The Blog Has Moved

Posted: June 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal | Comments Off

You can find all my recent writing on +972 Magazine. The direct link to the Promised Land Blog is:

http://972mag.com/author/noams/

See you there,

Noam


Why Jews need to talk about the Nakba

Posted: May 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

A personal journey

The ruins of Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem (photo: Ester Inbar)

The ruins of Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem (photo: Ester Inbar)

A childhood memory: A group of kids and their teacher on a school trip. They are walking through excavations, listening to explanations from a tour guide about their ancestors who lived there two thousand years ago. After a while, one of the kids points to some ruins between the trees. “Are these ancient homes as well?” he asks.

“These are not important,” comes the answer.

Growing up in the seventies and the eighties you couldn’t miss those small houses scattered near fields, between towns and Kibbuzim and in national parks. Most of them were made of stone, with arches and long, tall windows. In other places they had cement walls. Sometimes all you could see was part of a stone fence, a couple of walls with no roof, or the rows of Indian fig that Palestinians used to mark the border of an agricultural field (it is one of history’s ironies that the Hebrew name of their fruit – the Sabra – became the nickname for an Israeli-born Jew).

Those pieces of the local landscape are gradually disappearing – partly due to the “development” trends which have left very few corners of this country untouched, but also due to a policy that is meant to erase any memory of the people who used to live in this land. But one can still find them sometimes, and in the most unexpected of places –the mosque, which stands between the hotels and expensive apartment towers on Tel Aviv’s beach, or a few homes behind Herzlia’s monstrous Cinema City complex.

As a kid, I never gave those ruins much thought. I loved history – but the history they taught us at school. I could probably have lead a tour of Massada at the age of 12, and one of my favorite books told the tragic story of the last convoy to Gush Ezion in ‘48, before it fell into Jordanian hands.

Once, also during elementary school, our class was supposed to go on a tour of Canada Park, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We had been there before – they told us of the crusaders who passed through the area and the caves and homes Jews lived in, and I still remember the explanation on the ways they used to make wine—but this time my mother didn’t want me to go. The park, she told me, stood on the site of the last two Palestinian villages that were destroyed by Israel. Not many remember this story – it happened right after the war in 1967. Imwas and Yallu were demolished under a direct order by Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. The Hebrew Wikipedia entry states that unlike in ’48, the Palestinian residents were later compensated, but they weren’t allowed to return to their village.

I don’t remember if I ended up going on this trip or not.

Palestinian Nakba village Dana (Baysan), 2010 (photo: Noga Kadman / Zochrot.org)

Palestinian Nakba village Dana (Baysan), 2010 (photo: Noga Kadman / Zochrot.org)

I never heard the word Nakba before the nineties. It was simply not present in the Israeli language, or in the popular culture. Naturally, we knew that some Arabs left Israel in 1948, but it was all very vague. While we were asked to cite numbers and dates of the Jewish waves of immigration to Israel, details on the Palestinian parts of the story were sketchy: How many Palestinians left Israel? What were the circumstances under which they left? Why didn’t they return after the war? All these questions were irrelevant, having almost nothing to do with our history—that’s what we were made to think.

Occasionally, we were told that the Arabs had left under their own will, and it seemed that they chose not to come back, at least in the beginning. Years later, I was shocked to read that most of the notorious “infiltrates” from the early fifties were actually people trying to come back to their homes, even crossing the border to collect the crops from their fields at tremendous risk to their life – as IDF units didn’t hesitate to open fire.

We were made to think they were terrorists…

It’s hard to explain the mechanism which makes some parts of history “important” or some elements of the landscape “interesting.” I can only say that looking back, I understand how selective the knowledge we received was. But there is more to this. I think we all chose not to think about those issues. Even after the New Historians of the nineties made the term Nakba a part of modern Hebrew and proved that in many cases, Israel expelled Palestinians from territories it conquered in ’48, we were engaged in the wrong kind of questions, such as the debate on whether more Palestinian were expelled or fled. The important thing is that they weren’t allowed to come back, and that they had their property and land seized by Israel immediately after the war (as some Jews had by Jordan and Syria, but not in substantial numbers). Leaving a place doesn’t make someone a refugee. It’s forbidding him or her from coming back that does it.

A Palestinian man and a girl in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via Wikimedia, license CC)

A Palestinian man and a girl in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via Wikimedia, license CC)

For a short while in 2004-2005 I was writing book reviews for Maariv’s internet site, and for several other magazines. I don’t think that I was very good at that, and I still regret a couple of very critical reviews I wrote (I’ve since decided not to review fiction anymore). But I got to read some interesting books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

One of these books was “Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine” by Raja Shehadeh, which was translated to Hebrew by the big publishing house Yedioth Sfarim (despite the best efforts by both sides, the hatred and the war, ‏Israeli and Palestinian cultures are still linked to each other in so many ways). Shehadeh was born in Ramallah, the son of an affluent family from Jaffa who left town “for a couple of weeks” during the war and could never come back.

For years, his father would stand in the evenings on the hills of Ramallah and look west, at the aura of his beloved Jaffa.

In 1967, right after the war, an Israeli friend came to visit the Shehadeh family, and the father immediately asked him to visit Jaffa (Palestinians were allowed to travel freely in Israel until 1993). Only when they got there, did Raja’s father understand that his Jaffa was dead. All those years, he was looking at the lights coming out of Tel Aviv.

Maybe it’s because I live in Tel Aviv that this story had such an effect on me. I couldn’t get the picture of the family standing on Ramallah’s hills, looking into the darkness, out of my mind. I thought on the book’s title: who are the “strangers” mentioned there? Is it us, who, in our despair, invaded the Palestinian home, or is it the Palestinians, who found themselves displaced and lost, refugees in their own land?

