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!