Saturday, November 28, 2015

So what is to be done?

"This is the fight of Civilization against Barbarism!" declared Prime Minister Netanyahu to his distinguished guest, US Secretary of State John Kerry. "The whole world is under attack by radical Islamists and the forces of terror. Israel is ever at war with these terrorists. The entire international community should support our efforts - it's not just our struggle, it is everybody’s struggle". Do they get the point at last, these Americans and Europeans? Maybe this time they finally realize what they did not understand after September 11 and after Charlie Hebdo? Maybe they will finally accept that Israel stands at the forefront of the West’s Clash of Civilizations with Islamic Barbarism? Will they at last stand foursquare behind us and stop all this stupid nagging about the Palestinians and the occupation and the settlements?

No, also this time it did not happen. True, the American visitor did express complete support for Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists wielding knives or scissors. However, he also asked Israel to make goodwill gesture to help build confidence and calm the situation, for example granting building permits to Palestinian villages which hitherto saw frequent visits by Israeli bulldozers destroying "illegal houses". And when Netanyahu wanted to counter-balance building permits to Palestinians by also legitimizing Israeli construction in "settlement blocs" the immediate response from Washington left no room for doubt: "The answer is – one big NO" followed by "The United States government has never supported of defended the construction of settlements, nor gave them legitimacy. Democratic and Republican Administrations alike regarded the Israeli as acts undermining the two-state solution ".

And what of the Europeans? After all, the ISIS attack on Paris took place exactly forty-eight hours after the EU resolved to label the settlement products offered to European consumers. What is this, have they no regrets? Did they not sober up? Even after what happened in Paris, do they not understand that they should line up with Israel and forget all this settlements nonsense? Alas, no. President Hollande declared that France is at war with ISIS and sent his war planes to join the Russians in the heavy bombing in Syria. Nevertheless, he still expects Israel to emulate France, which already more than fifty years ago gave up its rule in an Arab country called Algeria and removed more than a million French settlers from there. As the British left India and the Dutch quitted Indonesia and the Belgians gave up Congo, they all expect from Israel to grant independence to its colony in the West Bank. In Brussels, Belgium's capital city which was this week paralyzed with apprehension of a new terrorist attack, is located The Belgian Tropical Museum - a museum which a few years ago underwent a thorough change of display and orientation, becoming dedicated to documenting the crimes of Belgian colonialism.

So, the world does not forget the Palestinians and the occupation and the settlements, it always pops up again, and Israeli diplomats and politicians must rush here and there and try to put out the brushfires. Here, the American Anthropological Association decided to boycott Israeli academia as long as it cooperates with the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. And then a Berlin department store which was founded by Jews and confiscated by the Nazis and is now owned by a Thai corporation decided to remove settlement products from the shelves - but it was possible to reverse this by a massive dose of Holocaust evocation and an overwhelming appeal to the German feeling of guilt. And now the British Labor Party decided to boycott the international security company G4S because of their involvement with the incarceration of Palestinians in Israel (as well as "dodgy deals" in other parts of the world…).

But as of now, such things constitute no more than pinpricks from Netanyahu’s point of view. The world has not forgotten the Palestinians - but they are also not really a priority, when politicians and generals and security officials are scurrying among so many other crises. At least in the near future, no one is going to subject Netanyahu to unbearable pressure. During seven years of his presidency, there were several instances in which Obama seemed on the verge of a head-on confrontation with Netanyahu - and he always backed off at the last minute. Only once did the President of the United States go through with it - and that was not over the Palestinians, but about the deal with Iran. In that instance, Obama acted most determined and resolute towards both Netanyahu and Netanyahu's supporters in Congress, utterly routing all opposition. Resting on the laurels of this victory, Obama came to the conclusion that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would not come to an end during his tenure, and that the maximum which could be done would be "damage control".

But apparently, Secretary of State Kerry could not achieve even that much. Netanyahu made it clear that there will be no good will gestures towards the Palestinians until the "Intifada of the Knives" come to an end. And of course, even if all Palestinians were to keep completely calm, a settlement freeze would never be on the agenda. But if the violence were to stop, it is possible that the Prime Minister would care to look in his hat for some gestures to pull out, benefitting Palestinians in their daily lives. What exactly? Well, first of all they should stop their terrorism, violence and incitement, than we'll see.

And what about these pesky Palestinians who do not belong to any organization and are not controlled by anyone, and who one by one, day after day, are ready to take a knife (or a pair of scissors), and take action which would probably end in death or serious injury? Most likely, they had not even paid any attention to the attenuated media reports of the Israeli PM’s meeting with the US secretary of state.

And so, the wheel of bloodshed continues to roll, every day brings its own heroes and heroines, villains and villainesses to their moment in the limelight (and who is a hero and who the villain? That depends, of course, which side of the conflict publishes the story...).

The 18-year-old Mohammed Tarda of Yatir village near Hebron went to the Israeli town of Kiryat Gat, stabbed and wounded four Israelis in the streets. The 13 year old Liam Yutko, who was stabbed, was able to bandage herself and the Israeli meida praised her resourcefulness. The Palestinian 16-year-old Ashaqat Qatanani of Nablus arrived at the Huwara junction south of Nablus and took out a knife, the settler leader Gershon Masika who happened to be there ran her over with his car and knocked her to the ground, and before she could get up a soldier and a settler shot and killed her. The 21-year old Hadar Buchris, who recently moved from Safed in north Israel to one of the Gush Etzion settlements on the West Bank, was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus at the junction near the settlement. The attacker, 34-year old Wissam Tawabte, from the nearby village of Beit Fajar, was immediately shot and killed by soldiers. Newspaper front pages on the next day carried the photo of Buchris during a recent trip to India, a beautiful girl at the beach in Goa. The next day came two Palestinian girls from Kalandia Refugeee Camp, the 14-year-old Norhan Awwad and her 16-year old cousin Hadeel Awwad, went to the Mahane Yehuda Market in central Jerusalem and tried to stab passersby with their scissors. Hadeel was shot by a police officer and killed on the spot, and Norhan seriously injured. "Little girl terrorists" was how the headlines in the Israeli press dismissed the affair. It turned out that Hadeel’s elder brother was two years ago struck in the head by a "rubber bullet" fired by Israeli soldiers and died after nine months in coma. Later that day, the Israeli soldier Ziv Mizachi was stabbed to death at a gas station on Route 443, which links Jerusalem to Tel Aviv by way of the West Bank. It turned out that Ziv's uncle had been killed 12 years ago in the bombing of a Jerusalem restaurant. And so on and so on, event following upon event, day by day and sometimes hour by hour, dead Israelis and wounded Israelis, dead Palestinians and wounded ones (at much bigger numbers). The heroes of one side being the villains of the other, making it very difficult to follow and remember what happened when. And just now, as I sit here at the computer and write this article, a Palestinian car ran over six soldiers at the entrance to the refugee camp of Beit Ummar between Bethlehem and Hebron, the soldiers being injured and the Palestinian driver immediately shot dead. As usual, Israeli media summed up with the usual formulation: "The terrorist was neutralized."

