Jerusalem construction in next decades – mostly on occupied territory

Posted: November 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , | Comments Off

This is not a Peace Now report, but an official document of the Jerusalem Municipality: According to a survey conducted at the request of the mayor’s office, 60,718 new housing units are slated for construction in Jerusalem in the next decades. Of those, 52,363 of them will be built east of the Green Line, in the territory annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War.

The document, revealed today by the daily paper Maariv, states that 23,628 of the planned units were already approved by relevant zoning committees – 20,263 of those for the “eastern” part of the city. In the area of Silwan, the biggest Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, nearly 5,000 housing unites are planned. Silwan has seen many demonstrations in recent years against the attempt to settle it with Jews, and tension is likely to grow in light of the new plans.

Jerusalem employs a system of separation between the Palestinians living in the city, who only hold the status of “residents” and the Jews, who enjoy citizen rights. Under those conditions, Arabs in Jerusalem don’t have the right to vote in national elections, their ability to purchase houses are limited, and if they leave the country for several years, they are likely to lose even their legal residency status. Most Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem receive limited municipal services.

Further Reading: The legal and moral problem with Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem (background)


If Netanyahu wants to investigate Iran leaks, he better start with his own office

Posted: November 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , | Comments Off

A comment on my last post refers to the much-quoted Al Jarida story about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to order an internal security service investigation that would trace the source whose leaks to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily started the public debate regarding a possible attack on Iran. How a Kuwait-based paper got a world scoop from the Israeli PM office is a different (and very interesting) story, but I would like to make a couple of remarks on the issue itself:

First, Netanyahu is obviously playing a double game: he has been speaking of the need to deal with Iran since his return to the prime minister’s office, and occasionally, he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak make  mysterious public statements about the fact that “all options are on the table” and so on. So when Netanyahu is talking about a possible strike on Iran it’s okay, while people who oppose it should keep their mouth shut?

Second, people tend to forget that all items on this issue in the Israeli media pass through the military censor, who has the final say on every word. From my own experiences, I can say that the office of the censor is pretty active when it comes to future plans and specifically to the nuclear issue, so you can be sure that no secrets were revealed.

The problem for Netanyahu is not that people talk about Iran – but rather that they have their own opinions.


Israeli public, politicians split on Iran (with advantage to skeptics)

Posted: November 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The lack of national consensus makes an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities unlikely, yet the escalating threats could create a dangerous dynamic in the longer run ● Public discourse is lacking a serious debate on the consequences of the attack

After months and years in which it has been kept in back rooms or limited to hints and remarks the true meaning of which was understood only by a few people, the Iran debate is suddenly so public that at times it’s hard to make any sense of it. Never has the possibility of a war – a war! – been debated so openly in Israel. Haaret’z top headline today (Thursday) was a poll showing the Israeli public split – 41 in favor and 39 opposing – on a possible Israeli strike against Iran nuclear facilities. According to those numbers, ultra-Orthodox Israelis are particularly keen on the attack (do they know something the rest of us don’t?) and a surprising 21 percent of Israeli-Palestinians are in support.

Some people find the idea of polling such issues bizarre (next – a reality show?) , but history has shown that when left alone to decide in secret on such issues, politicians and generals don’t exercise better judgment than the man on the street. Knowing that the public’s eye is on them, the military and political chiefs in Tel Aviv might be a bit more careful. I agree with Larry Derfner – a public debate on Iran is generally a good thing, and we should be happy that most of the Israel press is engaging in it. Unsurprisingly, it was the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Yisrael Hayon that had a quote in its top headline criticizing public statements made by ex-Mossad chief against the attack, reminding that Israel’s (former) chief spies are sworn to secrecy.

I was buying coffee near my home on Thursday when a siren sounded; I had a vague memory that a civil defense drill was due to take place, but people around me were genuinely concerned. Later, I read that the Home Front Command told reporters that the drill was scheduled a long time ago – just like the Air Force maneuver on the other side of the Mediterranean – yet one can’t help thinking that if Israel is not planning to attack Iran, it wants things to at least to be seen that way.

