling a surge of great satisfaction at their success in becoming members of such a famed elite unit. There is also no question that among those people, nowadays  no longer young and certainly not very enthusiastic, the number of  cancer patients greatly exceeds their percentage in the general population. But  the judges ruled that a causal relationship between these phenomena has not been proven. Thus, the Treasury could mark a net gain in some tens of millions which would not have to be paid in compensation payments.

This is not the final word. They will appeal to the Supreme Court, and it is possible that in a few years the judges there would rule in their favor. It is even possible that some of the naval fighters would still be alive and able to enjoy the compensations during their final years. 

Forgotten are the days when stickers praising the Naval Commandos were pasted on cars, and demonstrations supporting them were held outside the Turkish Embassy. The State of Israel loves to see her Naval Commandos as fearless strong men,  Heroes  who dangle from helicopters at mid-sea and land aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla and fight with dangerous Turkish terrorists and within five minutes liquidate nine of them. But Naval Commandos, their bodies broken by cancer?  In this struggle they are quite alone.

Anyway, the whole issue was pushed off the headlines by President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday, which was broadcast live throughout the nation by all of Israel’s television channels.

Everybody was there, Barbra Streisand and Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone and Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev and President Bill Clinton (who, as is well known, got the sum of half a million dollars as his fee for participating). Only Stephen Hawking just did not want to participate in this joy, and after talking with Palestinian friends decided not to take part in honoring Israel’s president. (Palestinians there weren’t at all, except for a 5 year old child, once treated in an Israeli hospital.)

Even so, much praise was heaped on Shimon Peres, the Man of Peace. There was also a girl band singing "Give Peace a Chance".  Peres wouldn’t mind to give peace a chance. Especially when some tycoons and captains of industries, with whom Peres is quite friendly, spoke just a few days earlier on how much the Israeli economy is threatened by the absence of peace.

Of course, it was extensively mentioned that this was the birthday of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. True, he had a partner in this award, a Palestinian leader whose surname begins with A, and the award was associated with an agreement named for a capital city in the north of Europe, but it would be a pity to go into such trivialities on this day of  international joy and celebration. Of course the President whose birthday it was did deliver a keynote speech in which he explicitly expressed his hope for a better future, a better future not only for Israel but for Palestine as well.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party, who attended the Peres party, does not want a better future for Palestine. He just does not want a Palestine to exist. Just this week, addressing the settlers’ Judea and Samaria Council, Bennett used a very picturesque parable about Israel's relations to the Palestinians: "I have a friend with shrapnel in his rear end. They told him that they could operate but that he’d become an invalid. He decided to continue living with it."

The shrapnel in the rear end certainly did not prevent Naftali Bennett from taking part in the Peres celebration and applaud politely and tell the TV cameras that no doubt  President Shimon Peres is a strategic asset second to none. Obviously, without him it would have been far more difficult to present  the world with a smiling, attractive, peace-seeking Israeli face. Especially this week when Israel lost that other strategic asset, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who, alas, is no longer Iran’s president.

Had Ahmadinejad not existed, the Israeli Hasbara PR  would certainly have had to invent him, with his nuclear program, inflammatory  speeches and the highlight: Holocaust denial! But now he is irrevocably gone, and we are left to deal with a new Iranian President who looks and sounds moderate, and also with crowds cheering and dancing in the streets of Tehran the victory of the people in the ballot box. And how to present now the case that it is still needed to send the Israeli Air Force on the long and dangerous route to a decisive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities? Meanwhile, Netanyahu moved the date of the "Year of Decision" further forward - to 2014.

In the headlines of old yellowing papers we can find that once upon a time 2011\was the Year of Decision. Does  Netanyahu truly want to reach a decision, or does he merely want to keep the Iranian Threat permanently on the agenda, distracting attention from other issues?  For example, this week. While the headlines were devoted to the heated debate about what the election of Rohani in Iran could imply, the economic austerity budget got through its first reading in the Knesset  with hardly anyone noticing.