So what is to be done? The Army’s high command decided it is no longer a "wave of terrorism" but "a limited uprising". "Limited", because as yet not all Palestinians are participating, the attacks carried on mainly by individuals who usually do not belong to any organization and who in many cases appear to have decided on the action just a few hours before. It is still possible, according to the army, to "contain" this uprising by undertaking – in parallel with "pinpoint" acts of repression – also some good will to the general Palestinian population. The army also recommends strengthening the Palestinian Authority by providing weapons and armored vehicles. All these recommendations were rejected out of hand by Netanyahu and his ministers.

Unlike the military commanders, who still regard the Palestinian Authority and its security forces as a trusted ally, the government tends to point to the PA as "The Main Inciter" and accuse the Palestinian TV and radio of urging Palestinian youths to go out on the streets with knives in their hands. Reportedly, some of Netanyahu’s ministers "would not be sorry to see the Palestinian Authority collapse." Paradoxically, such expectations on the right-wing flank of the Israeli cabinet intersect with the attitude of growing parts of the Palestinian society, who would like the PA to be dismantled or at least put an end to its security cooperation with the Israeli army, considered to be an act of collaboration with the occupation.

In yesterday’s morning news bulletin on the radio, senior army commanders were quoted as saying that the killing of Palestinians should be minimized, since any such killing is fueling the flames of insurrection and revolt and threatens to turn it into a general conflagration – by its explicit name, an intifada. "When a child tries to stab with scissors and is trembling with fear, it is enough to kick her or at most shoot her in the leg. There is no need to pierce her with ten consecutive bullets" said the unnamed senior commander. But if such is the intention of the senior commanders, they seem unable to make it clear to the lower echelons, the soldiers on the ground.

Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of the B’Tselem Human Rights group, wrote to Netnayhau: "Your government permits – and encourages – the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners. The disparity between words and actions is a stark one. It has been claimed that there has been no change in open-fire regulations and that security forces are employing reasonable force not exceeding that required to thwart perpetrators. It is ostensibly taken for granted that it is unlawful to shoot an injured person who poses no danger. Yet in practice, [your] full support for the documented instances of unlawful killing reflects a completely different reality and grants it legitimacy. During your term of office, a new pseudo-normative reality has effectively emerged, in which a "shoot to kill" approach must always be adopted, no matter the circumstances, even when the suspect no longer poses any danger whatsoever. This reality is a direct consequence of inflammatory statements by senior members of your government, who draw support from your silence. The upshot is that there can only be one outcome in cases that combine an individual with Arab appearance and a knife: execution on the street."

Yesterday afternoon some 300 Israelis and Palestinian held a joint march along the "Tunnel Road", which was built with a huge investment of resources for the use of the Gush Etzion settlers. For an hour they marched to the sound of drums, chanting slogans against settlements and occupation, against violence and in support of Jewish-Arab cooperation. At the concluding rally, next to the military checkpoint, activist Meital Lukov of "Combatants for Peace" said: We are living in a difficult period, innocent people are dying every day and it is hard to see an end to these events. But we must not lose heart. The right thing, the right response, is what we are doing here, To stand together, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. To find a common ground and build a common future, to break the cycle of violence and create a new tomorrow."

Mohammad Barakeh, former Knesset Member and head of the Monitoring Committee, leadership body of Israel’s Arab citizens, noted that the vehicular attack by a Palestinian on soldiers, and the attackers subsequent killing, had taken place a short time before the march, just a few kilometers down the same highway. "We don’t want a single drop of blood to be spilt," Barakeh said, "but he who creates this situation needs to understand that only peace will bring security. The blockade, the checkpoints, the abuse, the settlements — they are the root cause of all that is happening here. We stand together and condemn this extremist government. We stand in support of life in peace – life in peace both for the State of Israel and for the independent Palestinian state to be established."

Photographer: Mustafa Bader

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Terrorist Grandmother, the Terrorist Child and Harry Potter

The following was written before the horrible events in Paris tonight. It is far too early to predict what the effects over here will be. As it happens, these events have touched me personally – close family members, on holiday, were in a Paris restaurant this evening - close enough to clearly hear the shooting, fortunately far enough not to be hit.

“It's not an intifada." Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon insists and reiterated that this is not an intifada, that an intifada is something entirely different. Currently, the Israeli media remain convinced. They do not call it an Intifada, they continue to call it “The Wave of Terror". A wave of terror that lasts and lasts and lasts and whose end no one can see. But in fact, does it make so much difference exactly what it is called? What is clear is that Palestinians in increasing numbers, regardless of gender and age and social background, are rising up against the Israeli occupation which is quickly approaching its fiftieth anniversary.

A week ago at Halhul Junction, north of Hebron, Israeli soldiers opened fire, killing the 72-year-old Thawarat Ashrawi of Hebron while she was driving her car. According to the soldiers Ashrawi, a widow and grandmother, had tried to run them over in her car, and they had therefore acted in self defense. This was taken up unhesitatingly by the Israeli media, who were quick to define her as a terrorist "even if one with a rather unusual profile." Palestinians trying to cast doubt on the official Israeli version were rejected out of hand - "It seems that the desire to carry out attacks is stimulating not only the young but also their grandparents. There can be no doubt of her complicity, after all she was a member of a terrorist family, her late husband was killed by soldiers in Hebron during the first Intifada." (In those days there had been no doubt about using the term "Intifada”…)

Thawarat Ashrawi  a few months ago - photo: Resist4pal

Rasha Awissi, 23-year-old student from Qalqilya, was killed by soldiers at the Eliyahu Checkpoint west of her hometown - two weeks before the time she was going to get married. The soldiers said she had tried to stab one of them. In the letter found on her body Awissi wrote: "I don’t know what will happen to me at the end of the road. I am doing this with a clear mind, because I can’t stand any more what I see. I am doing it for the defense of my homeland, to protect the boys and the girls. I'm sorry for what will happen to me, I'm sorry that this is the way I will end. Father, Mother, my brothers and sisters, please forgive me for what I am going to do. I love you all. Especially my fiancé." The letter was widely quoted in the Israeli media - especially as conclusive proof in this case there was indeed an attempt to harm soldiers. 

The 14 year old Ali Alkam, a resident of the Shuafat Refugee Camp in northern Jerusalem, tried on his way home from school to stab a Light Rail security guard. "I did it to avenge the killing of my cousin by soldiers" he said in police interrogation. His brother Muawiyyeh Alkam, 11, who also participated in the stabbing attempt, could not speak and explain himself and his actions. He was shot by the security guard, and was taken to hospital in serious condition, sedated and on a respirator. The headlines had much to say about "The 11-year-old terrorist" and commentators expressed their concern about the fact that children aged 11 are not criminally responsible – which meant that “the Palestinians might have found a legal loophole”. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has promised to try to plug this loophole, and look for legal ways to lower the age of criminal responsibility.

And immediately after the 11-year-old terrorist, the headlines shifted to the Undercover Unit, the celebrated Mista’rvim soldiers who know how to dress up as Arabs and mislead Palestinian passers-by until the moment they pull out their guns and charge. This time they have surpassed themselves when penetrating into the Al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron and there detaining (or kidnapping – terminology depends on who does the reporting...) the 20-year old Azzam Shalaldeh, suspected of stabbing and wounding an Israeli settler two weeks ago. Abdullah Shalaldeh, Azzam's cousin, tried to resist the soldiers and was shot dead on the spot. Israeli media praised the resourcefulness and creativity of the undercover troops, one of whom was dressed up as a heavily pregnant woman and put on a wheelchair, while others pretended to be relatives of the "woman" and so manage to penetrate deeply into the hospital without arousing suspicion. The concern was raised that once the Palestinians published the footage taken by the hospital security cameras, the faces of undercover soldiers will be become known and their usefulness be at an end. But a specialist reassured TV viewers, "Their talent for acting and disguise is virtually unlimited undercover, next time they will look very different, completely unrecognizable”.