(The false claim that Palestinians are strangers to this land and only got here because of the Jewish immigration is still pretty common with Israelis. Shehadeh meant it in an entirely different way).

Another Palestinian book I was asked to review was Muhammad al-As’ad’s “Children of Dew” (to the best of my knowledge, this one was never translated to English). The book is not really a memoir, but more of an attempt to reconstruct a picture of the author’s childhood in the village near Haifa out of his fragmented recollections, the stories of his mother and the legends of the village’s people. At the heart of the story is a long convoy of refugees, walking at night east, away from the advancing Jewish army – one of the most poetic and saddest description I’ve read, not because of the horror, but for the desperate attempt to understand what happened, how, and why.

Palestinian refugees in 1948 (photo: wikimedia, Israeli copyrights expired)

Palestinian refugees in 1948 (photo: wikimedia, Israeli copyrights expired)

I remembered Muhammad al-As’ad and Raja Shehadeh when last year I interviewed the Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, for a piece I did on prominent right-wing figures that were toying with the idea of a one state solution to the conflict. Rivlin, a Likud hawk, grew up in Jerusalem, which was a fairly mixed town before 1948, and certainly more than today. He understood Arabic and had Palestinian acquaintances.

At one point, the conversation reached the idea—popular with mainstream Israeli pundits—that it will be impossible to reach an agreement with the current Arab leadership, which still had many refugees (including Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in Safed). According to this line of thinking, we should look for interim agreements because the next generation, who weren’t displaced themselves, might be more pragmatic.

“Nonsense!” Speaker Rivlin said. “Typical lefty patronizing… the left has always looked down on the Palestinians… [the Jews] remembered our land for 2,000 years, and now you want to tell me that the Palestinians will forget it in ten, twenty years?

“Believe me, they will remember.”

Rivlin does not advocate the right of return for Palestinians and one could also have doubts on the particular joint state he envisions for Jews and Arabs, but at the bottom of his thinking there is a very deep truth: The Jewish people are a living proof that a “refugee problem” won’t disappear for generations, even hundreds and thousands of years, and therefore can’t be ignored.

A Palestinian man watches a school in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via wikimedia. license CC)

A Palestinian man watches a school in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via wikimedia. license CC)

The Israeli reaction to the mentioning of the Nakba is composed of several elements, each one of them contradicting the other. Some say that there was no Nakba. Then there is the line that suggests that people left on their own will. And if they didn’t – they deserve it, because the Arabs opposed the 1947 partition plan and declared war on the Jews. Finally, there are those who admit that Israel initiated mass deportation and prevented the refugees from coming back—they are even ready to recognize their tragedy, but they simply say that ethnic cleansings are part of the birth of almost every nation. That this is the way of the world – and the Palestinians should simply accept it. Ironically, the latter is the position of Benny Morris, the most well- known of the Israeli New Historian and the person who almost single-handedly proved the claims of forced deportations by the IDF in 1948.

This kind of political argument has recently started to lead to policy decisions, the most prominent of them being the Nakba Law. The original intention of the bill was to completely criminalize any mentioning of the Nakba (with a punishment of up to three years in prison for mentioning it), but this was too anti-democratic even for the current Knesset. The law that did pass forbids government-supported institutions from publicly commemorating the Nakba. The bill is very vague, and theoretically, it could be used to withdraw funds from a university who plans a debate on the Palestinian disaster. More likely though is that it will be implemented against Arab municipalities and institutions who attempt to hold memorial days or ceremonies for the Nakba. It is important to remember not only that some 20 percent of Israelis are Palestinians, but that many of them are refugees – the often-forgotten “internal refugees” who lost their homes and property but found themselves inside Israel at the end of the war.

Speakers for Israel abroad also take part in the Nakba-denial campaign, the latest example being the attempt by trustees of New York City University to refuse an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner because he associated the term ethnic cleansing with the birth of Israel. And a few months ago, the Palestine Papers revealed that the US State Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asked the Palestinian delegation to the peace negotiations to forgo some of their claims regarding the refugees because “bad things happen to people all the time.”

Apart from being so insensitive on a basic human level, such actions—from the Knesset’s Nakba Law to the decision by CUNY’s trustees—ignore one important thing: that the Nakba is part of Israeli and Jewish history.

We have declared a war on our own past.

Memorial sign at the site of Wounded Knee Massacre, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

Memorial sign at the site of Wounded Knee Massacre, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

In 2008 I traveled to the US to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions ahead of the American presidential elections. I love driving, so I decided not to fly from St. Paul to Denver but to rent a car instead. I decided to pass through every national site I could find on the way, from Mt. Rushmore to Clear Lake, Iowa, the place where the music died.

Among the places I planned on seeing was Wounded Knee, in the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Wounded Knee Massacre marked the end of the Native American resistance to the colonization of their land. I remembered reading about it somewhere, and when I saw on the map that the site has been designated a National Historic Landmark, I figured it must be worth a visit.

The problem was that I couldn’t find the place. I passed through the same spot a couple of times, but saw none of the things you would normally see in a national historical site in America. No flags, no museum, no book shop—not even a restaurant. Yet I was positive that I was in the right spot.

On my third attempt I spotted an old metal sign at the side of the road, and on a nearby hill, a tiny graveyard. A sign pointed to the sweet corn stand nearby, but there was nobody there and the window was closed. It was high tourist season.

