My own war crime: personal reflections following the Goldstone Report

Posted: October 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »
Israeli artillery during operation Grapes of Wrath, 1996

Israeli artillery during operation Grapes of Wrath, 1996

When the Goldstone report was first mentioned in this blog, one of the readers asked me what is it exactly that makes me think that the IDF could have committed war crimes in Gaza. I was asked the same question in an e-mail exchange I had with Prof. Richard Landes, who is a passionate advocate of the Israeli point of view, and naturally, extremely critical of Goldstone.

In both cases I replied that my answer was based on what I learned from the media: That includes cases that the IDF itself confirmed, like as the white phosphorus bombing, and others where the Palestinians’ account of events seemed reliable; there were also numerous reports that the IDF “eased up” its fire-opening procedures during operation Cast Lead; and there were other, more subtle indications, such as a high rate of friendly fire casualties and a low rate or enemy fire casualties – which might, but not necessarily, indicate a policy of “shoot first, then ask questions”. None of this is solid evidence, of course. But the same goes for the people criticizing Judge Goldstone’s report – they also based their opinions on second hand information (at best).

More than anything, it seems to me that the discussion regarding the Goldstone report drifted very quickly from the legal sphere of war ethics and laws to pure propaganda: those who wanted to criticize Israel jumped on the opportunity to attack it, and Israel’s defenders automatically responded. It looks as though the Allen Dershowitzs of this world never even considered the possibility that Israel – let alone the IDF – could have committed a crime. At best, they thought, there might have been some “mistakes”, but never ever something intentional. This was their assumption before reading the report, and this is the conclusion they reached after reading it – if they ever bothered reading it at all.

(There is something absurd about whole debate regarding “war crimes”, because moving civilian population into an occupied territory, as Israel does for more than forty years, is a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, but the Goldstone report deals with a different crime: widespread killing of uninvolved civilians, either by intension, or as collateral damage, when ways to avoid or substantially reduce this damage were available.)

This is what separates the two sides and at the same time shapes their approach to the Goldstone report: Israel’s defenders don’t believe such things could have happened, while those who attack Israel think that it could, and probably did. As for me, as I said, I don’t know for sure what happened in Gaza, but I’m certain in one thing: the IDF has no problem in attacking civilian targets on purpose, and it did so on numerous occasions. The reason I know this is simple: I did it myself. Read the rest of this entry »

The blog celebrates its first year!

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, this is personal | Tags: , , | 11 Comments »

It’s been exactly a year since I’ve posted the first item on this blog. I thought of writing a political blog for sometime before, but never really got to it. I’m obsessed with politics – there is no way going around that – and as the political climate changed here in Israel, I felt a growing desire to voice my opinions, but it was only after traveling to cover the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2008 that I really understood the importance and impact of blogs. That’s also when I decided to write in English – the language of the international debate.

I think this point needs some further explaining. English, as most of my readers could figure out immediately, is not my first language. I’ve never even lived or studied in an English speaking country. Writing in English was a daunting task at first – in remains a constant challenge, even after 181 posts. I make typos and grammar mistakes which embarrass me very much (this is a good opportunity to thank my friends who e-mail me with corrections every now and then), and while expressing myself in Hebrew is fairly easy and natural for me, everything takes at least twice the time in English, and more often than not, I am not that as happy with the result. I mean, these are my words and I stand behind them, but sometimes I don’t really recognize myself in them. I guess I am still searching for my voice.

On the other hand, writing and editing in Hebrew is what I did on my day job until a month ago – and when I started writing this blog, I didn’t want to take the job home as well. I felt that if I really want to say something in Hebrew, I can do it through my work, or on other platforms, and even reach more people. And on top of all, I think that my two cents just worth more in English. My opinions, or something close to them, are well represented, even today, in the Hebrew media and blogosphere. The Israeli-English blogosphere and media, on the other hand, is a bit more limited, and more often than not, written by Olim from English speaking countries, most notably the US. I guess this is only natural, but still, it makes a difference. Read the rest of this entry »

I quit my job

Posted: October 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal | Tags: , | 7 Comments »

I quit my job.

I have worked in Maariv daily paper for more than 6 years, the last three and a half of them on Sofshavua (סופשבוע), the weekend magazine of the paper, as a deputy editor. Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the West Bank (part III)

Posted: August 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

This is my third and final post regarding my recent army service in the West Bank (here are parts 1 and 2). Next week it’s back to blogging as usual.