To the growing collection of photographs fitting into the genre of "The Pornography of Death" were added the photos of the pools of blood covering the floor of the Al-Ahli Hospital, which were published by several media outlets and spread with lightning speed through the social media.

Unlike other cases, the undercover soldiers did not take with them the body of Abdullah Shalaldeh, the cousin shot to death. His funeral was organized within hours, with a crowd of thousands following his coffin and chanting calls for revenge. In the following days there were more demonstrations in Hebron’ leading to clashes with Israeli forces. When soldiers shot at one of these, another young man was severely injured and taken to the same Al Ahli Hospital, where he died of his wounds. In his funeral were renewed calls for revenge. While I was writing this article an armed Palestinian was waiting at the side of the road, a few kilometers south of Hebron and opened fire at a car of Israeli settlers. Two settlers – a 40-year-old father and his 18-year old son - were killed. The army began conducting extensive searches in all the surrounding villages, and on the news there was an ominous talk of “the need to impose limitations on the Palestinians’ freedom of movement”.

”It is time to start calling it an Intifada" wrote the military commentator Amos Harel in Haaretz, noting that the IDF Supreme Command has already concluded that the forces of the regular army would not be enough. Four battalions of reservists have already been mobilized, and the army plans to bring tens of thousands more of reservists in the coming year, working on the assumption that the confrontation will last a long time. Meanwhile, TV broadcast a long favorable news item on the young women combat soldiers who take a major part in standing at the checkpoints during the day and raiding deeply into the villages at nighttime. “This is women’s empowerment at its best, a Feminist dream come true” gushed the reporter.

And amidst all the events of this week, the Israeli Prime Minister met with The President of the United States. Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu was asked for the meeting to take confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians, so as to help calm down the situation. The Inner Cabinet met and duly resolved to increase the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel, approve zoning plans for a number of Palestinian villages where hitherto houses had been destroyed as having been “built without a permit”, and allow the establishment of a Palestinian cell phone system which the Israeli authorities had delayed for many years. "These measures will help to separate the terrorists and inciters of violence from the silent majority of Palestinians, who just wants to live their daily life" announced the PM. But he firmly refused any idea of a settlement freeze as a good will gesture to the Palestinians, explaining that any attempt to go in this direction would immediately lead to the collapse of his government.

Obama will not press on the issue of a settlement freeze. In fact, he just did not press. Both Netanyahu and Obama had an interest in presenting to the media a show of reconciliation after their head-on confrontation over the agreement with Iran. So the meeting was held – “very good meeting" (according to Netanyahu) or "an OK meeting" (Obama). It was agreed that Israel would receive an increased military aid package from the US, the details to be negotiated later.  On the Palestinian issue, Obama condemned the violent attacks by Palestinians on innocent Israeli civilians (not mentioning attacks by Palestinians armed with knives on Israeli soldiers armed with rifles). Netanyahu, for his part, declared himself to be “still committed to the vision of peace, based on the principle of two states for two peoples". So that no one will take this statement too seriously, a clarification was published in a banner headline of "Israel Today", the PM’s personal newspaper - "Netanyahu: there is no peace, because of the Palestinians – when we meet leaders ready to recognize a Jewish state, there will be peace”.

The most interesting part of Obama's meeting with Netanyahu was the media briefing by the President's top aides ahead of his meeting with the Israeli PM. White House Middle East Coordinator Rob Malley told reporters not to hold out for a major announcement: "For the first time since the first term of the Clinton Administration, we face a reality where the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution is not in the cards for the remaining time [of the Obama presidency].”

”Since the first term of President Bill Clinton." It was in Clinton’s first term that the Oslo Agreement was signed with a burst of hope and enthusiasm on the White House lawn. A historic handshake took place in front of the cameras between the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for whose assassination the twentieth anniversary was marked last week at a mass rally in Tel Aviv, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat who died ten years later under circumstances that remain controversial, with his headquarters surrounded and besieged by Israeli soldiers. Over the twenty-two years since that handshake, the Americans kept to the same format – trying again and again to get Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the negotiating table, in the hope and expectation an agreement will result. Apparently, Washington has now arrived at the conclusion that this model is bankrupt. You can push the Israeli government to sit down at the negotiating table - this does not necessarily mean any real intention or inclination to end the occupation.

What, then, is the conclusion? The radical columnist Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man has a clear answer: Netanyahu has won. By accepting that the two-state solution will just have to wait until Israel is ready to accept it, the White House has effectively conceded to Netanyahu's strategy: declare support for two states - in theory - while continuing to deny Palestinians their most basic rights and liberties”.

This, however, is not the only possible interpretation. It might be more than a coincidence that two days after the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, the European Union at long last made the decision which had been talked about for several months already. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, adopted the guidelines for marking products from settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, presented at retail chains all over the continent. Under the guidelines, a product’s origin in a settlement should be clearly marked with the words "Product of the West Bank (Israeli settlement)" or "product of the Golan (Israeli settlement)." Omitting this essential geographical information would constitute misleading the consumers. The guidelines would be binding in regard to fruit and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic products and cosmetics. In addition, the Guidelines document states that the EU does not recognize Israeli sovereignty beyond the 1967 lines, regardless of the status of those territories under Israeli law, and that regulations and legislation in Europe should reflect this position. Enforcement of the guidelines will be entrusted to the authorities in the 28 EU Member States

Nowhere in the European resolutions is the word "boycott" mentioned. No ban of any kind was imposed on the entry of settlement products to the European market, the decision whether or not to buy them left entirely to the personal preference of the European consumers. Nevertheless, from ministers and Knesset Members of the Netanyahu Government, as well as  parts of the “Opposition" came the highly predictable chorus of angry responses: “A reward to terrorism!" “An anti-Israeli and and anti-Jewish resolution!" "European hypocrisy and hatred for Israel!", "Anti-Semitism!", "Reminiscent of the Nazi Yellow Star!" "We should impose a counter-boycott of European products!". The most sophisticated response were self-righteous expressions of commiseration with Palestinian workers employed in the settlements, who might now lose their jobs. David Lahyani, head of the Jordan Valley settlers – who are the ones most involved in agriculture – said that “in fact the boycott began long ago. Until about six years ago, Europe was taking up some 80 per cent of everything we produce, about 450 million Shekels a year. But it dropped to 10 to 20 percent nowadays - the UK has started marking products already eight years, the EU does not recognize our certificates for organic produce, does not recognize our veterinary certificates, even before the latest decision they have found plenty of ways to hurt us”.

Obama refused to condemn the action of the Europeans, and in fact gave it his backing: "The United States opposes a boycott of Israel, but the European decision should not be considered a surprise, in light of the continued Israeli settlement construction. We understand that the goal is to provide EU consumers with correct information about the origin of products, as required by European law. The EU made it clear that the measures do not constitute a boycott and that the EU opposes a boycott of Israel. The EU does not regard the settlements as part of Israel. Neither does the United States.”