The entire site was so deserted and sad you could almost feel the ghosts of the dead Lakota people there. Again, it was impossible not to think of the deserted ruins of the Palestinian villages scattered around my country. The American history is probably bloodier than the Israeli, and yes, bad things happen to people everywhere – but is this a reason to forget them? Doesn’t the Palestinian village of Sumail, less than a mile from Rabin square, right at the heart of Tel Aviv, deserve even a memorial site? The last few homes of Sumail are still there, right on one of the busiest junctions of Tel Aviv, but they are about to be destroyed soon, making way for new towers, and a new generation of Israeli kids will be taught in school that the Hebrew city of Tel Aviv was built on empty sand dunes.

The old cemetary at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

The old cemetary at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

Speaker Rivlin is right: The Palestinians won’t forget the Nakba. In many ways, it seems that with each year, the memory is just getting stronger. Meanwhile, all the attempts to forbid any mentioning of the Nakba are hurting Israel’s ability to understand our own history, and not just the parts of it that have to do with the Palestinians.

I was discussing these issues recently with a friend who has a passion for military history. Whenever he can, this friend goes to visit old battle sites looking for old bullets, coins and other modern relics. As part of his hobby, he’s gained a very thorough knowledge of the Nakba, and with time it has beome an obsession on its own for him. Still, he is what Israelis would call a moderate on the political spectrum. The only reason he is looking for these ruins, he tells me, is in order to know our own past. Naturally, he is furious with the Nakba Bill or the recent Anti-Nakba booklet a rightwing Israeli NGO has published.

Yesterday, I got an excited e-mail from this friend. This week he watched Charlie and Half, the Israeli cult comedy from the seventies which is always aired by one of the TV channels on Independence Day.

“It’s actually one of the best documentations of the Palestinians village Sheikh Munis,” he tells me. Charlie and Half, which tells the story of a Sephardic “wise guy,” was shot in Sheikh Munis, which became after 48′ one of Tel Aviv’s poorest neighborhoods, populated with Jews from Arab countries. Most of it is gone by now, destroyed to make way for luxury apartments and the new buildings of Tel Aviv University, but back in 1973, the year the film was produced, the original Palestinian houses and streets were very much present.

Watch, for example, the third minute of the film:

The way in which Jews from Arab countries were sent to live in Palestinian homes, only to be evacuated and literally thrown to the streets decades later as the value of the lands soared, is one of the Nakba’s interesting side stories. It’s also further evidence to the fact that forgetting the Nakba actually means not understanding our own history, not understanding ourselves.

Palestinian Nakba village Sumail, at the heart of Tel Aviv (photo: Deborah Bright / Zochrot.org)

Palestinian Nakba village Sumail, at the heart of Tel Aviv (photo: Deborah Bright / Zochrot.org)

It’s not just our sense of guilt for the Nakba that keeps haunting Israelis. In his introduction to Muhammad al-As’ad’s “Children of Dew”, the Israeli editor of the book, Yossef Algazi, who came to know al-As’ad in person, calls the author “A Wandering Jew of our time.” Meeting descendants of Palestinian refugees in the last few years, I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between Jewish and Palestinian fates, and the sense of displacement the two people share. I think that our real problem with the Palestinians has to do with the feeling that we need to ignore their story in order to hold on to our identity as Israelis – when in fact, we would never feel “at home” without facing the wounds of the past.

“At the end of every sentence you say in Hebrew sits an Arab with a Nargilah (hookah) / even if it starts in Siberia or in Hollywood with Hava Nagila,” wrote the Israeli poet Meir Ariel in his song “Shir Keev” (“Song of Pain”). I think it’s the best political line written in Hebrew. It tells us that whatever we do, regardless of the political solution we chose to advocate or how powerful we might feel, our fate here will always be linked to the Palestinians’.

Denying the Nakba—forgetting our role in it and ignoring its political implications—is denying our own identity.


Goldstone “apology” won’t make us stop talking of occupation’s crimes

Posted: April 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, this is personal, war | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Some initial thoughts regarding Judge Richard Goldstone’s op-ed, in which he retracted some of the allegations against Israel made in his report

Israel wouldn't have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

Israel wouldn't have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

A strange combination of thrill and anger seems to be the immediate response to Judge Goldstone’s surprising op-ed on the Washington post today. Goldstone wrote that while Israel was investigating the allegations of crimes perpetrated during the 2008 Gaza invasion, Hamas had failed to do so; he expressed disappointment in the UN’s Human Rights Council and its treatment of Israel, and demanded condemnation of the Fogel family murder. The key sentence in the article was this:

