Saturday, June 1, 2013

The respectable president and the never ending occupation

In the first decades of statehood, Abba Eban was Israel’s outstanding  diplomat. No one could match the excellent Oxford English of his speeches in the UN General Assembly. He was well able to explain Israeli government policies and find convincing excuses for the acts of IDF soldiers in the field - even when privately he had some reservations.

In the critical period after the war which exactly 46 years ago created Israeli occupation rule over millions of Palestinians,  the press dubbed Eban “A Dove of Gleaming White Plumage”. Still, the early anti-occupation protesters could not really find in him a reliable ally inside the political establishment. At that time already the foundations were laid for the settlement enterprise, and Foreign Minister Abba Eban did his best to present also these government policies to the world.

In addition to his political career Abba Eban was a brilliant academic, whose intellectual legacy includes several books and a lot of academic articles in various fields. But today Abba Eban seems only remembered for one short statement which is quoted again and again: "The 1967 borders are Auschwitz borders". A somewhat odd way of putting things. Were Israel’s citizens really living in Auschwitz during all the years between 1948 and 1967? (Weird, I actually have quite good childhood memories from these years.)

Again this week we got a reminder of the Auschwitz comparison. This time the familiar remark came from Tourism Minister Uzi Landau: “It was the dove Abba Eban who said that these are Auschwitz borders” he said, as did many right wingers before him. Landau needed this reference in order to attack President Shimon Peres. Peres had once been known as a staunch Hawk and  an opponent  of Abba Eban, but that was a long time ago. Over the years, Peres took Eban’s place as an Israeli statesman having a worldwide reputation and appreciation and who does all he can to present abroad a moderate and sane  Israeli image – whatever the government policy.

Uzi Landau broke out in surprise and outrage after reading newspaper headlines telling that President Peres intended to express support for the 1967 borders in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. In fact, in the speech actually delivered the President made no direct reference to borders – though he did praise the peace initiative of the Arab League, which is based on the 1967 borders, calling it “a strategic opportunity for approaching peace”.

 As published in the media, President Peres had conferred with Prime Minister Netanyahu and gave him an advance notice on the content of his speech. Does this mean that Netanyahu also thinks the Arab Peace Initiative constitutes a strategic opportunity for approaching peace? Not necessarily. And how much is Peres’ statement worth without Netanyahu’s  backing? Not so much. But meanwhile, thanks to having such a well-known and highly respected President, the State of Israel managed to present once again a smiling, moderate, peace-seeking face to the world at large.

President Shimon Peres had not been at Al-Baq’a village, east of Hebron, where the State of Israel showed a different face. A few days before the President made his speech at the World Economic Forum, Israel’s soldiers had arrived at this village – specifically, at the lands of Ata’ Jaber. The soldiers brought bulldozers with them and proceeded to thoroughly uproot tomatoes, beans and squash planted in an area of ​​about four dunums, as well as destroying the irrigation systems.

Why exactly did they do it? Well, it is likely that the soldiers were carrying a valid military order which duly gave them legal authorization for their work of  destruction, based on one of the numerous decrees issued by the military government throughout the past forty-six years. But the incident was far below the radar of the Israeli media and only those who care to look into the Palestinian news sites ever heard of it, so the military authorities did not bother to publish their version or give any justification.

Is there any connection between this military raid and the fact that five hundred meters away from this village lies a settlement called Givat Harsina? And does it have anything to do with the fact that residents of this settlement have long been making great efforts to expand and increase the area under their control and have several times raided their Palestinian neighbors and damaged these neighbors’ crops and irrigation systems? Well, it seems that there is no proof of such a connection, at least not a proof which could stand up in court.

Nor was President Peres present at the town of Tubas. But the State of Israel, whose Head of State Peres is, did have a notable and highly visible presence in this town. No less than twenty-five army jeeps entered Tubas on a very early  morning hour. Tubas in Area A, given under the Oslo Agreements to a complete control of the Palestinian Authority, and the IDF is not supposed to enter such places. However, more than ten years ago the State of Israel had unilaterally abrogated this section of Oslo.

Where did the twenty-five jeeps which entered Tubas go? All of them to the same place, to the home of the Khudiri Family. Twenty soldiers entered the house while another hundred stayed to keep watch at the street corner outside. Family members - father, mother and their three grown up and two young children and several other relatives - were roused from their beds and locked  in a single small room, to keep them  out of the way while the soldiers did a very thorough search throughout the house. What were the soldiers looking for? They looked for computers. Each and every computer found in the house was packed and taken away in the waiting jeeps.