26 United States Senators signed a letter of protest addressed to the European Union. In this case, it is the number which is significant. 26 Senators who signed mean, by definition, that 74 Senators did not sign. It seems that AIPAC, battered in the hopeless struggle against the agreement with Iran, lost the ability it once had to obtain the signatures of at least 80 Senators on virtually any text it chose.

In the UK, there was in recent weeks a particularly stormy debate about the boycotting of Israel. Petitions and counter-petitions were published in the British press. London Mayor Boris Johnson held a highly publicized visit to Israel, where he dismissed the adherents as “a very small minority of foolish corduroy-jacketed lefty academics”, while in the streets of his city there were stormy demonstrations protesting the participation of British chefs in the “Round Tables Culinary Show” sponsored by the Israeli government and the Tel Aviv municipality. An opinion poll conducted among British Jews indicated an increasingly sharp criticism of Israeli government policies,  particularly among younger people. A quarter of those polled expressed their support for economic sanctions against Israel, if that would help achieve peace in the Middle East.

JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter books, was inadvertently caught in the eye of the storm when she signed a petition opposing a cultural boycott of Israel and called instead for “a cultural dialogue". She was flooded with angry protests of Harry Potter fans, who compared Israel with the evil wizard Voldemort. Vainly did Rowling try to appease the angry readers by expressing solidarity with the Palestinians: "The Palestinian community has suffered untold injustice and brutality. I want to see the Israeli government held to account for that injustice and brutality. Boycotting Israel on every possible front has its allure. It satisfies the human urge to do something, anything, in the face of horrific human suffering. What sits uncomfortably with me is that severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community means refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are most pro-Palestinian, and most critical of Israel’s government. Those are voices I’d like to hear amplified, not silenced. A cultural boycott places immovable barriers between artists and academics who want to talk to each other, understand each other and work side-by-side for peace.”

Rowling's position in favor of the Palestinians caused great disappointment in the Israeli mass media. Yedioth Ahronoth published an extensive news item entitled "Harry Potter no longer on our side" – while at the same time, many pro-Palestinian fans continued to attack Rowling for her “unforgivable” opposition to boycott.

In one well-known episode of the Harry Potter series, the British Prime Minister discovers that there are in his country real magicians and wizards, capable of doing powerful magic. Naively, he thinks that a solution was found to all the Kingdom’s problems: "You can do magic, you can do anything!". The head wizard is quick to dampen his enthusiasm: "Unfortunately, Mr. Prime Minister, the other side can do magic, too”…

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Living by the sword - on a powder keg

On Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street I saw earlier this week a taxi billboard with a giant Israeli flag under which appeared the slogan "Together we will win!" (along with the logo of the shopping chain which funded the ad...). It is not a new phenomenon. Again and again in recent years, at times of mounting crisis, bloodshed and war and, shrewd business people and advertisers discover the value of patriotism for promoting sales.

On Ibn Gvirol Street, pretty close to where I saw the taxi with the sign, there were thousands of demonstrators marching on the Saturday night two days earlier, loudly chanting "We stand / together / without hatred and fear!" as well " We stand / together / without racism and fear!". The same call was heard in Jerusalem a week ago, and it is intended as the main slogan in the rally scheduled for Haifa next Sunday. What is the difference between the "togetherness" of the ad on the taxi and the one of the protesters in the street? Primarily, the fact that the second togetherness specifically and explicitly included Jews and Arabs alike, marching together on the street and dreaming together of a future of peace in this miserable country.

One of more than 600 Palestinian minors detained this month,
Photo: Palestinian News Agency  
On Monday, many Israeli news websites carried the photo of a dead body lying on the ground - a clear example of the fast-growing genre which some columnists term "the pornography of death". The man whose body was photographed by one of the soldiers who killed him five minutes earlier was the 22-year-old Raed Jaradat – a student from Sa’ir village, northeast of Hebron. According to his friends, he had been very upset by the killing of Dania Irsheid, a 17 year old girl who was last week shot by soldiers at a Hebron checkpoint, allegedly when she tried to stab them. )These allegations will probably never be impartially investigated). Like many youths, Jaradat was an intensive user of the social media. To his last Tweet was attached a photo of her blood-soaked body with the words: "Imagine that she was your sister."

In the morning Raed Jaradat went to the Anun Junction north of Hebron, where Israeli soldiers were on duty. They were Armored Corps personnel who, as part of the reinforcement of forces on the West Bank, were removed from their tanks and stationed on foot to maintain security at the junction. Raed Jaradat took advantage of the soldiers’ lack of vigilance and managed to stab one of them in the neck - and was then shot and killed by other soldiers. The medical teams which picked up the stabbed soldier Gile’ad Mazmur provided life-saving emergency care in the ambulance, all the way to the intensive care ward in Jerusalem.


Quite unusually, the Israeli TV First Channel provided some coverage of the Palestinian side of this news item. The reporter visited the village of Sa’ir and showed the dead man’s brother crying out: "Raed! Raad! Just an hour before it happened I saw him, he looked just as usual, I can’t believe I will never see him again!" Behind were dozens of village youths - lighting tires, chanting "Raed – the Blessed Martyr! We will follow on Raed’s path!" and preparing for the confrontation with the soldiers entering the village. The reporter then moved to the soldier's father, who was at his bedside when he woke up after three days’ coma: "This is the second time that it happens to me. Last year my elder son Niv was wounded in Gaza and I rushed to his hospital bed, now it is the younger one, Gil’ad. The murderer tried to kill our Gile’ad, a good child, a talented musician beloved by everybody. Look at how those children in the village admire the killer and want to follow in his footsteps. I fear that this situation will still last very much longer. "

I have been writing this article on and off in the past three days. Since I started, there were several more such cases, more Palestinians killed in their attempts to stab Israeli soldiers, more dead bodies piled in the Israeli morgue’s refrigerators. The government resolved that the dead bodies will not be returned to their families, since "every funeral becomes a mass demonstration." The government's decision itself precipitated a whole series of mass demonstrations throughout the Occupied Territories, demanding the return of the bodies to the families. The spokesperson of the State Hospital in Hebron said that, following the demonstration demanding the return of the bodies, the emergency room was filled with the wounded, including ten who were injured by live fire and three injured by rubber bullets. Others were severely effected by inhaling gas. At least, this demonstration did not, produce more dead bodies…

In the early days of "The Third Intifada" or "The wave of terrorism" or whatever one chooses to call it, many knife-wielding Palestinians went out to Israeli cities and stabbed random civilians. In the past two weeks, almost all such acts of stabbing are directed against armed soldiers in the Territories.

The conflagration whose end no one can see began in East Jerusalem, set off by acts of settlers and Israeli politicians who made blatant attempts to change the status quo at the Old City mosque compound in Jerusalem, allowing Jewish prayers there – which for many of the participants would be but a preliminary step toward rebuilding the Jewish Temple on the site of the mosques. US Secretary of State Kerry, in his attempt to calm down the situation, concentrated on the issue of the mosques and managed to get Netanyahu's agreement to place cameras at this sensitive site, broadcasting 24 hours a day, in order to "ensure that Israel does not violate the religious status quo". This seems too little and too late. Moreover, so far no cameras are in place, Israeli police removing the ones which were placed by the Muslim religious authorities. It is yet to be determined who would place the cameras, and at which precise locations on the sacred Mount, and who would be authorized to view the footage and publish it. Each and every one of these points could well become the subject of negotiations lasting months - perhaps years.

The Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported that President Mahmoud Abbas was asked by Kerry how to calm down the area, and quoted the Palestinian President's response - saying that the manifestations are led by "angry young people who have lost all hope, people who are seeking their people’s independence." Also Ha’aretz quoted Palestinian officials saying that "Calming down the tensions around the compound in Jerusalem is essential, but Palestinian anger is also about the continued occupation, the settler aggression and the lack of any political solution on the horizon. If Mr. Kerry thinks the camera transmissions from the Al-Aqsa Mosque would in themselves lead to calm, he is dead wrong. We have gone on the streets to say - enough, we are fed up with the occupation."

Beyond the issue of the cameras, Prime Minister Netanyahu was far from holding out any encouraging news to the Palestinians (or for that matter, to Israel’s own citizens...). At the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the PM stated explicitly that "At this time and for the foreseeable future we must retain control of all the territory.(…) People ask me if we will have to live by the sword forever? Yes". Then he added that he does not want a binational state – meaning that he has no plans to formally annex the territory and apply Israeli law, which would require the granting of Israeli citizenship and the right to vote to the Palestinian residents. The Prime Minister would obviously prefer to continue indefinitely the current situation, Israeli "temporarily" rule continuing "until conditions changed in the Middle East"...

Against this background, initiatives such as that of New Zealand seek to have a UN Security Council resolution seeking to facilitate the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by a series of mutual confidence-building measures (Israel enacting a settlement construction freeze and ceasing to destroy Palestinian homes, the Palestinians reciprocating by refraining from appeals to the International Court in The Hague). But when the head of the Government of Israel declares openly his intention to keep control of the entire territory, what is there left to negotiate about?

At a conference in the Netanya Academic College, a warning was voiced by Brigadier-General Guy Goldstein, Deputy Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories: "We are in the midst of a confrontation whose end is nowhere in sight. Abu Mazen does not conduct a policy of terrorism, he is trying to calm the situation, but without a political process involving both Israel and the Palestinian Authority this ongoing confrontation is not going to end. Even if there is a certain calm, and I do wish that there will soon be quiet days with no further attacks, basic conditions will remain the same. We sit on a kind of powder keg ".

All of this happens to coincide with marking the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The fact that there is an official anniversary prescribed by law required several prominent politicians to resort to complex verbal acrobatics in order to express grief over the murder of a Prime Minister, without having to refer to the elephant in the middle of the room - that is, to the Oslo Accords which Yitzhak Rabin signed and for which he was murdered.

Naftali Bennett - head of the settlers’ Jewish Home Party who was appointed Minister of Education, had to deliver a speech eulogizing Rabin at a governmental memorial attended by hundreds of youths, broadcast live by the Educational TV network. Bennett spoke of Rabin as a great patriot and Zionist, a military man who dreamed of Israel before it came into being and who had a significant role in fighting for its creation in 1948, a courageous military man who was in command of the great victory in 1967 and had "unified Jerusalem" and who later had some kind of a political career and was murdered under some unspecified reasons – which was obviously a terrible thing which teaches us all how important it is to maintain tolerance and pluralism. Also the other speeches in this gathering did not contain the word "Oslo" and rare was the word "peace".

Nor are these words to be found in the official call published by organizers of the mass memorial rally, scheduled to take place on Saturday night at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square and expected to attract a crowd in the tens of thousands. "All the ‘tribes’ of Israel, all parts of our society, must unite and commit themselves to resolving any dispute among us by democratic means only. Israel is facing the need to make difficult, crucial and historical decisions. Such decisions must be taken only through the democratic process and in accordance with ethical values. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin must serve as a dire warning sign to Israeli society." But what is the nature of these difficult necessary? Peace? Territories? Occupation? Palestinians? The rally organizers deliberately refrained from any such reference, with the stated goal that also right-wingers be able to participate.

Daniel Bar-Tal, a Professor of Sociopolitical Psychology at Tel Aviv University and the Head of a Jewish-Arab Coexistence institute, collected and spread extensively some quotes from Yitzhak Rabin's speeches in the last few years of his life - quotes so conspicuously absent from the official speeches:

"It is no longer inevitable that we be a people who dwell alone, nor is it true that the whole world is against us. We need to break out of the sense of isolation which held us in its grip for almost fifty years. We must come aboard the great journey towards peace, reconciliation and international cooperation. If we don’t, we will remain alone in an empty station" (July 13, 1992).

"We can lock every door, cut off any attempt at making peace. Morally, we have the right to refuse to sit at the negotiations table with the PLO, refuse to shake a hand which had held a knife or pulled a trigger. We can reject with disgust any overtures from the PLO – which would mean we will stay trapped in the same cycle in which we had lived up to now: endless war, terrorism and violence. But we have chosen the other way, the way which gives a chance, which gives hope (September 21, 1993).

"We are certain that both peoples can live on the same piece of land, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, as prophesied by the Prophets. We can give to this land of rocks, to this land of tombstones, the rightful taste of milk and honey. At this time I appeal to the Palestinian people and say: Our Palestinian neighbors, a full century of bloodshed has implanted in us a hatred for each other - today you and us extend our hands to each other in peace "(May 4, 1994).

Yigal Sarna wrote in Yediot Ahronot today: "On Saturday night I will go to the rally because that is all that is left. I will be there, at the spot where the blood was spilled – which half the population tries to forget, and which the Religious Zionists consider as a just punishment meted out to the evil Rabin. So I will go once again to the rally, to mourn the horrific consequences of the transition from Rabin’s Israel to that of Bibi. To listen to the lament of gloom of those who once led this country and whose place was usurped by those who seek to rebuild the Temple even at the cost of eternal war with a billion and half Muslims. I will stand there and remember Rabin - and my father, who was half a generation older than him - who both wanted the same thing: an Israeli state that will live as part of the Middle East, a prosperous member of the Family of Nations – not a ghetto bent on revenge and bloodshed".

Peace Now and Meretz issued a call for their supporters to take part in the Rabin rally as a big solid block – "So that our presence will emphasize Rabin's path to peace and the Two States - for which he was murdered - and the urgent need to go back to this path today. We will stand together in the Rabin Square and tell the Prime Minister that we do not accept living forever by the sword. There is hope, and hope will prevail."

Also we of Gush Shalom will be in this rally, to address the young people who were not yet born on the day Rabin was assassinated and who are Israel’s last best hope. Always, every year, these young people enthusiastically take up the stickers bearing the flags of Israel and Palestine, side by side, and wear them on their clothes. Even if the issue of peace with the Palestinians is absent from the speeches to be heard from the podium.

Three days ago before the rally I went through the Rabin Square, which was still empty. I passed the monument where the murder took place and moved on. All around the square the official rally organizers had hung large photographs of Rabin's life. The photos were carefully selected. Conspicuously absent was the historic handshake with Arafat, nor were there any other photos from the Oslo era. There was indeed a photo with King Hussein of Jordan – the peace with Jordan, involving no territorial concessions, is much less controversial. There were photos of Rabin in uniform during his military career, and one with US President Gerald Ford at the time when Rabin was the Israeli ambassador to Washington.