While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

It is somewhat difficult to retract a blood libel,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in response. Comments on Israeli news sites were even harsher, promising never to “forgive or forget” Goldstone’s crime. “The traitor got tired of being a pariah,” wrote one of my Facebook friends on his wall – and this was a mild comment, compared to others I saw and heard. Since the popular way to discredit anyone criticizing Israeli policy over the past two year was to link them to Goldstone, the government’s PR people jumped on the opportunity to take punches at progressive voices (check, for example, Noah Pollak’s Twitter feed – he is clearly having the day of his life). Prime Minister Netanyahu, a PR expert himself, gave a national speech, in which he demanded that the UN throw the Goldstone report “into history’s garbage can” (what a great opportunity to make the public forget the latest travel scandal). In a sense, this op-ed and the responses it received made me appreciate Judge Goldstone more. He probably knew that everyone would hate him for it – those who adopted the report and are clearly embarrassed, and those who rejected it and now received their validation. Now he really is alone. What is also clear is that many people missed Goldstone’s point: if Israel had provided his committee with the information it requested, the report would have been different. The fact that Goldstone is ready to retract some of the allegations could serve as an indication that he would have taken evidence coming from Israel seriously, if it had been presented to him at the time of the investigation (Israel refused to have anything to do with the investigation). In that sense, Jeffrey Goldberg is right: you can’t go back in time – Israel’s decision not to investigate its army’s behavior during the attack on Gaza turned out to be a strategic mistake. Another point that needs to be made is that Israel wouldn’t have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone. Even now, the army is doing everything it can to prevent prosecution of some of its officers and soldiers. Only international pressure forced the IDF to being searching for those soldiers who shot innocent civilians – some of them carrying white flags – or looted Palestinian homes. And that’s another thing people are missing now: nobody is denying that such crimes occurred. And there are additional incidents – like the execution of defenseless policemen by an Israeli gunship on the first day of the war – which Israel views as “legal” and other (myself included) see as a war crime, planned at the highest levels. On the other hand, and at the risk of making many friends angry at me, I would also say that Goldstone should not have spoken of a “policy” of targeting civilians only because he saw numerous cases in which civilians were killed. These are not accusations to be made or take lightly. Saying now that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” is a big deal – and the explanation given in the Washington Post op-ed to this sentence is hardly satisfying. ————— Since I mentioned the Goldstone report on this blog more than once, and also contributed a chapter to the book on report (which discusses the way the report was received in Israel – and I stand behind every word I wrote there), I would like to add something personal regarding the way I feel today. Many people claimed that “the IDF couldn’t have done the things Goldstone said it did.” Most of them never even read the report, but that’s beside the point. But I felt, and I still do, that targeting civilians could have been an Israeli policy. That’s why I supported an external investigation of Operation Cast Lead. That’s why I still want a public report on the military operation that would include Israeli evidence. The reason I think the IDF could, in certain cases, target civilians (just like any army would, at times), is that I saw it with my own eyes when I served as an infantry officer in South Lebanon. I described this incident in detail here. More than anything I read in Haaretz, my own experiences as a soldier and an officer led me to reflect on the crimes of Israel’s 44 year-old occupation of the West Bank. I have seen beating of civilians, settlers’ violence and mistreatment of Palestinians with my own eyes (I am happy to report I haven’t been part of killing – but that’s pure luck, I guess). Some of those things I continue to see in the occupied territories these days, only now I don’t go there in uniform. Right after the Goldstone op-ed was posted on the Washington post’s site, +972 Magazine received a tweet calling us to “retract” on charges of Israeli war crimes. To that I answer: the entire occupation is a crime. The blockade on Gaza is a crime. The settlements are a crime. The killing of civilians is a crime – even if it wasn’t part of a policy, it was part of the occupation. And I don’t need Judge Goldstone to tell me that.


The Israeli incitement problem: A personal look at a children’s book

Posted: March 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: culture, In the News, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Israeli leaders and advocacy groups love to complain about Palestinian incitement, but militaristic and nationalistic indoctrination is all too common in Israel itself. Some personal reflection, following a mail from an outraged parent

Danni Din "Saving the President" cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

Danni Din "Saving the President" cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

When I was a kid, I loved Danni Din stories. Their hero was wonder-kid Danni Din, which became the worlds’ only invisible person after mistakenly drinking a strange liquid left on the window by the reckless Prof. Katros. As befits superheroes of his kind, Danni didn’t take advantage of his unique condition by rushing into the girl’s dorms, but instead dedicated his childhood to helping Israel’s security forces. Danni Din fought in the Six days war, caught terrorists and rescued IDF prisoners, and though even at a very young age I sensed there was something tragic in his condition (he was to remain invisible forever, not to mention the fact that he never seemed to grow up), I dreamed of getting the opportunity to perform such heroic acts for our country myself.

Last week, in the wake of another round of the endless debates over the “Palestinian incitement”, I got an e-mail with pictures of the front and back cover of one of the latest Danni Din stories, published in 1997. The author of the mail, an Israeli parent, was shocked to see the militaristic tone in the book his son, a second grader and an avid reader, brought home from the public library one day.

“Saving the president”, the 1997 Danni Din story, featured a new heroine: Dina Din, the invisible girl. The book has a somewhat bizarre plot: the invisible kids are abducted by extraterrestrials (the late 90′s were the days of the X-Files mania), only to escape after a fierce battle, in which they take control over the aliens’ spaceship. Headed back to earth, they intercept a plot by Hamas to send a flying suicide bomber that would crash into president Bill Clinton’s Air Force One – on his way to Israel, naturally – with the intention of blowing up the plane and killing all its passengers.

“Will our invisible heroes succeed in saving the beloved president and the planes passengers from death?” asks the back cover.

Danni Din "Saving the President"'s back cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

Danni Din "Saving the President"'s back cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

Danni Din’s war on Arab terrorists is not unique. Almost every adventure book I remember from my childhood featured at least a handful of evil Arabs (never mention the P word), if not full Egyptian military divisions. Some of the Arabs in those books were thieves and kidnappers, but most of them were terrorists.

The best known of these books were the “Hassamba” series, featuring a group or kids operating like a secret army unit in the service of Israel’s defense, getting their orders directly from the most senior generals. These books weren’t about politics: While Shraga Gafni, the author of Danni Din series (as well as many other Israeli classics), was a rightwing ideologue , Hassamba’s Yigal Mossinson was a Tel Aviv bohemian. His books were a bit more sophisticated, but the militaristic-nationalist tone was largely the same.

Whenever I hear Israeli advocacy groups speaking of incitement, I think of Danni Din and Hassamba. I also remember the maps of Israel we use to draw in school: none of them featured the green line, just one big happy Jewish state, from the sea to the Jordan; and we never marked the Palestinian towns on them, only Jewish cities. Does this qualify as incitement?

Naturally, there are many examples of hardcore anti-Arab incitement in Israel: from streets named after the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane and Minister Rahavam Zeevi, who promoted the idea of transfer, to graffiti and even rabbinical orders calling for killing and expulsion of Palestinians. But these are the obvious cases, to which people pay attention. There is something about the “innocent” examples, like kids’ novels and pre-school work pages that show the depth of militaristic and nationalistic indoctrination in Israel. It’s almost impossible to grow up here without being told to fear and hate the Arabs, or to idolize the army.