What did Israel’s armed forces and security services find so disturbing about  the computers in this house? Well, a member of the family, the 24-year old Sireen Khudiri, had studied Computer Science at the Open University in Tubas and while studying she also opened a Facebook page. She is now held at the Jalame Prison near Haifa and is forbidden to meet with a lawyer. No charges were filed against her, but the army did tell the media that the Facebook page maintained by Sireen constituted "a threat to security." This seems to be the  first known case in which anybody is accused of having endangered security via Facebook.

Danger to security because of Facebook? Well, in the past three years Sireen Khudiri  had been active in solidarity action with the Palestinians of the Jordan Valley. On her Facebook page she carefully documented and exposed the repeated harassments of the Jordan Valley Palestinians by military forces. Each and every case of the destruction of miserable huts in tiny villages and hamlets, the confiscation of agricultural equipment and cattle, and in general the making of  life in these small communities into hell. Events in various remote and godforsaken areas of the Jordan Valley were documented in detail on the Facebook page maintained by Sireen Khudiri, and photos added, and this material spread around the world at lightning speed through the social network created by Mark Zuckerberg. It seems somebody disliked all this very much.
Is this security threat emanating from a Facebook page in any way related to the basic concept of National Security formulated by Israeli decision-makers already in 1967? Under this strategic concept, the State of Israel should maintain long-term military control over the Jordan Valley under whatever military and diplomatic conditions might develop. Shimon Peres, President of Israel who is a former Prime Minister and Defense Minister, probably knows quite a bit about this strategic concept and perhaps also about acts undertaken on the ground in order to further it. But Peres is not very outspoken about it, certainly not at the World Economic Forum.

President Peres will certainly be present at the event due in Jerusalem within a few days, known as The Israeli Presidential Conference. This is a special annual event for whose success the President is working very hard. As noted in the official communiquי, this year’s conference will be attended by some 5000 people from around the world, among them “dozens of speakers who  represent the best minds from across the globe” including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Soviet President Gorbachev, former British PM Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, actress Barbra Streisand and many others.

There can be little doubt that this event will add to the international prestige of the State of Israel, which will get to host all these international VIPs, and also to the prestige of the President of Israel who by a lot of hard work convinced them all to come here, to a conference to be held just as Israel is entering upon its 46th year of occupation in the Palestinian Territories. (No, this date was not mentioned in the invitations to the conference…)

Also the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking was supposed to be among these glittering VIPs. Initially he accepted Peres’ invitation. Then he changed his mind and canceled his participation, especially after talking to Palestinian acquaintances.  And so started the wave of outraged statements and articles, accusing Hawking of hypocrisy and even of racism (sic). But can all these  detractors seriously assert that the Israel of 2013 is truly worthy of the international show of public support which Stephen Hawking could have provided?

Indeed, next week will mark 46 years of occupation. Precisely forty six years will have elapsed since the morning of June 5, 1967, when air raid alarms sounded all over the country and on the news the IDF Spokesperson was quoted as stating that forces on the ground and by air had set out to repel an attack by enemy forces against Israel (which was not exactly a precise factual description...). Since then, millions of Palestinians have been living under military occupation, which has been going on for about seventy percent of Israel's history and counting.

Once in 1967, just a few weeks after that war, daring young people ventured out at night into the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to fill the walls with graffiti protesting the occupation which had just begun. Probably they did not imagine that this struggle would continue for forty-six years, and more. But  tonight, the night of June 1, 2013, some of those same youngsters will come out to demonstrate against the occupation, though their hair might have already turned  gray or white and grandchildren might march at their side. At 7:00 PM  demonstrators will gather at the park near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv and set out marching to the ruling party’s headquarters on King George Street. Also this year, we will reiterate the calls to end the occupation, evacuate the settlements, make peace between Israel and Palestine and set up two capitals in Jerusalem. And in addition, a sharp warning and alarm will be made tonight and the alarm sounded about the winds of war which had blown ever stronger in recent weeks. "Who needs war keeps it simmering".

Nathan Blanc will not participate in this demonstration. He is still held at Military Prison Six in Atlit, where he already spent half a year behind bars for the crime of refusing to join the army of occupation. But next week he is probably going to be released from both prison and the army. The campaign of  solidarity for Nathan Blanc had grown stronger, no longer limited to the social networks, reaching the pages of "Haaretz” and international media – with petitions of public figures and demonstrations on the streets of Tel Aviv and at the mountain opposite the prison.  This seems to have increasingly troubled the generals. Finally they resolved to get rid of the annoying nuisance by the convenient means  available to them. The military Incompatibility Committee ruled the person Nathan Blanc is incompatible with service in the IDF.  What's right is right.

And so, we can end this week with a small heart-warming victory.