12 Israeli women publicly defy army orders, take Palestinians for a day trip in Tel Aviv

Posted: August 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Left | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Until the Oslo years, Palestinians enjoyed freedom of movement throughout Israel. But since the mid 90′s, only those with special permits from the IDF can cross the Greed Line west – to work, for a visit of friends or family members, or for medical treatment.

The blockade policy has become much harder on Palestinians since the separation barrier was constructed. Very few travel permits are issued, and as a result, many young Palestinians never leave their home town and the surrounding villages. In fact, many never left the territories in their life, and the only Israelis they ever met were either settlers or soldiers.

This ad was published yesterday (Friday) in Haaretz (English translation below):

haaretz ad


Women in the footsteps of Ilana Hammerman: not obeying illegal and immoral laws

On Friday, July 23rd, a dozen Jewish women, a dozen Palestinian women, one baby, and three Palestinian children took a trip from the West Bank in six private cars. We crossed several checkpoints, drove to Israel’s coastal plain, and toured Tel-Aviv and Jaffa together. We ate in a restaurant, swam in the sea, and played on the beach. We ended our day in Jerusalem. Most of our Palestinian guests had never seen the sea. Most had not, in their entire lives, prayed at their sacred places: they looked upon them longingly from the heights of Mount Scopus.

None of our guests had an entry permit from the Israeli authorities. We are announcing here publicly that we deliberately violated the Law of Entry into Israel. We did this in the footsteps of Ilana Hammerman, after the state lodged a complaint against her with the Israeli police. She had written an article published in Haaretz on May 7th reporting on a similar excursion.

We cannot assent to the legality of the “Entry into Israel Law”, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River while depriving Palestinians of this same right. They are not permitted free movement within the occupied territories nor are they allowed to enter the towns and cities across the green line, where their families, nation, and traditions are deeply rooted.

They and we, all ordinary citizens, took this step with a clear and resolute mind. In this way we were privileged to experience one of the most beautiful and moving days of our lives, to meet and befriend our brave Palestinian neighbors, and together with them, to be free women, if only for one day.

We did not go with “terrorists” or enemies, but with human beings. The authorities separate us from these women with fences and roadblocks, laws and regulations, often claimed to protect our safety. In fact, the barriers are only designed to perpetuate mutual enmity and the control of Palestinian land seized illegally in contravention of international laws and the values of justice and humanity.

It is not we who are violating the law: the State of Israel has been violating it for decades. It is not we—women with a democratic conscience—who have transgressed: the State of Israel is transgressing, spinning us all into the void.

Henry David Thoreau, in his famous essay “Civil Disobedience” (1845) wrote:
“…when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army.”

Listen to these words, see how aptly they describe our situation here and now —and do as we have done.

Signed (in alphabetical order): Annelien Kisch, Ramat Hasharon; Daphne Banai, Tel Aviv; Esti Tsal, Jaffa; Ilana Hammerman, Jerusalem; Irit Gal, Jerusalem; Klil Zisapel, Tel Aviv; Michal Pundak Sagie, Herzlia; Nitza Aminov, Jerusalem; Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, Tel Aviv; Roni Eilat, Kfar Sava; Ronit Marian-Kadishay, Ramat Hasharon; Ruti Kantor, Tel Aviv

The occupation in a nutshell

Posted: July 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Take a few minutes to hear the story of Adeeb Abu Rahma of Bil’in. It’s not part of the big diplomatic news like the Obama-Netanyahu meeting this week, but in a sense, it’s more important. Far from being unique, this case captures most of what there is to know about the current stage of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. It’s the kind of things you have to keep in mind when you read the morning news.

Adeeb Abu Rahma is a resident of Bil’in, the village which became the symbol of non-violent resistance to the occupation. A few years ago, Israel decided to build its security barrier on Palestinian land, and not on the Green Line, the historic border between Israel and the West Bank. The reason for this was PM Ariel Sharon’s desire to capture more land for new neighborhoods in some of the large settlements Israel was building in recent years, and to secure a reality in which most of the settlements are seen as part of Israel, and not something “across the border”.

The people of Bil’in, who had much of their land taken for the barrier project, filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against the confiscation, and even had a partial victory: The court ruled that parts of the fence were not constructed on the village’s land for security reasons, and ordered it to be moved. The court failed to address the main issue – the decision to build the fence inside the West Bank rather than on the old border – but it didn’t really matter, because the army simply ignored the verdict. Three years later, the fence is still on its original location.