Naturally, none of this prevents Israelis from seeing themselves as a peace-loving nation. In fact, I think that the real message of these books is that we fight the Palestinians because they prevent peace. We are forced to conquer and sometimes kill in the sake of a greater good (like saving Air Force one from a suicide attack). Isn’t that what you hear from advocacy groups like Stand With Us and The Israel Project – that fighting the Arabs alongside Israel is not just Israel’s interest, but the US’, or even the world’s?

——————

I remember watching the military parade for Israel’s 40′th anniversary. The main event took place in the National Stadium in Ramat Gan, not far away from where I grew up. I was 14, and extremely exited that my parents got us tickets for the event, even though it was the cheaper of two shows, the one in which air force didn’t take part.

Behind us in the stands was another family, with younger kids. I have a very vivid memory of a certain point in the show in which the announcer describing the army unites and armed vehicles on the field in front of us said something like “The IDF’s real battle is for peace,” and the young kid sitting behind me burst into a spontaneous laughter. It sounded very stupid to him, “fighting for peace,” and he said so to his dad. In the next few minutes, this father explained to him why this phrase actually made perfect sense. I remember being embarrassed for the kid, which clearly didn’t understand what the army was all about. Much later, I thought he was right: It was a stupid sentence.

This Israeli dialectic of militarism and peace couldn’t have been better demonstrated than in these kindergarten Independence Day assignments from 2009, sent to me together with the Danni Din cover. They made me think of the infamous “suicide baby” picture, and how it became for many the symbol of the “inhumane” Palestinian culture.

Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

.

Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

One final word on this: It wasn’t my intention here to deny Palestinian incitement or hate-talk, or to say that our side is worse. Political indoctrination exists on both sides. Perhaps this is the reason Netanyahu refused to renew the work of the joint Israeli-Palestinian committee against incitement – he knew that it would have its hands full with evidence from both societies.

More than anything, I think that the complaints over Palestinian incitement are excuses to avoid real political action on behalf of Israel. I actually find it hard to believe that as long as the occupation continues – and the resistance to the occupation, which is natural and justified – we will be able to rid ourselves completely from the problem of “incitement”. Only after we deal with the political issues at the heart of the conflict, we could succeed in changing our children’s books.


Why Nazi Germany references are banned on this blog

Posted: January 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: racism, this is personal | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

I have made up my mind to ban all Holocaust and/or Nazi Germany references on comments to my posts, for the following reasons:

1.    Israel is not Nazi Germany. It’s not even close. I find the current political trends troubling, even dangerous, but this country is not engaged in a systematic, full-scale genocide, and since 1948, it hasn’t committed mass deportations. There are better ways to say that the Palestinians deserve justice.

2.    Some argue that Israel has one or several laws that were introduced by the Nazis too. Even if that’s the case, so what? The same could be said on many laws, in many countries. Nazi Germany is the symbol of the ultimate historical evil because of the death camps and the industrialized genocide, and nothing else. It’s even not because of the concentration camps themselves, since those weren’t unique to Germany (the USSR had them, and so did the US), and surly not because of racist policy alone. Many countries had racist policies at one stage or the other. Saying that a racist law immediately turns a country into the equivalent of Nazi Germany is like saying universal health-care makes a country Nazi – a claim so stupid no sane person would even think of.

3.    Saying someone is Nazi means he represents the ultimate evil – something that shouldn’t be negotiated or compromised with, but only fought. If you think Israel should be wiped of the map, not just the country but its people themselves, you won’t find support on this blog (If you think the political structure which makes Israel what it is should be change, or that the country should become a bi-national or a multi-cultural one, you are welcomed to express your ideas here – but leave the WWII references out).

4.    My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, and maybe because of that, I simply find these analogies offending. I rather not read them on my own blog.

5.    Adding WWII references to your argument sounds like a good way to get attention, but it’s actually counter-productive. More often than not, people start debating Nazism (usually revealing very poor historical knowledge) and the real issue you wanted to discuss is forgotten. I want debates here to be focused and on-topic, and I want them to deal with real issues, not propaganda.

This policy will apply for both sides. I will not allow such references to Israelis and Jews, but I will also delete all comments comparing Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims to the Nazis, or calling Leftwing activists Kapos, as some readers have.


The Israeli Right going one-state? My Haaretz piece

Posted: July 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Haaretz published my report on the growing support for what seems like a one-state solution in the Israeli Right.

“The prospects of the negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas do not look promising. President Obama undoubtedly thinks otherwise, but if Abbas speaks for anyone, it’s barely half the Palestinians. The chances of anything good coming of this are not great. Another possibility is Jordan. If Jordan were ready to absorb both more territories and more people, things would be much easier and more natural. But Jordan does not agree to this. Therefore, I say that we can look at another option: for Israel to apply its law to Judea and Samaria and grant citizenship to 1.5 million Palestinians.”

These remarks, which to many sound subversive, were not voiced by a left-wing advocate of a binational state. The speaker is from the Betar movement, a former top leader in Likud and political patron of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a former defense and foreign affairs minister – Moshe Arens. On June 2, Arens published an op-ed in Haaretz (“Is there another option?” ) in which he urged consideration of a political alternative to the existing situation and the political negotiations. He wants to break the great taboo of Israeli policy making by granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians in the West Bank. Arens is not put off by those who accuse him of promoting the idea of a binational Jewish-Palestinian state. “We are already a binational state,” he says, “and also a multicultural and multi-sector state. The minorities [meaning Arabs] here make up 20 percent of the population – that’s a fact and you can’t argue with facts.”

