Friday, June 6, 2014

The longest war

 At five minutes to eight on the morning of June 5, 1967 – precisely forty seven years ago - I was around the corner from my school in the Old North of Tel Aviv when the air raid sirens sounded.  Hundreds of pupils were running into the basement of the school building. A kindly teacher comforted us and told us there was nothing to worry about, that our soldiers were going to win. The open radio said that the army was counter-attacking after the Egyptians launched an attack on our southern border. Years later I found this was factually untrue;  but disbelieving military communiqués is not something you learn in school. Anyway, the teacher was evidently right: Tel Aviv was not bombed, there were no further alarms, and soon there came the exhilarating news of the incredibly rapid advance of our soldiers on all fronts.

This is what came to be known as the Six Day War – a rather misleading name, as in a sense that war is still going on after all these years. At the time it seemed the most clear-cut and decisive of military victories. In retrospect, it turned out to provide a very clear proof of the limitations of military power. Like the proverbial hare running with all his force and still unable to pass the plodding turtle, all of Israel’s overwhelming military superiority is not enough  to crush the Palestinians’ fierce aspiration to be a free people in their homeland.
After forty seven years the State of Israel is still striving with all its might to conquer and re-conquer and re-re-conquer that same territory through which its soldiers had swept in seeming swift and total victory – and after forty-seven years that victory still remains elusive.

On the morning of June 5, 2014, the Israel Today newspaper, better known as the Bibinews, carried a big headline: “The answer: construction – and a battle in Congress”. The answer of the Government of Israel to the Palestinians’ temerity in daring to heal their rifts and form a Unity Government; and to the United States Government’s greater temerity in recognizing that government. So, Netanyahu’s friends on Capitol Hill – particularly the Republican ones – are being mobilized to once again engage in a head-on confrontation with the Administration on behalf of Netanyahu’s Israel. The Bibinews report made it sound like a fine, no-holds barred fight of the Good Guys on Capitol Hill against the very nasty Bad Guys in the White House and the State Department. But commentators in other papers, such as Chemi Shalev of Ha’aretz, noted that is fact Netanyahu’s Senatorial friends were tacitly asked to make a big noise but not go to go “too far”. For example, withholding American funds from the Palestinian Authority might lead to its collapse, forcing Israel to assume financial and administrative responsibility for the running of Palestinian daily life, which Netanyahu’s advisers consider among the worst of all nightmare scenarios…

This leaves the other prong of counter-attack hailed in the Israel Today headline: Construction with a capital C, or as Housing Minister Uri Ariel termed it, “an appropriate Zionist response”.  With great fanfare it was announced that the government  would be “accepting bids for construction of new homes in several locations throughout Judea and Samaria” – 1500 housing units in all. The names of specific settlements were then enumerated, with the precise number earmarked for each: 223 new apartments in Efrat; 484 housing units in Beitar Ilit; 38 units in Geva Binyamin; 76 in Ariel; 78 in Alfei Menashe; 155 in Givat Ze’ev, including 55 in the supplementary settlement of Agan Ha’ayalot; and 400 new units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

An American online publication called “Breaking Israeli News”, which is devoted to providing “News from a Biblical perspective”, reported prominently this  appropriate Zionist response - and accompanied it by an appropriate quote: “So the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which He swore to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein” (Joshua 21:42). This piece of breaking Biblical news landed in my email box just as I was leaving home, to take part in several activities marking the 47th anniversary of the occupation.

On King George Street in Central Tel Aviv the Women In Black were holding their weekly Friday vigil, held uninterruptedly since the time of the first Intifada, and which was later emulated by women in other countries (notably in the former Yugoslavia). At noon today they stood in Tel Aviv as in Jerusalem, Haifa and at the junction Near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. Black clothing and the big plastic palms which are their trade mark, bearing the slogan “Down with the Occupation” in Hebrew, Arabic and English and sometimes other languages as well. To these were added placards calling for the release of the Palestinian Administrative Detainees, now on a widespread hunger strike. Some of the women had just come back from a vigil outside the Ichilov Hospital, where hunger striking Palestinians are held incommunicado, under close police guard.

Several bypassers make jeering calls: “Go to hell, traitor whores! There is no occupation, the terrorist Arabs want to murder us all!”. One of the women manages to get one of them to stay and engage in prolonged debate on the sidewalk. After some time, he seems more calm and less animated and in the end departs saying “Well, it was interesting to talk to you, though I completely disagree”.

From there to the nearby Habima Square where Breaking the Silence has scheduled a special event: the non-stop, ten-hours long reading out of the testimonies collected from soldiers who had served in the Occupied Territories. Many of the soldiers had spoken out on condition of remaining anonymous, and would not have wanted to expose themselves to the public gaze – so academics and public figures had volunteered to read out the  testimonies over the loudspeaker.

 - “We were in the desert in the South Hebron Hills where many Palestinians try to get through to work illegally in Israel, very crowded in cars operated by professional smugglers. Somebody thought up what we thought was a funny way to teach them a lesson – when we caught one we just took off the car’s tyres and left them stranded in the middle of the desert. It took us far too long to realize that they had mobile phones and that as soon as we departed their friends came along with spares. We felt like utter fools”.