This was also the week in which the “Price Tag” groups went out of the settlements and into Israel hitting the village of Abu Ghosh. Abu Ghosh, where Jews and Arabs come closer than anywhere else in this country. Even if this coexistence is based primarily on the eating of hummus at excellent restaurants. It turns out that there are among us racists who greatly dislike this, and they came at night to puncture the tires of 28 cars - very systematically and consistently, puncturing all four tires at one and every car. They also wrote on the walls "Arabs out!" and “Racism or Assimilation” - hummus-eating being tantamount to “assimilation" and racism being the preferred choice.

The story of the Abu Ghosh Price Tag attack made headlines on the very day of President Peres’ celebration. A lot of people felt that what is going on in our country has gone beyond any imaginable limit, if even the people of Abu Ghosh are the target of racism. Condemnations were heard from all across the political spectrum. Especially right-wing Knesset members and ministers made a conspicuous show of their indignation.  But of course the same people at the very same time blocked the proposal to declare "Price Tag" to be  a terrorist organization. They also objected to the idea that , according to the Law on Victims of Terrorism, the state offer compensations to the 28 owners of the cars damaged in Abu Ghosh.

There was another event this week which perhaps might also be called a  Price Tag event, which somehow went completely under the radar of the Israeli media. A modest little event related to a toilet – an event which became known due to the tireless Guy Butavia who day after day spreads through Facebook news and photos of obscure events taking place in that shrapnel fragment stuck in Israel’s bottom end.

Umm al Kheir is a Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills, one of the villages which in the opinion of settlers living nearby (also of military personnel stations nearby) just should not have been there. Umm Al Kheir is not linked to the electric grid, nor to water pipes or sewage systems. There are  no toilets in this village, and for the call of nature residents need to go to the nearby creek. But this creek is within sight of the settlement of Carmel, which is perched on a hilltop. This is not just a problem of privacy, also of stones being regularly hurled from the settlement on anyone seen in the valley below.

An international humanitarian organization called ACF donated  to Umm al Kheir a small toilet cell made of wood, and a resident named Bilal dug a septic pool. On the same day that the grand celebration in honor of President Shimon Peres was held in Jerusalem, the residents of Umm al Kheir were preparing a modest celebration of their own, to mark the installation of the first toilet in their village. But that celebration did not take place, because the settlement of Carmel (like every settlement) has a Military Security Coordinator, and he takes his job seriously.

The job definition of a Military Security Coordinator includes setting the watch,  maintaining the integrity of the perimeter fence, keeping in touch with army forces in the region and reporting any theft or security incident. The Military Security Coordinator of the settlement of Carmel, whose name is Simha, is highly motivated in the performance of his duties. He noticed a serious security incident developing right in front of eyes, i.e. that the Umm al Kheir people were establishing a toilet in their village. The Security Coordinator rushed to call the army, as well as the Civil Administration (which is part of the army but maintains its own separate structure). Quickly there arrived Lieutenant Asaf Simhoni for the army and another Lieutenant with the first name Moshe, on behalf of the Civil Administration.

Two officers presented a "Seizure Order", valid and lawful in accordance with the laws and decrees issued by the Israel Defense Forces to manage day to day life in the territory which is under its control for the past forty-six years (and two weeks). The order read "Item (toilet) transported without a permit". Accordingly the toilet cell was confiscated and loaded on a military truck and taken away, thus foiling one more serious threat to the security of Israel.

These  officers involved are part of the chain of command headed by the Commanding General Center, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon. It so happened that this same general on that same day spoke to foreign journalists. "If in the coming weeks the efforts of the Americans end in naught, I think we might see a growing escalation on the ground" said Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, referring to the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John.

Of course the general's statement provoked a wave of angry protests from right-wing politicians, who noted that this general has notorious leftist views and is full of hatred for the settlers. The condemnations which these politicians hurled at the Commanding General Center were even louder than those issued in denunciation of the Abu Ghosh Price Tag attack.

And Secretary of State John Kerry? Well, we are patiently waiting for the announcement of his next coming.