A few hundred meters from our base, located north of Jericho, lies the settlements “Mevo’ot Yericho“, home to a couple of dozens families. As far as the army is concerned, Mevo’ot Yericho is not different from Kibbutz Gilgal, Tomer, or any other Jewish settlements in the area. There are soldiers guarding at the gate, an army patrol occasionally drops by to check if everything is OK, and the residents of Mevo’ot Yericho pass daily on our checkpoint, about a mile up the road leading to Jericho city. Nothing can hint that Mevo’ot Yericho is – according to the official minister of justice report – an illegal outpost, part of the much debated list of outposts that are supposed to be evacuated somewhere in the near future.

Mevo’ot Yericho started as a station for agriculture experiments that belonged to Mitzpe Yitav settlement, some 3 milles away. This is common practice in the West Bank. You start with an army post or an excavations project or an agriculture one, and before you know it, there are some mobile homes there (the people working on the station must sleep somewhere, no?) and the families of the so called workers arrive to spent some time with them (with all the house furniture in the back of the car), and from here there is no going back. Nothing – be that a nature reserve or a scientific project – is ever innocent in the West bank. Everything must be seen and understood in the context of the occupation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the West Bank (part II)

Posted: August 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s been nine years since my previous military service in the West Bank. Back than, I promised myself that it was the last time I took such an active part in the occupation, but I didn’t keep my word. In the last three weeks I have been stationed in a small base in the Jordan Valley area, north of Jericho. I have a few more days to go. In my previous post I discussed the reason that brought me there. Now I’d like to report some of the things I’ve seen and learned.

The first thing one notices upon returning to the WB are the increased limitations on the Palestinians’ lives. When I was called to the territories for the first time, in 1993, Palestinians traveled freely into and out of the West Bank. During the Oslo days, the WB and Gaza were sealed. Now, after the second Intifada, Palestinians can’t even travel freely between their own towns and villages (though some of the roadblocks were removed recently). Most Palestinians are not allowed to use highway 90, going along the Jordan Valley, and some other main roads as well. The result is that on the West Bank Highways, you only see cars with the yellow Israeli license plates.

There are, however, exceptions. Some Palestinian Authority officials are allowed to pass through roadblocks. Others have permits to work at a certain settlements, or inside Israel, on the other side of the Green Line. Some live near the major highways, so they are issued a special permit to use certain roads which are normally reserved for Israelis. All this leads to an incredibly bureaucratic system of permits and approval, issued and renewed every few months by the army and with the supervision of the Shin Beit (the powerful internal security bureau). In most roadblocks and checkpoints one can find thick leaflets explaining the rights granted to the Palestinians by every permit. And when the permits are not enough, each Palestinian is registered on the IDF computer, so it’s possible to check where he is allowed to be, if he can use a specific “Israelis only” road, where can he work, etc.

This complicated system is operated, at ground level, by 20 years old kids or by reservists on units such as mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the West Bank (part I)

Posted: August 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

As I write this, I still have 10 days until the end of my reserve service in the West Bank. It is my first service in the Palestinian territories in nine years. Until then I was a platoon commander in an infantry unit, and served on a regular basis in the West Bank and on Gaza strip, both during mandatory duty and on reserve. Seven years ago I decided I will not take part in the occupation anymore, and refused to enlist to my yearly service. I was sentenced to 28 days in army prison no. 6, and later removed from my commanding post. When the next call came, I was transferred to a civil defense unit (again, as platoon commander), which usually doesn’t carry out such missions. But lately the army changed its policy, and my unit was called for a 26 days service in the Jordan Vally area. Not “hardcore occupation” like the things I used to do in Hebron or Ramallah, but still, inside the West Bank.

What do I do here? That’s what I’ve been asking myself in the last two weeks. Read the rest of this entry »

Prove that you are alive

Posted: April 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tuesday was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, and my sister visited the Yad Vashem site to go through the names of our relatives who died during the war. Yad Vashem’s database of the Holocaust’s victims has over 3 million names in it – about half the total number of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Surprisingly enough, when she typed the name of my grandfather, Henry Fogelman, he was listed among the French Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz. The full entry goes:

Henri Fogelman was born in Radom in 1923. During the war he was deported with Transport 48 from Drancy to Auschwitz on 13/02/1943. Henri perished in the Shoah. This information is based on a list of deportations from France found in the Le Memorial de la deportation des juifs de France, Beate et Serge Klarsfeld, Paris 1978.

Reading this still gives me the chills.