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It’s not clear whether Israel has the military capability to seriously damage the Iranian nuclear program, but an attack, some people argue, will send a message to the entire Middle East that Israel will act against any country in the region that attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. Even if this won’t stop Iran, such an attack might deter other countries in the region, and prevent the nightmare scenario of an all-out nuclear arms race. Some also hope that the possibility of Israeli attack might strengthen international pressure on Iran, or promote more effective sanctions.

But deterrence is a double-edged sword; it is meant to prevent the need to use military force but sometimes it ends up actually leading to it. It’s easy to see why: You start by threatening to use force if your national interests are jeopardized, and after a while, you have no choice but acting upon your threats in order to make sure that they are seen as credible in the future. This is the real danger of the current game Israel is playing: While I doubt if there is a real desire to attack in the political system or the military right now, as time passes the urge to strike is likely to grow, if only in order to prove to other countries that Israel’s threats are credible.

As for now, it seems that the “Iran Skeptics” camps still has the upper hand in the national debate: in the eight-minister cabinet that constitutes Israel’s top decision-making forum, four ministers are reported to oppose the attack (according to Haaretz those are Benny Begin, Moshe Ya’alon, Eli Yishai and Dan Meridor), three are considered in favor and one’s position is unclear, though it has been reported that he is leaning towards the opposition (that’s Finance Minister Yuval Shteinitz). Reports suggest that the military and Mossad are also not very enthusiastic about the idea, and as I mentioned, there is the very public campaign launched by the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, with the silent support of former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former head of Shabak (the Shin Bet internal security service) Yuval Diskin, though it should be noted that none of the three hold any formal role in security establishment right now.

Finally, the latest development is the criticism against Netanyahu’s push for attack, voiced by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni. This is pretty rare – the political tradition in Israel has it that the opposition does not question the government’s security decisions, certainly not in public, and never in advance. Livni wouldn’t have spoken if she had felt that she is alone on this issue.

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One thing that is missing from the public debate on Iran is a serious consideration of the consequences of an Israeli attack. The Iranian response – both direct and by proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas – could be pretty tough, and if it actually causes great damage or result in a large number of civilian casualties, Israel might see itself as being forced to retaliate. Therefore, the correct framing of the question isn’t an attack on Iran, but a possible war with Iran and its regional allies. An escalation of this sort might result in drawing the United States and other countries, probably against their will, into the fight. Again, the consequences for all parties involved – Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians, Lebanese and maybe Syrians – could be terrible.

The fact that Natanayhu is far from enjoying a national consensus behind him on Iran, even before a single shot was fired, makes me think that maybe an attack is not around the corner, at least for the time being.


Last-ditch effort to save a unique Palestinian village

Posted: October 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Lifta, the best-kept out of handful of remaining Nakba villages, will be demolished to make way for a housing project for affluent Jews

The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites is joining the campaign to save the remaining houses of the Palestinian village Lifta, at the western entrance of modern Jerusalem. Lifta, the best-kept of hundreds of abandoned Palestinian villages, is about to be demolished in order to make way for a new Jewish neighborhood.

According to a report by the daily paper Maariv, Itzik Shviki, manager of Jerusalem district in the Society, has filed a motion to the Jerusalem municipality. “The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites is demanding from the municipality of Jerusalem and from the Interior Ministry to create a [preservation] plan for upper Lifta,” Shviki told Maariv. “Most of the historical homes that are under the threat of demolition should be included in a comprehensive plan for preservation and development. And all current zoning plans should be stopped.”

Lifta is one of the few remaining Nakba villages, whose residents were deported or fled during the war of 1948. Israel has prevented the Palestinians who left their homes from returning to them, and when the war ended, it confiscated their lands and property.

Almost all of the hundreds of empty Palestinian villages were destroyed after the war and in subsequent decades. In Lifta, 55 of more than 400 hundred homes survived, together with the original cemetery, vineyards and a pool that collects rainwater. Because nobody lived in Lifta, it was left undeveloped. Except for the damage caused by time, tourists and homeless people who occupied some of the empty homes, parts of the village remain as they were left by the Palestinians who lived there more than 60 years ago, making it a unique historical site.