Remarkably, one of the photos shows a visit by Rabin to Ramallah - a pre-Oslo visit. That was still the old Rabin, the one of "We will meet the PLO only on the battlefield" and who ordered soldiers to "Break the rioters’ arms and legs". But, even so, it was quite daring for him to stand on a Ramallah street and talk with a big group of Palestinian passersby. His expression in the photo gives the clear impression that Rabin was seriously listening to what they had to say.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Overcoming fear

I am happy to host here the words of Alon-Lee Green, one of the organizers of the demonstration held last Saturday night in Jerusalem under the call "Standing  together - not giving in to despair".  After the links to media reports read about the planned Peace Now demo in Tel-Aviv, Sat. Oct. 24

On the minute when we got to Jerusalem, en route to the demonstration, a young woman asked us to accompany her to the Zion Square because she was afraid that “an Arab might come by”. We froze for a moment and looked at one another, two people who had come to take part in a demonstration against occupation and racism, but quickly we nodded and told her that sure, we will accompany her. We could well understand her very real fear, alone on that deserted street, even though it was expressed in a racist generalization which bothered us. 

It is the same fear that I heard in the morning in the words of Arab friends which I asked if they were coming to the demonstration, and they explained that they did not feel safe to come to Jerusalem and be surrounded by so many armed security forces. And later, when we did get to the march, I saw the same fear in the eyes of many protesters at any time when a heckler on the sidewalk shouted "Death to the Arabs!" and "Traitors!". I felt this fear -  not a direct personal fear but a collective one hovering over an entire community, making everybody wary and jumpy – all throughout the march and rally. 

But somehow, at the end, after listening to the Arab and Jewish speakers  from the podium and seeing so many determined people all around me, I knew that on that night we were able to accomplish  something very special. We have beaten the fear. Although dozens of extreme right goons were standing nearby, screaming racist abuse and dire threats, and even though the rally was surrounded by numerous police,  I think that all of us who were there, Jewish or Arab, felt a a kind of confidence and strength which we had not experienced since the wave of violence began. The security and intensity of standing together.

Photo: Olivier Fitoussi,  Ha'aretz 

Account by Nir Hasson, Ha’aretz, Oct 18, 2015

Jews and Arabs Rally for Coexistence in Jerusalem

Protesters march in the capital amid a wave of violence. 'Only together can we break the bloody cycle of occupation and hate," MK Dov Khenin says at the rally.

Some 1,500 Jews and Arabs demonstrated on Saturday evening in Jerusalem under the motto “we will not surrender to despair.”

The demonstrators marched from Gan Hasus ("Horse Park") in the center of the city to Kikar Hahatulot (“Cat Square”). A small group of right-wing protesters demonstrated at the endpoint of the march, with police separating the two sides.

The main demonstration was organized by a new joint Jewish-Arab group called “Omdim Beyachad” (“Standing Together”), which was formed in response to the current wave of violence. Members of the group have called for an immediate stop to the violence and the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Among those attending the rally were Knesset members and representatives from Jerusalem’s Max Rayne Hand in Hand Hebrew-Arabic bilingual school. One of the rally organizers, Alon-Lee Green, said the timing of the demonstration during the current period of “despair and fear” sends “a message of hope and of another way.” He called for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and an end to the occupation.

At the rally, Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to reject a new French-sponsored proposal at the UN Security Council  that would have international observers sent to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. “At a time of unceasing and explosive tension when the national dispute is about to become a religious conflict, the government needs to take steps and back international initiatives to restore quiet and enable a calming of passions in advance of dialogue,” she said.

Joint Arab List Knesset member Dov Khenin welcomed the joint Jewish-Arab protest: “It is only together that we can stop the foul wave that is threatening to drown us all. It is only together that we can break the bloody cycle of occupation and hate and advance a peace of independence and justice for both peoples.”

Links to articles about the demonstration

Stop the Madness! 

Peace Now march, Tel Aviv, Saturday evening, October 24

Join our march this Saturday, invite your friends and share the event:

These difficult days - days of violence, fear and pain - are only reinforcing our understanding that there will not be real security here until there's peace through a negotiated solution.

Only a political process that will lead to the end of our control over millions of Palestinians will end the bloody conflict between the two peoples and allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and quiet. The only way to prevent further deterioration is through a two state solution.

Join us this Saturday - 
*To protest the government actions that are pushing us away from a solution.
*To protest extreme right-wing provocations.
*To call upon Israeli society to choose a different path.

Saturday, October 24, 7:30 PM - marching from Rabin Square to the Defense Ministry gate on Kaplan St., Tel Aviv

Friday, October 9, 2015

To show that we care, that we do not give up

German translation
When listening to news broadcasts is painful and hearing the politicians and commentators is infuriating, one is waiting for the phone to ring and the voice to say: "Tomorrow we take to the streets, to sound our voice, the voice of protest! Come, get there, it's very important!" Yesterday afternoon, at last such a call came. Noa Levy told of the initiative taken by Hadash, to gather on Friday afternoon at King George Street. "The Women in Black are standing there every week, already for many years. But in the present situation it is not enough that they will be there. Many more people should be there to show that we care, that we do not give up, that we take a stand! ".

Time to prepare and send messages in Hebrew and English to activist lists and media list:

"The reality of ‘managing the conflict’ is now exploding in our faces. Moment by moment, the occupation becomes ever more violent and dangerous. This right-wing government is a grave danger to all who live here. We all, on both sides, pay the price – and it becomes ever higher, with every passing day. (…). There is only one way to end the escalation and break the cycle of violence and death: a political agreement/ Ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, side by side with the State of Israel in its internationally recognized 1967 borders."

In the middle of preparations, another phone call: "How dare you? How dare you put out an ad comparing the Palestinian Intifada with our liberation struggle against the British Mandate? Our underground groups hit only British soldiers, while they, your Palestinian friends, are killing us indiscriminately!" - "In the time of the Mandate there was no British civilian population here, there were only soldiers." - "It does not matter, they are vile murderers - and you support them!" - "And what would you say if the Palestinians were taking very great care not to harm Israeli civilians, but direct their fire only and solely at IDF soldiers?" - "What? You are calling for our soldiers to be murdered? You traitors! I don’t talk to traitors, I am going to call the police! "

The bus to the center of Tel Aviv took a long time through the traffic jams. On the floor of the bus was lying yesterday’s copy of "Yediot Ahronot". Each case of an Israeli being stabbed by a Palestinian got an entire page to itself (four in all). No mention of the hundreds of police invading the Shuafat Refugee Camp, and their confrontation with thousands of camp residents, ending with one Palestinian dead and many injured. (This event had made it into Haaretz, but nowhere else). One of the reports in Yedioth Ahronoth mentioned that following the stabbing attack in Petah Tikva on Wednesday, extreme right-wingers rushed to the spot, chanting "Death to the Arabs! " and "Burn down their village!". But the paper’s reporter also quoted the words of a Petah Tikva resident named Yehudit: "Oh God, what terrible things are happening here, and I'm afraid this is just the beginning. It is not correct to chant ‘Death to the Arabs!’. They, too, want to live, and we must find a compromise. But in the meantime, they have nothing to lose. I don’t know how we got into this situation, I am very scared. "

Already at the precise starting time announced, signs were crowding the intersection at the corner of King George and Ben Zion. A lot of red placards with "Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies" with here and there the colorful Gush Shalom round two flags signs, and "The Occupation is killing us all!" – a slogan from the days of the Second Intifada which had become all too relevant again. A gray-haired woman was holding a handwritten sign brought from home: "What will be the end?". The Women in Black, who stand here every week, continued to hold their normal signs – the black palm inscribed by "Down with the Occupation!".