- “A boy who was quite distant from us lit the flame in a Molotov cocktail. The soldier near me took aim with a sniper rifle and shot him through the head, he dropped dead on the spot. We were in a reinforced concrete position, the boy was quite far from us and could not possibly have harmed any of us. But regulations say that a Molotov is a deadly weapon and justifies shooting in self defense. The soldier who killed him was not interested in self-defense, he wanted an excuse to kill and he found it.”

- “We were in a lookout position on the mountain over Nablus. The soldiers were politically divided – right-wing, left-wing and in between. We debated politics all day, should we be there or should we not. With no bitterness, at most some bantering, there were in general good friendly relations among us. The commanding officer demanded that we stop this debating, said it was bad for morale. Then Rabbi Ronski, the IDF Chief Rabbi, came by to preach to us. He told us we were engaged in a Holy War for the sake of God and of the Jewish People, that all our Jewish ancestors were looking down at us from Heaven, and so on and so on. If ever something really damaged our morale, that was it.”

- “A middle aged Palestinian speaking very precise English told me that his home had been taken over as a temporary military position for three days, and that the soldiers had urinated everywhere and wantonly smashed the TV. I told him what the procedure was for lodging a complaint with the military authorities. But I felt I had to also tell him that it was no use and that after some months he would just be told that the specific soldiers who had been in his family home could not be identified. I felt very embarrassed to tell him this.”

Suddenly, a small group of people with their bodies draped with Israeli National Flags approaches, shouting quite hysterically: “Lies! Defamations! You are all a bunch of liars, traitors to your country, in the pay of our enemies! Long live the Army, three cheers for the IDF!”

- “I would suggest that you listen for a moment. These are all genuine testimonies of soldiers who had been there, in the Territories.” “Me listen to malicious lies invented by a bunch of traitors in the pay of international Antisemitism? Not on your life! Lies! Lies! Lies! You are all dirty traitors to your country!” The hecklers are finally dragged away by police, crying out “What a rotten country, police in the pay of the leftist traitors!”.

Actually, the Tel Aviv police had put considerable obstacles when the Hadash  activists asked a permit for the protest march due tomorrow night. Citing “traffic problems” the police sought to shunt the intended route of the march away from main streets and where hardly anybody would have seen it. The activists stood their ground and several hours’ prolonged negotiations ended with the police after all approving the original route.

Meanwhile, today Labor Party Leader Yitzchak Herzog unveiled his plan for an agreement with the Palestinians, which he termed “The Plan to Save Zionism”: 
As enumerated by Nahum Barne’a in Yediot Aharonot, the main provisions include: The final borders will be determined on the basis of the 1967 lines, with land swaps; the Palestinian state will be demilitarized; The IDF will remain for a time in the Jordan Valley and will then be replaced by a joint Israeli- Jordanian-Palestinian force; the Right of Return will be implemented in the  Palestinian state; Israel would absorb a limited number of Palestinian refugees, at its discretion; in Jerusalem the Clinton Parameters will be implemented - Jewish neighborhoods to Israel, Palestinian ones to the Palestinians; East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine, but the municipal government will be united; in the Holy Basin [Old City and some holy sites in its vicinity]  there will be a special regime; the Arab countries will be invited to sign peace agreements with Israel.

Substantial reservations could be made to some of these provisions. Still, they represent a significant improvement over much of the past records of the Israeli Labor Party. Over Golda Meir who said there was no Palestinian People and laid much of the foundations for the settlement project, and also over Shelly Yehimovitz, Herzog’s direct predecessor in the Labor leadership, who tried to minimize any reference to the Palestinians and concentrate solely on social issues. Also a significant approval over his own father Chaim Herzog, whose own way of defending Zionism was a dramatic tearing up of the UN resolution asserting that Zionism was racist.

But would Yitzchak Herzog ever get to the position of being able to implement his plan? And if he were, would he actually implement it? Time will tell.

To Build (Settlements) Or To Be
a demonstration marking 47 years of occupation
 Saturday, June 7, 2014

We meet at 7:00 pm at the entrance to Gan Me’ir Park on King George Street, Tel Aviv, and march together to the gates of the Defense Ministry on Kaplan Street

The Netanyahu Government makes places a paramount value on the settlements, giving them a complete priority over the chance of achieving a stable peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The Government is fattening the settlements to the tune of billions, at the expense of the budgets of health and education, welfare and culture.

The oppression of Palestinians in escalating into racism, "Price Tag” hate crimes and the crushing of democracy in Israel.

Rule over the Territories and the expansion of settlements have become the be-all and end-all. No one gives a damn about us and our future

On the 47th anniversary of the June 1967 War, we will demonstrate together in Tel – Aviv. Jews and Arabs we will call for an end to the occupation, evacuation of the settlements, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, with two capitals in Jerusalem, as well as for dismantling of  the Separation Wall, the release of the Palestinian prisoners, and a just solution to the Palestinian refugees’ problem according to the UN resolutions.

In face of the Netanyahu's refusal of peace and his fellows, we will demonstrate and call out: there is a Palestinian partner for negotiations – it is the time that  there wiIl be an Israeli partner as well.

The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash)
Down with Occupation /  Release Administrative Detainees

A shadowy place facing the busy King George Street

Breaking The Silence  audience at Habima Square 

Podium from which soldier testimonies were read