Recognizing the special value of Lifta led Israel to declare the village and its surroundings a natural reserve.

In 2004, a new zoning plan removed the special protection from Lifta. Plan No. 6036, approved in August 2006, designates the land for the construction of 268 housing units (an extremely small number, suggesting they are intended for a more affluent population), a hotel and commercial areas.

The new Lifta plan was approved by all the necessary planning authorities, but the sale of lots on the site was stopped after a court petition was filed by various organizations, including representatives of refugees from Lifta, Israeli-Palestinian civil society organizations and Rabbis for Human Rights. The motion is still being heard by the Jerusalem District Court.

Further reading:

Lifta Society: Articles, photos and updates on the campaign to save Lifta.

Why do Jews need to talk abour the Nakba
(my article from last Nakba Day).


(Some) Arab Twitterers use anti-Semitic tag in discussing J14

Posted: August 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Comments Off

On Saturday evening, I tweeted a couple of pictures I took at the mass social justice (J14) rally in Tel Aviv. Both drew their inspiration from the Arab uprising – one ordering Prime Minister Netanyahu “GO (in Arabic), this is Egypt,” and the other one, aimed to lift the spirits of the crowd, saying “Walk like an Egyptian.”

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(Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reported that Netanyahu was clearly offended by the protesters comparing him to Egypt’s Husni Mubarak.)

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I liked those signs. They showed that even in a country  that has been dominated by an Islamophobic, anti-Arab tones, and despite of all the security establishment’s warnings about the possible outcomes of removing “friendly” dictators like Mubarak from power, many Israelis identified in an almost instinctive way with the message of hope and freedom in the Arab uprising. It tells you something about the human spirit.

The higher you climb, the deeper the fall is. After a while, I saw that several of the Arab users—mainly Egyptians—who re-tweeted my pictures used the hashtag #thawretweladalkalb. For those who don’t know Twitter, hashtags are meta-tags which allow twitter users to see all the messages on a certain topic.

Thawret Welada-l-Kalb is Arabic “revolution of the sons of dogs.” This is nothing to do with politics – it’s pure anti-Semitism. One of the people using this hashtag tried to explain that he meant Zionist, not Jews in general. Naturally, I don’t buy this, just as you won’t accept an explanation from an Israeli who said “death to all Arabs”, but then clarified he only meant Hamas supporters. Micro-managing your racism only makes things worse.

Yet, at the same time, there were Arabs Twitter users who denounced this hashtag, calling it racist and shameful. And as always in such cases, some of the clearest voices came from Palestinians.


Between euphoria and anarchy: Tel Aviv’s revolutionary festival

Posted: August 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

A midnight walk through the Rothschild Boulevard protest camp

Tel Aviv – On the corner of Allenby Street and Rothschild Boulevard, a Jewish supremacists’ group is conducting fierce arguments with several bystanders. I am spotting former Kahane men, Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir, accompanied by “hilltop youth,” the radical settler teens, notorious for harassing Palestinians, who are now standing across the street from the busy pubs and food places, a bit bewildered, wearing tee-shirts saying “Tel Aviv is for Jews.” Rumors are that a couple of their tents were burned by leftists. While the older kids argue, the younger ones are standing in the back, staring at the night traffic at one of the city’s busiest junctions.

It is almost midnight. This part of the city is always packed on weekends, but right now it’s so crowded it’s practically impossible to walk. Around 400 tents are scattered along the boulevard. Hundreds of young Israelis are lying between them on mattresses and old furniture, drinking, smoking, playing music, talking with “tourists”—the unofficial name for the visitors to Israel’s first and largest social protest camp site—and mostly arguing about politics.