As Washington, Ramallah and Jerusalem slouch toward what seems like a well-known, self-evident solution – two states for two nations, on the basis of the 1967 borders and a small-scale territorial swap – a conceptual breakthrough is taking place in the right wing. Its ideologues are no longer content with rejecting withdrawal and evacuation of settlements, citing security arguments calculated to strike fear into the hearts of the Israeli mainstream. Their new idea addresses the shortcomings of the status quo, takes account of the isolation in which Israel finds itself and acknowledges the need to break the political deadlock.

Once the sole preserve of the political margins, the approach is now being advocated by leading figures in Likud and among the settlers – people who are not necessarily considered extremists or oddballs. About a month before Arens published his article, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ) said, “It’s preferable for the Palestinians to become citizens of the state than for us to divide the country.” In an interview this week (see box ), Rivlin reiterates and elaborates this viewpoint. In May 2009, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely organized a conference in the Knesset titled “Alternatives to Two States.” Since then, on a couple of occasions, she has called publicly for citizenship to be granted to the Palestinians “in gradual fashion.” Now she is planning to publish a position paper on the subject. Uri Elitzur, former chairman of the Yesha Council of Settlements and Netanyahu’s bureau chief in his first term as prime minister, last year published an article in the settlers’ journal Nekuda calling for the onset of a process, at the conclusion of which the Palestinians will have “a blue ID card [like Israelis], yellow license plates [like Israelis], National Insurance and the right to vote for the Knesset.” Emily Amrousi, a former spokesperson for the Yesha Council, takes part in meetings between settlers and Palestinians and speaks explicitly of “one land in which the children of settlers and the children of Palestinians will be bused to school together.”

It’s still not a full-fledged political camp and there are still holes in the theory. But although its advocates do not seem to be working together, the plans they put forward are remarkably similar. They all reject totally the various ideas of ethnic separation and recognize that political rights accrue to the Palestinians. They talk about a process that will take between a decade and a generation to complete, at the end of which the Palestinians will enjoy full personal rights, but in a country whose symbols and spirit will remain Jewish. It is at this point that the one-state right wing diverges from the binational left. The right is not talking about a neutral “state of all its citizens” with no identity, nor about “Israstine” with a flag showing a crescent and a Shield of David. As envisaged by the right wing, one state still means a sovereign Jewish state, but in a more complex reality, and inspired by the vision of a democratic Jewish state without an occupation and without apartheid, without fences and separations. In such a state, Jews will be able to live in Hebron and pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and a Palestinian from Ramallah will be able to serve as an ambassador and live in Tel Aviv or simply enjoy ice cream on the city’s seashore. Sounds off the wall? “If every path seems to reach an impasse,’ Elitzur wrote in Nekuda, “usually the right path is one that was never even considered, the one that is universally acknowledged to be unacceptable, taboo.”

Read the rest here. There are also comments I got on the issue from Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Yossi Beilin and two Palestinians officials.

If you have any questions or comments, post them here and I’ll do the best to answer.


The New York Times visits South Mount Hebron

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments »

If all opinion makers visited the hills South of Hebron – like NYT’s Nicholas Kristof just did – the occupation would end in a few months.

Hebron city, with a community of extreme settlers in its heart, is bad enough, but South Mount Hebron is even worse. The Palestinians there are as poor as you can find in the West Bank, many of them leaving in caves, and the settlers – many of them from the so-called ‘illigal outposts’ – are as violent as they come. In recent years, the army started escorting the Palestinian kids on their long march to school, because the settlers threw stones at them. You can see it on this video:

10 years ago I did a one month reserve service in South Mount Hebron. Even then, before the second Intifada, the army handed these so called “illegal” settlements all the protection and help they needed in their effort to push the Palestinians out of the area. Soldiers escorted Jewish farmers when they herd their sheep on the tiny Palestinian fields; when fights or riots broke the Jews always went unpunished, while Palestinians were harassed, arrested and sometimes deported to Hebron city. Since then, the settlements grew and the situation of the Palestinians deteriorated.

I served in most areas in the West Bank and Gaza, and the settlers I talked to in South Hebron were by far the most racists I’ve ever met. Some of them were from the US and South Africa; many held an image of a biblical fight between Jewish and Palestinians shepherds, while others saw this as the new Wild West. One head of a family suggested I leave my gun at the base and treat the Palestinians with a whip. “You’ll gain more respect this way,” he said. Most Israelis will resent such statements, and the hills’ settlers have a very bad public image, yet what matter in South Mount Hebron is that the entire system is on the settlers side.

When we finished our term in the area, I told my CO that I would not serve in the occupied territory anymore (as readers of the blog know, I broke this promise last year).

As for the Time’s Nicolas Kristof, his visit to South Hebron lead him to a conclusion that is not often heard on American MSM (my Italic):

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable and costly to the country’s image. But one more blunt truth must be acknowledged: the occupation is morally repugnant.

On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the southern Hebron hills is the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won’t permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.

On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business.

Elad Orian, an Israeli human rights activist, nodded toward the poultry barn and noted: “Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here.”

It’s fair to acknowledge that there are double standards in the Middle East, with particular scrutiny on Israeli abuses. After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.

None of that changes the ugly truth that our ally, Israel, is using American military support to maintain an occupation that is both oppressive and unjust.

You can read regular reports on the situation in South Hebron on Jeseph Dana’s blog.