A spirited young man took the loudspeaker and presided over the chanting of slogans: "No escalation – War is not our fashion!" / "No more death, no despair – push occupation off the stair!" / "The occupation is a disaster - only peace is the answer!" / "Right-wing in power – security nowhere!" / " "Right-wing in power – a solution nowhere!" / "Answer the right-wing hate – Israel and a Palestinian state!" / "No killing, enough bereavement - occupation must be finished!". The loudest chanting was reserved to the slogan inscribed on many of the signs: "Jews and Arabs - Refuse to be enemies! Refuse to be enemies! Refuse – to be – enemies!".

Three Knesset members arrived - Ayman Odeh, Dov Khenin and Abdallah Abu Marouf. One by one, they took up the loudspeaker and delivered short speeches. "These are days of fear and often of despair. Especially on such these, it is essential that a different voice will be heard. Endlessly we hear demagoguery, a demagoguery of hatred, a demagoguery of war. We remember that twenty years ago, there was a man who came out against such demagoguery, a man named Yitzhak Rabin . We know what happened to Rabin, here in the city of Tel Aviv - and we will continue the struggle! Often it seems like a voice crying in the wilderness, but the silent majority on both sides wants a future of peace. We say it here, loud and clear. We say yes to negotiations, yes to sincere, real negotiations, negotiations leading to an end to the occupation and to a Palestinian state alongside Israel - certainly by Israel’s side, not at Israel’s expense! We speak in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, and in both we express a single political message. We are here, Jews and Arabs, and we do not want to be enemies! We want to live in peace, we want both our peoples to live in peace! We will not surrender to the logic of killing and death, fear and hatred. There is another way! There can be new hope to mothers and fathers who panic every time a child leaves home, new hope to young people in the refugee camps and on the streets of Tel Aviv. We can free both our peoples of the occupation, bring peace and justice to everybody."

"There were a lot less hostile responses than I feared, and quite a few favorable comments of passers-by. The situation is just a little bit less terrible than it appears when you sit alone in front of the screen," said a veteran woman activist. With participants dispersing, an organizer called on the loudspeaker: "Tomorrow there is a countrywide demonstration in Nazareth. There will be transportation from Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Anyone who can, please come there, too. And everybody, see you here next time!"

Back home, the computer screen gave updates of the latest crop of news items: "Five or six Gazans killed and 35 wounded by IDF gunfire when hundreds of Palestinians marched towards the border fence, in solidarity with West Bank residents / At Hebron, Bethlehem and Beit El clashes broke out, described by Palestinians as the worst since the outbreak of the riots, 118 injured / Stabbing attacks in Jerusalem and Kiryat Arba, two slightly injured / MKs accuse that Afula stabber was shot at close range, probably from several weapons, while she stood motionless and presented no threat / a revenge attack: three Palestinians and a Bedouin were stabbed in Dimona, one of the victims ran through the streets with the bloody knife stuck in his back / The Jewish terrorist has a psychiatric history, explained the stabbing of four by saying that "All Arabs are terrorists" / Commentary: "We know how it started - nobody knows how it will end" / Clashes break out at Arab towns in Israel...

There is also a message about the demonstration scheduled by Meretz for tomorrow night, in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem:

"Another violent attack and yet another one, every part of the country is touched by the flames, but instead of shouldering the responsibility the right-wing government whines and blames the whole world - except themselves. For six years, the right-wing government clings to power without offering any hope, vision or action plan to the citizens of Israel. For six years, the only things which Netanyahu and his ministers have to offer are settlements, annexation, incitement and brute force. Can anybody pretend to be surprised that the conflict – which they insist on managing rather than solving – is now blowing up in all our faces?

On Saturday night at 20:00 we will gather in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in the wounded and sorely aching city of Jerusalem. Near the residence of the PM who had brought us into this impasse. We will gather to say that we don’t accept the continuation of the bloodletting, that is time to end the cycle of killing, that we are fed up with violence and incitement. We have no interest in revenge, knowing that an Eye of an Eye will only get us all blinded. The only way to stop moving from one war to the next and to live securely in this country is through hope and a persistent striving for peace. "

Transportation will leave from Tel Aviv at 18:30. Hurry to register - space is limited.

The horror continues. But at least we have started struggling against it.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The finger on the grenade

East Jerusalem this week - photo AFP
Sometimes, on the battlefield, a soldier takes a hand grenade and pulls out the pin but does not yet toss it. It is possible. As long as a finger is kept on the spot, the grenade will not explode - but this is a dangerous expedient, which is very inadvisable to continue with for long. If the finger slips, or somebody jogs the soldier's hand and the grenade falls, it can explode at an unexpected place and time and with unpredictable results. And once the pin is pulled from the grenade, it is not so easy to put it back.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) went to the UN Assembly General a much-troubled man. Ten years have passed since he was elected to replace Yasser Arafat, and not much to show.

Since Abbas was elected, he had adhered to a clear and consistent position – Palestinians should avoid armed struggle, which had reached its peak during the second intifada. Acts such as suicide bombings sully the Palestinians’ international reputation and bring upon them destructive and deadly Israeli reprisals. Instead, the Palestinians should take political action, mobilize international public opinion, build up a position in international diplomatic institutions, and simultaneously conduct on the ground a Popular Struggle mobilizing big numbers of people in demonstrations and protests, in which no violent means will be used beyond stone throwing. For ten years he led the Palestinians on the basis of this policy – with practical results on the ground remaining close to nil.

True, on the international diplomatic arena the "State of Palestine" won recognition in a great variety of international forums, culminating I this week’s ceremony of raising the Palestinian flag, among the flag of all the other nations, in front of the UN headquarters in New York. In principle, the Palestinians posses a far stronger international diplomatic recognition than the Zionist movement had in the aftermath of the Balfour Declaration, which promised no more than "a Jewish National Home" whose precise nature remained unclear.

However, also to the thousands of Palestinians gathered in Ramallah to view the New York flag raising ceremony in huge TV screens it was clear that as of now, it is a virtual state, whose presence in the world of diplomacy sharply contrasts with its absence in reality on the ground. Over his ten years in office, Abu Mazen was unable to change in any significant way the situation in which the Palestinian Authority exercises and extremely limited degree of control over a string of narrow enclaves surrounded by Israeli military forces and ever- expanding settlements. To this should be added the deep divisions among the Palestinians themselves, between Fatah and Hamas, West Bank and Gaza Strip. All attempts to bridge over these divisions and establish a united Palestinian government ended in dismal failure.

Among Palestinians, there is a growing discontent with the status quo, especially against the "security cooperation" between the security services of the Palestinian Authority and those of Israel. Two weeks ago, there was widespread protest following the publication of videos showing Palestinian Police in Bethlehem beating up a Palestinians boy during an attempt to prevent demonstrators from getting to the Israeli Separation Wall surrounding the Tomb of Rachel – to hold a protest there. Increasingly, Palestinians feel that continuation of the status quo serves the Israeli side, the Palestinian Authority providing a force of subcontractors who "manage the occupation" and who facilitate the appearance of "Palestinian self-rule" which reduces criticism of ongoing occupation. One of the most prominent advocates of dismantling the Palestinian Authority and "handing the keys to Israel" is none other than Saeb Erekat, one of Abu Mazen’s closest aides and advisers (who headed the negotiating team with Israel, as long as there were negotiations...) .