For five years now, a popular struggle against the fence has been taking place in Bil’in. Every week, Palestinians, Israelis and international activists are taking part in demonstrations. Most of the action consists of attempts to march to the village’s confiscated land; occasionally stones are thrown, but there was never a serious threat to the army forces there, and certainly not to Israeli civilians who live nearby.

Without much outside help or even support from the Palestinian Authority, these demonstrations had a tremendous effect. They relegitimized the Palestinian cause in the eyes of the international community, after the blow it suffered because of the suicide attacks of the Second Intifada. The protest also spread to other villages in the West Bank, and there are already talks of a third Intifada – this time, a non-violent one.

Israel is doing all it can to stop the protest in Bil’in. It used rubber covered bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and plastic bullets against the demonstrators. Bassem Abu Rahma, Adeeb’s cousin, was among those killed on the hills surrounding Bil’in, after suffering a direct hit of a tear gas canister. As can be seen in this video, Bassem (like all the rest of the protesters) wasn’t taking part in any violent act when he was hit, and the soldiers who shot him weren’t in any kind of danger.

A few months ago the army declared the entire Bil’in area a closed military zone, and stepped up the nightly raids on the homes of Palestinian residents. Many were arrested and held under “administrative detention”, without having any charges presented against them. This is standard procedure in the West Bank; there are currently 213 Palestinians imprisoned under administrative detention orders without charges or trial.

Adeeb Abu Rahma, a taxi-driver and father of nine, was knows as one of the prominent figures in the none-violent protest. Adeeb and his wife Fatima’s families have been cut by the fence from some 25 acres of their land on which they used to grow olive trees and cereals. In this video, you can see Adeeb in an emotional outburst in front of IDF soldiers:

Adeeb was arrested on 10 July 2009, while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the fence near Bil’in. He was brought before a military panel in Ofer Prison, North of Jerusalem, one of several Guantanamo-like facilities in Israel. After being held there for 11 months (no bail for Palestinians), Adeeb was convicted last month on charges of “incitement”, “disturbing public order” and “presence in a closed military zone”.

This is from Rechavia Berman’s report on his trail:

[Adeeb's] conviction was based on testimony of four minors – 14, 15 and two aged 16 years old – of which [the Shin Beit] got an admission… that Adeeb Abu Rahma told them to throw stones.

These Minors were taken forcibly from their homes at 3:00 in the morning, handcuffed and blindfolded, and kept this way until the next day at 2 PM, without being allowed to eat or to go to the toilets. They were questioned without the presence of a lawyer or a family member, as required even by army regulations.

During the court’s hearings, the military prosecutor argued that she has videotapes of the demonstrations to prove its case [against Abeed], but when Abu Rahma’s lawyer, attorney Gabi Lasky, asked to review this material, the prosecution claimed that the tapes were mysteriously deleted. In the interrogation of the minors there was not even a distinction between throwing leaflets […] and stone-throwing.

Despite all of this, the military court decided to send Adeeb to no less than two years in prison, a time in which his family will be left without its sole provider. Needless to say, his arrest and conviction were hardly mentioned by the Israeli media. These kinds of stories happen every day.


Meanwhile, on the same land but in a completely different universe, a Hebron settler named Yifat Alkoby – seen here harassing local Palestinians – was detained for slapping a soldier. According to a report in Haaretz (h/t Hagai Matar), Alkobi was throwing stones at Palestinians in Hebron, when a soldier approached her and asked her to stop. After Alkoby attacked the soldier, slapped and scratched him, she was arrested, only to be released after several hours (unlike the Palestinians in the West bank, Jews are brought before a civil court). Had Abeed Abu Rahma dared lay his hand on a soldier, he would have spent the next decade behind bars.


So there you have it all. The systematic confiscation of the land (sometimes illegally even by our own standards); the separated legal systems, with different laws for Jews and Arabs; the unproportional use of force against civilians and minors; the treatment of any kind of protest as “terrorism”, justifying special interrogation methods; the blind eye towards the settlers; and the failed notion that any of this would actually work, and the Palestinians would simply forget about their lands. In short, the injustice, cruelty and absurdity of it all.

This is the everyday level of the occupation, as I’ve first seen it 17 years ago as a soldier (though things have gotten much worse since). Adeeb’s case is not “an incident”, it’s part of a system. The occupation is not the work of a bunch of extreme settlers, but a national project in which the army and the Israeli legal system play the major role.

this is something many fail to understand: the heart of the story is not about murder, like some of the anti-Israeli propaganda claims (or should we say, most of the time it’s not about murder), but about the daily banalities of an evil system. Israel is not fighting a battle against Iran, Hezbollah or the International Jihad, like our government and its cheerleaders around the world want you to think; it is engaged in an effort to prevent basic human and civil liberties from millions of people.