Injuries, tear gas in Nabi Saleh, record crowd in Sheikh Jarrah / Personal notes from Friday’s demonstrations

Posted: May 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, media, The Left, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »
soldiers at Nabi Saleh

soldiers at Nabi Saleh

“Each Friday, there are at least 10 demonstrations involving Israelis and internationals in the West Bank,” tells me Didi Remez, as we drive to Nabi Saleh, the tiny village that has been fighting for months to regain access to a small spring that was taken over by settlers from nearby Halamish. Dozens of Israelis come to these protests, not counting the hundreds who arrive each Friday to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

Not much is going on when we arrive at Nabi Saleh. As we wait for the protesters to gather, we are offered lunch and cold water in a local house. Around 1.00 pm we join a small march down the village’s main street. Suddenly, three army jeeps appear and block the street, and about a dozen soldiers come out. About 25 protesters, most of them children and young girls, go all the way down to the soldiers, singing and shouting, accompanied by the photographers and the internationals. This goes on for about half an hour.

Then someone throws a stone. The soldiers respond with tear gas, lots of it. Together with a few other Israelis, I find shelter behind a local house. The wind carried the gas into the house and the old woman who lived there is now seating outside, tears running down her face. She signals me not to try and wash my face and instead just wait for the effect of the gas to fade.

The soldiers are chasing protesters into the village. Some of them occupy one of the houses, while the others fire tear gas from the street. Some of the nearby houses fill with gas, as their windows are broken from previous demonstrations. The Palestinians move to the upper part of the village, while the Israelis and internationals – who don’t take part in the stone throwing – are looking for safe corners, trying to avoid both the gas and the (very few) flying stones. Every now and then, the wind carries another cloud of gas towards our way.

The soldiers are shooting the gas cans directly at the protesters, and not in an arch, like I remember we were taught to do it in the army (you can see this in a these videos from a previous demonstration). Later, a Palestinian is injured after suffering a direct hit in his face.

After a couple of hours, we decide to leave the village (though the protest will go on almost till dusk). On the way back to the car, I see several boys, around the age of ten, falling to the ground, gasping for air after inhaling too much gas. Their faces are red and one of them is hardly breathing, but in a few minutes he recovers and rejoins the protesters.

A woman whose house was hit by tear gas

A woman whose house was hit by tear gas (p: Didi Remez)

By the time we get to Jerusalem, the protest on Shikh Jarrah is already on its way. The turnout is the best I’ve seen here: between 300 to 400 people. Without PR or money for busing, and after no less 30 protesters were arrested last week – somehow, it seemed that the protest is just getting bigger and bigger.

As Lisa Goldman notes, after Nabi Saleh, Jerusalem seems like a peaceful afternoon get-together. But for me it’s just as important, and I feel more at home here. Supporting the protest in the West Bank villages is crucial, but I find it emotionally hard to bear. After the last time I took part in it, it took me a full month to mount the strength to come again. To have soldiers point guns at me and fire tear gas is not only scary, but extremely strange. There is something in this experience that shakes my world. After all, I’m still an Israeli, and a reserve captain in the IDF for that matter!

I don’t take part in the stone throwing, but I definitely understand it and support the villagers in their struggle. Yet today in Nabi Saleh I asked myself from time to time what happens if the demonstration becomes more violent. What would I do – or feel – if a Molotov Cocktail is thrown?

I don’t have a good answer.

The protests in Jerusalem don’t carry such ideological and emotional problems. Ironically, the political message here is much more radical, since many Israelis who think we have nothing to do in Bilin or Nabi Saleh won’t like the idea of handing Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinians, but the difference between the two events is unmistakable. Shikh Jarrah is an Israeli demonstration (with some Palestinians present); in the West Bank’s villages it’s the Palestinians who lead the action, and we are just guests. I find it fitting. I don’t expect many Israelis to come to Nabi Saleh to protest, but I do hope many will continue to take part in the demonstrations in Jerusalem, and that many others would join them.

Driving back from Jerusalem, this time with my mother, I was a bit encouraged. Recently, I’ve come to realize that Fridays in Sheikh Jarrah don’t feel like any other leftist event I’ve been to – and I had my share of them. Over the years, we had much bigger demonstrations, on much bigger issues – but something feels more real here, something even feels better. As if for the first time in years we are really doing exactly the right thing, and for the right reasons.

Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah

Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah

I forgot my camera today, so excuse the crappy photos taken on my phone. When I get better ones from one of the photographers who were with us, I will post them.

UPDATE: read Amitai Sandy’s account of the day’s protest in village of Maasra on comment #2.


Out of the office

Posted: February 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

For the first time since I started writing this blog, I haven’t written a post in almost two weeks. I have an excuse: I’ve been out of the country for more than a month now, some of the time on the road, so I don’t follow the news as closely as I usually do. But there is more to it. More often than not, I simply can’t bring myself to check what’s going on back home, and when I do, I usually regret it. The Foreign Ministry snubbing the house delegation; the ridiculous campaign the government had launched in order to improve Israel’s image in the world – accompanied by a TV spot that can literally make you sick – the chief scientist for the Minister of Education denies global warming because “god will not let this happen”; my city, Tel Aviv, co-funding a project that deals with preventing Jewish girls from dating none-Jews, and so on, one absurd story follows the other.

When you are in Israel, there is some strange logic to the news cycle. Even if you don’t agree to most of what’s going on, things somehow make sense. I think you simply get used to the craziness. But when you step outside for a minute, everything looks so grotesque, to the point where it seems that whatever you might say or write won’t really make a difference.

This is getting worse lately. I got to meet some friends in the US who care about Israel and follow Israeli politics. Most of them had only one question: what the hell is going on over there?

My answer is so boring, I have troubles repeating it myself: It all goes down to the occupation, and what it did to this country. For sometime now, I am not so sure there is a way back. One way or the other, I think Israel will go through major changes in the next decade or so. Maybe it’s for the best.