A hundred yards up, the boulevard is blocked by a large white structure made of plastic bars and fabric. A sign on it declares “revolution of love.” Inside a DJ playing loud trance music. Several dozen people are dancing around. Further up, the Divorced Fathers’ party is beginning their routine march. A short, emotional speaker calls into a megaphone: “I want to see my daughter. I want to take her to Rothschild Boulevard. She is calling to me “Daddy!’” as he screams the last word, the crown answers “Daddy!”

On the corner of Nahmani Street, I meet Yuval Ben Ami, Daniela Cheslow and a girl I don’t know, sitting on a bench.  Yuval is holding an acoustic guitar. He says he has never seen anything like it, admits that the atmosphere is too intense for him to even write about right now. He invites me to sit with them, but I prefer to continue. As I say my goodbyes, an elderly woman, dressed in black, approaches Yuval and asks him to play a song by Bob Dylan.

This is no longer about housing. The papers are discussing economical figures and social plans, but something very different is taking place on Rothschild Boulevard. It seems that everyone who has something to say came here, put up a tent and started shouting. The euphoria of the first few days of the struggle is still present, but the tension is rapidly building. People still play music and discuss politics, but many fear violence. I am told that the original group that started the protest doesn’t sleep in this tent camp anymore, after receiving threats to their lives.

Yet the camp seems to grow by the day. There are tents everywhere, and in between them stands and people handing leaflets in the middle of the night. There are tents for animals rights, for drafting the ultra-orthodox to the IDF (would you like to sign the petition?), tents built by the Communist party, tents for settling the north of Israel with Jews, a joint Jewish-Arab camp named “Tent 1948,” a tent of social workers dealing with disadvantaged youth (their services have been privatized, and they demand the state give them a formal contract), tents representing art students, a new-age circle of tents with the inevitable girl explaining about the power of inner peace to heal society, a small camp populated by physiology interns, and more, much more. In between, dozens of signs: “Bibi has sold us out”; “The market is free. Are you?”; “Tahrir, corner of Rothschild”; “we are non-political”; “Lock your doors, billionaires.”

What does it all mean? With every day that I visit this place, it seems less calling for political analysis and more for a novelist, or a Gonzo-style journo.

All around the country, the social protest goes on. Just today, there have been more demonstrations in Tel Aviv than in an average month. A parents’ march for free pre-school education; cab drivers blocked a major road in protest of the rising petrol prices; farmers protested against lowering the tariffs on dairy products; several thousands union people had a rally in front of their headquarter. There is a tent camp in almost every city; some of them are yet to be discovered by the media, like the Ethiopian Jews’ tent camp, half an hour from Tel Aviv. Someone visited them and tweeted: “They ask for water tanks, signs and a singer with a guitar.”

Some of these protest echo things we have seen before, and the main novelty is that they come all at once. But in some places, and most of all on Rothschild Boulevard, something else is going on. Over here, the political festival is getting wilder every evening. A couple of nights ago, Channel 2′s live panel from the Boulevard was heckled so badly, they had to cut the broadcast after half an hour. They will not be broadcasting from here anymore. Yesterday, Army Radio, which has been here for a week or so, was chased away. No policemen are in sight. Freedom is exciting, and scary.

“The donation box has been stolen!” someone is shouting over loud speakers. A small gathering of young students is discussing Saturday’s planned rally, while next to them a dozen hipsters are playing old songs on a laptop and dancing between two tents. Temperature is over 80 degrees Farenheit, and it’s incredibly humid. August is always a wild month in the city.

A couple of old men with long gray hair are sitting on a bench, smoking and smiling. There is a large Indian tent on the corner of Sheinkin Street. Next to it, a group of Breslov Hasidim are singing Hanukah songs to a tribal rhythm, and a large crowd joins them. On the other side, the divorced fathers are making their return tour; and right at the junction itself, on the road, a homeless junkie has turned a large garbage bin upside down and is looking through the trash for cigarettes while the cars honk as they maneuver around him. “I want to take my daughter to Rothschild Boulevard,” calls the leader of the divorced fathers’ march. “I want to show her how to build a tent. ‘Daddy!!!

The homeless guy lifts an empty water bottle in the air. “Daddy!” he answers.