All the details in the Yad Vashem database are accurate, except one: my grandfather didn’t make it to the death camp – he jumped from the train somewhere along the way. In fact, he was deported again to Auschwitz, and again he managed to escape. Later on, he came to Israel to fight in the 48′ war, where he met my grandmother. The marriage didn’t work out, and after a few years Henry went back to live in Argenteuil, a northwestern suburb of Paris. He died in 2000. Here is a picture of him with my grandmother in one of his visits to Israel.


As it turned out, my mother contacted Yad Vashem sometime ago and pointed out the mistake. She was asked to present proof that her father did in fact escape from transport 48.

“I am the proof,” said my mother.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough, and she gave up on the whole thing.

I don’t know what my grandfather would have thought about his name appearing among the other family members who were murdered in Auschwitz. As for me, I kind of prefer the entry to stay as it is. The Holocaust had some sort of a “happy ending” for us: my grandfather survived, and so did his older brother Albert, who passed away in 2003. But the truth is, the Holocaust had no happy endings, and I wonder what is left for a person who lost so many members of his family, jumped from two trains heading to Auschwitz and spent the rest of the war hiding in the snow and in the woods. What did he leave behind him when he returned from Poland to France? and to what extent did he really survive?

Read the rest of this entry »

How Israel is Drifting away from the World

Posted: April 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, the US and us, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

If you get your news about Israel from Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post – or worse, from the NYT or the LA times – it will probably be hard for you to appreciate how disconnected the Israeli public is right now with the rest of the world. While it seems that everyone else is in some sort of diplomatic frenzy – whether as a reaction to the stagnation of the Bush years, as a result of the economical crisis, or for whatever other reason – Israelis live in some kind of a bubble, where only remote echoes of the current moves are heard.

It is true that the most of the public never cares much for international news, and not only in Israel. But I am not talking about events in China or even Darfur. Israelis don’t think about the West Bank anymore, let alone the peace signals from Syria. With the possible exception of national security issues – such as everything that has to do with Iran – we couldn’t care less about the regions’ problems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is Israel an Apartheid State?

Posted: March 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Left, The Right, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I got involved recently in several arguments concerning the issue of Apartheid, and whether or not we can name Israel an “Apartheid-state”. As most people can understand, this is not just an academic debate on definitions, but one that invites immediate political action. The word “Apartheid” symbolizes for us today something which is totally immoral. A regime that can’t be fixed, a system that’s wrong from its foundations. It’s an accusation not to be taken – nor made – lightly. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

If you asked me some years ago whether you can accuse Israel of Apartheid, I would have answered “no“. Today my answer is more complex. It’s something like “it depends“. I fear that we are heading towards the day when it will be a definite “Yes“.

Read the rest of this entry »

Second Class

Posted: March 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: racism, this is personal | Tags: , | 7 Comments »

I’m usually having troubles explaining to people how discriminated and alienated the Arab minority in Israel is. It seems that things are getting worse by the day, but Israelis – and their supporters abroad – still think we are a first class liberal democracy.

Check out, for example, this debate I got into at the right-wing blog “The Augean Stables” (what a great name!).

Therefore, I’ve decided to write more often about cases of discrimination in Israel. Given the new government, I’m sure I won’t be short in examples.

Here is something I found today, just to start with:

Due to recent accidents, the national train company has decided to place look-outs on major junctions throughout the country. As it turned, most of these look-outs – hired by an outside contractor – were Arabs.

As Ynet reports, the train company has now decided to change the terms of the contract, and informed the contractor that all look-outs must be army graduates. That means that all the Arab employees will be fired.

The train company is owned by the state, and must keep a strict equal opportunity policy. To bypass this problem, many employers link the contract’s demands to the army service itself. For example, they might say that look-outs are posted in dangerous places and are required to carry arms, and therefore should be army graduates.

What’s incredible in this case, is that the national train company didn’t bother to disguise its racist policy.

In its response to the item on Ynet, The train spokesperson simply said that “the train company  prefers to give an opportunity to people who served in the Army”. Meaning Jews.

As always in this kind of cases, if you read Hebrew, I recommend you check out the comments to this item on Ynet. They are so racists it makes you sick.

More to come.

UPDATE: Prof. Richard Landes, who writes “The Augean Stables”, objects to my reference to his blog as a “right-wing” one. While I do think I can classifies his positions (regarding Israel) as part of the political Right (as well as what I called here before “Neo-Zionism”), I also believe we should avoid labeling people against their own will.