The question for me is what makes an effective political action in this climate, and I’m not sure I have the answer. Perhaps it takes more than writing. Anyway, I just think I’ll take a few more days off, at least until I come back to Israel.


Liberal Jews and Israel / a case of split personality disorder

Posted: January 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

taglit

Last Saturday I met an Israeli-American friend who came for a short visit from his studies in Europe. We talked some politics, and finally came to an issue which always puzzles me: the fact that American Jews are unwilling – almost unable – to criticize Israel, both in public and in private, and even when Israeli policies contradict their own believes. My friend noted that if some of the articles on the Israeli media – and not even the most radical ones – were to be printed in the US and signed by none-Jews, they would be considered by most Jewish readers like an example of dangerous Israel-bashing, sometimes even anti-Semitism.

I’ve became more aware of this issue myself since I started writing this blog. Things I say or write which are well within the public debate in Israel are sometimes viewed as outrageous by American Jewish readers; at the same time, events which would make the same readers furious if they happened in the US – for example, the Israeli municipality which tried to prevent Arabs from dating Jewish girls – are met with indifference.

Naturally, I’m generalizing here. Between millions of Jews you can obviously find all kinds of voices – and this is part of the reason I hesitated before writing this post – but I think one can recognize some sort of mainstream opinion within the Jewish community, which both echoes the official Israeli policies, regardless of the identity of the government in Jerusalem, and at the same time, turns a blind eye on events which might distort the image of Israel which this community holds. And this is something which is hard to understand.

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All known data indicates that the vast majority of US Jews supports the democratic party, and many consider themselves as liberals (Barack Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote). Yet except for a group of well known activists, you can hardly hear these people criticize Israel, which is not exactly a picture-perfect liberal democracy.

I am not talking here about the old Jewish establishment or about AIPAC. AIPAC are professional politicians. Their status is based on their connections to the Israeli governments, and their ability to promote Israeli interests in Washington. Breaking up with Israel – even just criticizing Israeli politics – will not just hurt their status, it will simply leave them unemployed. Expecting AIPAC or other Jewish leaders with good ties in Jerusalem to declare that, for example, Israel should lift the siege on Gaza, is like asking an insurance lobbyist to speak in the name of the public option.

Naturally, I don’t expect anything from Jewish neo-cons either. These people like Netanyahu, they supported George Bush, and they will go on speaking about culture wars and Islamo-Facists versus Judo-Christians even on the day Ismail Haniya converts to Zionism. You can agree or disagree with them, but at least their views are consistent.

With the Liberals it’s quiet a different story. It’s obvious they care much about Israel, and some of them are very passionate about politics and extremely well-informed about what’s going on here, but from time to time, I get the feeling they hold back some of their views.

I don’t think many liberals, if they really are ones, can accept the siege on Gaza. Even if they think that Hamas is to blame for the current state of affairs, surly they don’t support collective punishment against 1.5 million people, do they? What would they say if the US was to seal the areas in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan where the insurgents are hiding, not letting even basic supply in or out, preventing civilians from growing food or working, and practically leaving the entire population on the brink of starvation? I presume many Americans will oppose such policies.

But let’s leave geo-politics aside, and talk about the current wave of anti-Arab legislation in Israel. There are things happening here on a daily basis which would make most American Jews go out of their minds if they occurred to Afro-Americans in Alabama or to Native-Americans in Oklahoma, rather than to Arabs in the Galilee. Take for example the temporary order preventing Arab citizens who marry none-Israelis to live with their partners and children here, or the new legislation which will make it legal for Jewish neighborhoods and settlements to refuse to accept Arabs. Is this something Americans – not just liberals – would tolerate? I’m not even talking here about the de-facto discrimination of Arabs, but on a legal effort to introduce ethnic segregation in Israel. Isn’t that the same issue Jews fought against throughout our entire history? Weren’t American Jews an important part of the civil right movement? What’s the difference between Blacks in Birmingham and Arabs in Katzir?

I guess that part of the reason for not criticizing Israel is that many Jews are extremely sensitive to the existential threat Israelis sense, so they don’t like to speak against security measures taken by Israel, since it’s not them who would be hurt when these measures are lifted. This is understandable, but many of the problems the Arab minority faces has nothing to do with national security, but with the desire of many in the Israeli public – and their elected officials in the Knesset – to make Israel not just a Jewish state, but a state for Jews, and Jews only. It’s not about terror, just racism.

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Given the sense of shared history and even close family ties between the two communities, there is something very natural with the American-Jewish community’s desire to take side with Israelis in what seems as its conflict with the Arab world. I guess taking sides also means avoiding looking at some of the faults of your partner. But the problem with the Jews’ attitude towards Israel is much deeper than that, and it shows the most on issues which have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and are purely an internal matter of the Jewish people.

Here is an example: as we all know, the Orthodox Jewish establishment has an official statues in Israel (unlike most Western countries, state and religion are not separated here, and the chief Orthodox Rabbi has a position similar to this of a supreme court justice). The same Orthodox establishment is very hostile to none-Orthodox Jews, which happen to make most of the American Jewish community. A few weeks ago, Fifth-year medical student Nofrat Frenkel was arrested for wearing a talit at the Kotel. I expected all hell to break in the States. After all, this concerns Jews’ right to practice their faith in the most holy place in the world. I wouldn’t say the event went unnoticed – I saw some blog posts and articles referring to the incident, and Forward published Frenkel’s account of the day – but it certainly wasn’t enough for people in Israel to notice. If American Jews spoke on this matter, it was with a voice that nobody heard.

Now imagine the public outrage if Frenkel was arrested anywhere else in the world for wearing a talit. Read the rest of this entry »