This strange American obssesion with “the return of the Israeli left”

Posted: August 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Left | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

What is it that makes so many American reports on events in Israel end up with the question of “the return of the Zionist Left?” Ethan Bronner’s recent story on the cost of living protest in Israel is yet another example of this trend. By cherry picking a few comments and mixing them with the warm memories of Rabin’s government, the recent social justice movement becomes for Bronner the vessel of “a possible opening for the defeated left.”

I can’t help but think that those American who are so obsessed with this question recognize “their Israel” in a certain image that the Israeli left has projected, one which very rarely had anything to do with its politics. Like a constant search for something that was never there. After all, you won’t see so many stories in American press about “a return of the revisionist Right” in Israel, or about Shas.

It’s time to face facts: Rabin’s second government was an historical accident, no more. This was the only time in 35 years that the left won a Knesset majority – and even then, it wasn’t even close to a majority of the Jewish public. Liberalism, in the American sense, never took real hold in Israel.

The current social protest is a unique event with tremendous potential, but if it’s a return to the Jewish democracy dreamland that Americans hope for, you are up for a major disappointment. There won’t be a “return” – all we can and should hope for is something completely new.


The real importance of the tent protest

Posted: July 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Last week, my colleagues Joseph Dana and Mairav Zonszein reported about the harsh treatment some of protesters got from the hand of the police following the previous social justice rally in Tel Aviv. While I don’t ignore the importance of such incidents, they might make one miss the essence of the tent protest.

Unlike in Syria or Libya, where dictators slaughter their own citizens by the hundreds, it was never oppression that held the social order in Israel together, as far as the Jewish society was concerned. It was indoctrination – a dominant ideology, to use a term preferred by critical theorists. And it was this cultural order that was dented in this round of protests. For the first time, a major part of the Jewish middle class—it’s too early to estimate how large is this group—recognized their problem not with other Israelis, or with the Arabs, or with a certain politician, but with the entire social order. With the entire system. In this sense, it’s a unique event in Israel’s history.

This is why this protest has such tremendous potential. This is also the reason that we shouldn’t just watch for the immediate political fallout—I don’t think we will see the government fall any time soon—but for the long term consequences, the undercurrent, which is sure to arrive.


WATCH: Palestinian UN envoy breaks down at Security Council

Posted: July 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A vivid example of the high emotions felt by Palestinian leadership as the September showdown at the UN draws closer was evident on Tuesday, when during a Security Council meeting, Palestinian observer, Riyad H. Mansour, broke down as he was reading the last sentences in his prepared remarks:

Why should the Palestinian people be forced to languish yet another year — or even one more day — under foreign occupation? They should not and they must not. This is the time to end the Israeli occupation. This is the time for Palestine’s independence. This is the time for Palestine and Israel to live side by side in peace and security, and this is the time for a new Middle East. We believe that the international community is ready for that, and we trust that the appropriate actions will be undertaken soon to make this a reality.

Watch the debate here. The Palestinian representative starts reading his remarks around the 20th minute; start watching around the 38th minute for the text I quoted. It’s a very subtle moment, yet unmistakable. Around the 40th minute the remarks by the Israeli Ambassador to the UN begin. Full text of the meeting can be found here.

The United States has made it clear it would veto a Security Council bid to have Palestine accepted to the UN as a full member.


Jerusalem Post “clarifies” crazy Sunday editorial

Posted: July 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Comments Off

Have you ever seen an editor in-chief attempt to explain what his newspaper actually meant in its editorial? After calling readers to use Andreas Behring Brievik’s horrific terror attack as an opportunity to discuss the failure of multiculturalism and integration, the Jerusalem Post added the following paragraph to the online version of the text:

The editor-in-chief adds: As a newspaper, The Jerusalem Post strongly denounces all acts of violence against innocent civilians. This editorial is not aimed at deflecting attention from the horrific massacre perpetuated in Norway, nor the need to take greater precautions against extremists from all sides.

Oh, that’s what you meant. For a minute there we thought…