Even the best of Hasbara talking points won’t blur this simple fact much longer. The world can’t go on turning its back on Adeeb Abu Rahma and the people of Bil’in. They deserve justice.

The only democracy? Israeli lawmakers seek to criminalize boycott, supervise “political bias” in academia

Posted: June 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

A new Knesset bill submitted by 25 Knesset members this week would make it illegal, if passed, for Israeli citizens to support or aid boycott on Israel or on Israeli products. Israelis who would initiate or help such boycotts – even if they deal only with the settlements – could be fined and forced to pay compensations to those hurt by the boycott.

The bill was initiated by Likud party members and supported by senior members of Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party, including party whip Dalia Itzik and Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tsachi Hanegbi.

This is from the report on Ynet:

As to individuals who are not citizens or residents of Israel, their right to enter the country will be deprived for at least 10 years should they be involved in a boycott. Another measure would ban foreign entities or anyone on their behalf from engaging in any actions using Israeli bank accounts, Israeli stocks, or Israeli land.

The bill’s initiators say the move aims to “protect the State of Israel in general and its citizens in particular against academic, economic, and other boycotts.”

Addressing the Palestinian boycott, MK Itzik said: “The Palestinians are causing harm with this attitude…issues of this type should be resolve at the negotiating table.”

The Hebrew version of the article cites MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), who innitiated the bill, explaining that the new law will specifically target Israeli professors who support academic boycott. But the problem with this bill goes far beyond the question of boycott. This is yet another attempt to limit political action in Israel and to prevent none-violent resistance to the occupation.

A few months ago Israel passed a law against mentioning the Nakba – the Palestinian disaster of 1948 – attacking the very core of freedom of speech, which is the right to hold one’s own historical narrative; now Israel is looking to forbid a universally accepted form of political action.

Most troubling is the fact that these measures enjoy the support of both coalition and opposition parties. It seems that there is an automatic majority in the Knesset for any bill that would criminalize ideas which are not well within the political consensus (and the public is only too happy to support these initiatives). Israel is becoming one of these democracies in which you are allowed to hold and express any sort of idea, as long as it’s the right one.


Israeli lawmakers are looking to apply political supervision even on what was considered the symbol of Israeli freedom of speech. a few weeks ago, the Knesset Education Committee ordered the Committee for Academic Education (the supervising body on all Israeli universities) to look into “the anti-Zionist political bias” of courses in history and Political Science in Israeli Universities. Here is a link to the protocol of the Education committee’s meeting (Hebrew). No immediate measures were applied, but just having such a debate – the committee members are actually debating how to force professors to put more Zionist material on their students’ reading lists – is dangerous enough, especially in a country in which academic education is sponsored by the state. And as we saw in the case of the Nakba bill, those kinds of debates tend to lead to legislative action.


Israel was never a democracy when it came too the Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza, who are subject to a separate legal system and have very limited civil rights. Now we are witnessing rapid erosion in the political rights of Israeli citizens as well. Personally, I get the feeling that Israel is following the steps of South Africa in the 80′s, where opposing Apartheid was considered as opposing South Africa itself, and dealt with accordingly. When an act like asking people not to buy settlements product becomes a criminal offense; and when even some of the stuff posted on this blog might be considered illegal, referring to Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East would look like a bad joke.

The real irony is that with every such measure, Israeli lawmakers are further justifying the very acts they want to ban.

East Jerusalem: more Palestinian families receive eviction orders, hundreds come to weekly protests

Posted: May 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Two more Palestinian families from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood received this week eviction orders. According to Haaretz’s report, the families were requested to leave their houses within 45 days. No alternative residency was offered to them.

“Failure to comply [with the order] will force my client to act against you with all means available according to the law [...] in such a way as may cause distress, anxiety and large and unnecessary expense,” the notices said.

The lawyer who served the order, Anat Paz of law firm Eitan Gabay, informed the families they would be liable to a fine of NIS 350 for each day the remained in their homes beyond the eviction deadline.

Each family was also ordered to pay  NIS 12,000 per year for each of the last seven years. The notices did not reveal names of the claimants to the properties

The Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah are refugees who fled their homes in Jaffa and West Jerusalem in 1948. They were offered a land in Jerusalem to build their homes on by the Jordanians in exchange for agreeing to give up their refugee status (ironically, that’s what Israel always demanded the Palestinians in Arab countries do). Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and recently, the pre-1948 Jewish owners of the land in Sheikh Jarrah authorized a rightwing settlers group to have the Palestinians evacuated and the neighborhood settled with Jews.