As soon as Abbas let it be known that he was planning to "throw a bomb" during his speech at the UN. Immediately, European and American diplomats came rushing to restrain him. But from what was leaked to the media, they did not have much to offer. Reportedly, Secretary of State Kerry promised an emergency aid of 300 Million Dollars, which would keep the Palestinian Authority alive but would in no way change the underlying conditions. And in his own speech at the UN, President Obama did not mention the Palestinians at all - nor did Russian President Putin.

Until the last moment it was unclear what exactly Abbas would say in his speech. The first twenty-five minutes of it he devoted to rhetoric which sounded very similar to what he said on previous years. Railing against the iniquities of the occupation, particularly the offensive of Israeli extremist groups against the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, and the killing of an entire Palestinian family in the arson of their home at the village of Duma. This was followed by compliments to the European Parliaments which recognized Palestine in the past year, most especially to the government of Sweden, as well as to Pope Francis who had canonized two Nineteenth Century Palestinian nuns. There was also a quote of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (of whose assassination the twentieth anniversary will soon be marked) who said that if Israel remains in the Occupied Territories it will become an Apartheid state.

An editor at CNN evidently reached the conclusion that he was not going to say anything of practical significance, and that there was therefore no point in continuing to broadcast the entire speech live with a simultaneous translation. This was a mistake - because just after the live broadcast on CNN ended, Mahmoud Abbas at last got to his "bomb" – just in time caught on Al-Jazeera.
"Continuation of the status quo is completely unacceptable because it means surrender to the logic of the brute force being inflicted by the Israeli Government (...) .The transitional Oslo Agreement stipulated that the agreements would be implemented within five years, ending in 1999 with full independence for the State of Palestine and the termination of the Israeli occupation. But Israel stopped the process of withdrawing its forces. (...) We will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them. We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements. (...) I must reiterate: the current situation is unsustainable. Our people need genuine hope and need to see credible efforts for ending this conflict, ending their misery and achieving their rights. The State of Palestine, based on the 4th of June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, is a State under occupation, as was the case for many countries during World War II. Our State is recognized by 137 countries around the world and the right of our people to self-determination, freedom and independence is recognized globally as being inalienable and unquestionable. Either the Palestinian National Authority will be the conduit of the Palestinian people from occupation to independence - or Israel, the occupying Power, must bear all of its responsibilities."

In principle, here are - but no date set for implementation - all of the measures discussed and debated in recent months, from the cessation of security cooperation with Israel up to a complete dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, handing over the keys to Israel and demanding that it fill its obligations as the Occupying Power. Options with a very volatile potential. What would tens of thousands of armed members of the Palestinian Security Forces do when no longer required to prevent their own people from acting against Israel? What if the Palestinian security forces are completely disbanded, their members dispersing, holding on to their weapons but getting no salaries? And what would happen to the Palestinian health services and schools without a Palestinian Authority to manage them and pay the doctors and teachers’ salaries? Would Israel, as the Occupying Power, assume this financial and administrative burden - as was the situation until the Oslo Accords? And if Israel will not, who will?

A lot of questions, a lot of troubling scenarios. There is no doubt that in any situation of chaos, the first to suffer would be the Palestinians themselves. But, sometimes, the willingness to suffer is a way to accomplish. That is what hunger strikers do - cause harm to themselves in order to get attention to their grievance. As it happens, just this week the famous hunger striker Mohamed Alan won his prolonged struggle, with the State of Israel agreeing to release him from Administrative Detention – along with two others of his fellow hunger strikers as well. But to achieve this, Alan had to skirt very close to suffering irreversible brain damage.

On a larger scale, chaos in the West Bank may force the Americans and the Russians, currently focusing on solving the crisis in Syria, to pay similar attention to the Palestinian crisis.

It is clear that the Palestinian President really does not want such scenarios to be actually enacted. He still hopes that to have placed the threat on the international agenda would be enough; that diplomats and politicians would mobilize and devote to the Palestinian problem more than lip service; that the Palestinian National Authority would indeed become the conduit of the Palestinian people from occupation to independence - and that the bomb would not have to be actually set off. But the decision might not remain in his hands.

One day after Abu Mazen's speech at the UN, some armed Palestinians went in a car on a road used by Israeli settlers in the Nablus area. They passed a car in which a couple of young settlers were travelling with their four children, and opened fire. The couple, Naama and Eitam Henkin, were killed on the spot. Their children, who were in the back seat, were not injured. And today the situation heats up with acts of random revenge by settlers, and violent demonstrations by right-wing extremists, and the arrival of large military reinforcements, and Palestinian villages being surrounded and subjected to extensive searches. Fiery declarations were made to a crowd of thousands at the funeral of the couple ("The war on terror demands determination, an iron fist and a lot of endurance. We are fighting a bloodthirsty and ruthless enemy, we will chase after them, we will not rest until we lay hands on the murderers and those who sent them" said the Defence Minister).

The settlers and their representatives in the Netanyahu government - and there are many of these - are trying to change the status quo - in their direction. They demand "a disproportionate punishment " of the Palestinians, the blocking of Palestinian traffic from the roads, and above all settlement construction - extensive new construction in existing settlements plus the creation of a new settlement at the very spot where the couple was killed. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party, declared that in his view "Israel has no interest in the continued existence of the Palestinian Authority".

In the meantime, the conflagration continues in Jerusalem, where once again the entry of Muslim worshipers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque was restricted, and those who were denied entry clashed with police in the nearby streets. Also in Issawya, one of the perennial "hot spots" of East Jerusalem, a large crowd confronted the police. "A young man who tried to throw a Molotov cocktail was shot by police officers below the waist. His fellows spirited him away. The police is now conducting searches to find and apprehend him" was the on the spot report of the evening TV news, which then went on to the extensive clashes in Hebron. The commentator spoke of "typical intifada images" – stone throwing, exploding tear gas canisters and burning tires.

As of now, the Palestinian security services did not yet get any instructions for a change of policy. They continue to maintain security cooperation with Israel.

The finger is still on the grenade.


Combatants For Peace emergency protest: Break the Cycle of Bloodshed!
Tonight Sat. Oct. 3, Habima Plaza, Tel Aviv

An emergency protest tonight!

In the past months of the conflict is growing, the cycle of violence and bloodshed is fast  escalating. There is a straight line between the settler “Price Tag” violence and deadly arson at the village of Duma, this week’s shooting attack and the countless incidents of violence on both sides which we witnessed recently. Israelis and Palestinians are killed - and the Prime Minister keeps silent.

Deterioration and escalation lead but to further hatred and incitement, ,  revenge and counter-revenge. The Prime Minister, in his UN speech, did nothing to break the political deadlock. Both sides must return to negotiations.

We , activists and those shocked by the terrible events, come to say: There is another way! The voice of the moderate majority and sane opposition to violence must be heard. We will rally tonight, Saturday Oct. 3, at 19: 30 Habima Square in Tel Aviv  We must stop the cycle of violence!