Israeli courts repeatedly ruled in favor of the Jews claiming the land based on the pre-1948 documents – while at the same time the Palestinians were forbidden from claiming back the houses they left in 1948. Unable to have their old houses, evacuated from their current homes – Jerusalem’s municipality plans on building there 200 housing units for Jews – the Palestinians have literally nowhere to go. They don’t even hold a refugee status.


The injustice in East Jerusalem is so evident, that the struggle to stop the evacuation of the Palestinians became a new symbol for many Israelis. What has began as a very local grassroots effort by a handful of activist (many of them Anarchists) is now drawing a crowd of hundreds each week – and sometime more people and more than once a week. Here is a video from the protest two weeks ago, when some 30 demonstrators were arrested by police, and one had his arm broken.

Personally, I find the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah to be the best thing that happened to the Israeli left in years. The number of the people present there doesn’t seem that impressive, but the crowd grows each week, and it is clear that the police and the municipality will find new evacuations very hard to carry out.

More important, this struggle is becoming an inspiration to many who all but gave up on political activism – and not just in Israel. And it’s happening without any political party or a leftwing organization supporting it, and under some very radical messages. For the first time I can remember in years, the left doesn’t try to “move to the center” in order to win the support of the more conservative public, or engage in all sort of competitions in patriotism with the rightwing – ones that we obviously will never win – but rather sticks to its principles without apologizing or justifying itself.

There is no common platform in Sheikh Jarrah except for this very specific struggle. Nobody asks if you support one or two states, if you are a Zionist, Post Zionist or anti-Zionist. People just come each Friday to Jerusalem and stand for what they think is right – and so far, it works well enough. Sometimes I even get the sense that if this thing wasn’t happening here, it would have happened somewhere else. The energy feels bigger than this specific incident, as if there are finally enough Israelis who say that things have been going in the wrong direction for far too long – that a line had to be drawn, and it happened to be drawn in Sheikh Jarrah.

I took those two pics on the weekly protest last Friday, to which author Mario Vargas Llosa paid a visit.




The best way to support the protest in Sheikh Jarrah is to simply come each Friday (more details here). If you don’t live in Israel, you can make a donation, as legal expenses for the defense of arrested activists and organizers are mounting.

What to make of the new IDF order, which will allow mass deportation of Palestinians

Posted: April 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments »


Amira Haas reports in Haaretz:

A new military order (in picture) aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years.

When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders liable to be severely punished.


According to the provisions, “a person is presumed to be an infiltrator if he is present in the area without a document or permit which attest to his lawful presence in the area without reasonable justification.” Such documentation, it says, must be “issued by the commander of IDF forces in the Judea and Samaria area or someone acting on his behalf.”

The instructions, however, are unclear over whether the permits referred to are those currently in force, or also refer to new permits that military commanders might issue in the future… Currently, Palestinians need special permits to enter areas near the separation fence, even if their homes are there, and Palestinians have long been barred from the Jordan Valley without special authorization. Until 2009, East Jerusalemites needed permission to enter Area A, territory under full PA control.

There are a few things to notice here:

1.    The total lack of respect by Israel to the Oslo agreement and the Palestinian Authority. Israel often claims that the situation in the West Bank does not resemble Apartheid since most Palestinians actually live in the Autonomy rather than under Israeli rule. But as we have seen, the PA can’t even decide who enters or stays in its territory, and the IDF does not hesitate to carry out arrests there – even when they have nothing to do with national security. The true authority in the West Bank, whose actions almost can’t be challenged, is the IDF.

2.    The attempt by Israel to change the situation in the West Bank. Israel continues to expand its settlements on what is supposed to be the territory of the future Palestinian state. Now it has introduced a measure that will enable it to control Palestinian population as well.

3.    I don’t believe we will see buses expelling thousand of Palestinians in the near future. Israel knows this won’t look good in the world. What this measure gives is another tool for IDF to use against individuals and to break non-violent resistance. For example, if a person demonstrates against the wall near his village, and there is nothing else to charge him with, the IDF can try to deport him under the new order. This goes well with the ambiguous and secretive tone of the order, which leaves lots of room for interpretation by the officers in the field.

4.    All this is happening when the West bank is quiet. The Palestinians are actually doing what Israel asked them for years. Resistance to the occupation is limited to demonstrations and occasional stone-throwing. At the same time, Israel is introducing new measures against the Palestinians. This new move might be part of a larger response Israel is preparing for a case in which the PA unilaterally declares its independence.

5. As IDF spokesman informed Haaretz, the order will not apply to Jews.

Apartheid Week in Columbia University

Posted: March 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »
pro Israel posters in Columbia

pro Israel posters in Columbia

New York, NY – Staying in an apartment on Morningside Heights, Manhattan, I pass every day on my way to the Subway through Columbia University’s campus. Last Monday, as part of the Israel Apartheid Week, anti-occupation activists placed in the heart of the campus a small model of the separation wall, with some leaflets attached to it and a few Palestinian flags. In front of them, on the other side of the walkway crossing the campus, pro-Israel students had their own campaign going on, with their leaflets and posters, most of them detailing Israel’s security concerns.

From my point of view, the most surprising fact was that the “Israeli” campaign was launched by students who claimed to be pro-peace, under the title of Peace Week for Israelis and Palestinians. In Israel, peace is not a very popular notion right now, and human rights as well as peace groups are on the run, as the recent campaign against the NIF showed so well. But here in New York, and facing a Palestinian campaign, the pro-peace students seemed to be much more vocal than the Right wing people one would expect to find in such occasions.

This is one of those incidents that make the debate in the US so different from what’s going on in Israel. While the Israeli supporters of Meretz or Peace Now I know wouldn’t approve of Apartheid week, I don’t think any of them would take part in the Hasbara counter-attack either, especially not these days, and not with this Israeli government. Things are obviously different here, and I found myself wondering what to make of them. Is it a sign of maturity on the part of Israel’s supporters and an effort to handle the complexity of the situation, or simply another example of how out of touch they are with political reality?

Apartheid week in Columbia university

Apartheid week in Columbia university

Judging from the material I was handed by these pro-Israel-pro-peace activists, they seemed to be more in line with Avigdor Liberman than with Meretz. To justify the construction of the separation wall, they cited Israeli statistics regarding the number of terror casualties before and after the separation barrier was constructed. The posters wondered if US citizens wouldn’t support building such a barrier had their life been threatened by their neighborhoods.

A leaflet signed by LionPac, the Pro-Israel Columbia student group, read that:

“The Israeli Security Barrier was constructed not to mistreat or dominate Palestinians, but rather to save Israeli civilian lives and prevent terrorists from entering Israeli cities…

“Palestinian property owners whose land has been used in building the security Barrier have been offered compensation by the Israeli government for the use of their land and for damage to their trees.”

Naturally, all these claims could have been taken seriously had Israel built the security barrier on its own land, or on the Green line. but Israel chose to build it’s fence/wall deep into the west Bank, cutting through Palestinian villages and neighborhoods, separating people from their relatives, children from their schools, farmers from their land. If the US felt threatened by its neighbors it might have build such a barrier on its northern or southern border, but it wouldn’t dream building it in the heart of Canada or Mexico, and that makes all the difference.

As for the claim that Palestinians were compensate, this is something between a gross exaggeration to a blunt lie: not only that the IDF or the government never had the Palestinians’ rights in their minds while building the barrier, even now they are violating our own Supreme Court rulings regarding parts of the fence that needs to be moved west.


Another item distributed by the pro-peace students was a “Pocket Facts” booklet produced by the pro-Israeli organization Stand With Us. After recycling some historical myths, and just before stating that “Israel has enacted affirmative action policies to help minority citizens achieve full social and economic equality” (I would love to get examples), these booklets actually have two pages titled “Israeli Communities beyond the Green Line”, which make a case for the legitimacy of the settlements!

“Israel built settlements to ensure its security, and Israelis resettled land their families owned in the West Bank” [the truth is first settlements had nothing to do with security, but with return to so called holy sites; and in all but a handful of cases, they were built on either private or public Palestinian land]… Most Palestinians in the West bank live in built-up cities and towns… With peaceful negotiations, [80 percent of the settlements] can be incorporated into Israel with some minor border modifications and do not impact Palestinian population centers.”

I’m beginning to wonder what kind of peace the people of Stand with Us and LionPac have in mind.


I won’t go to more details regarding the rest of the stuff on the leaflets and the Stand With Us booklets, but rest assure that it suffers from the same poor arguments or distortion of facts. My point is that this sort of reasoning explains why many people view today the peace process as a tool to legitimize the Israeli occupation. What these pro-peace students saw as peace had to do only with the security concerns and with the anxieties of Jews, and nothing with the rights of the Palestinians. They failed to address the two key issues raised by the pro-Palestinian side: that the separation wall is not (only) a security barrier, since it was built deep into the Palestinians territory; and that the ethnic separation regime used under the military occupation in the West Bank could be labeled as a de-facto Apartheid (as oppose to a de-jure one), now that it has been going on from more than 40 years.

But what saddened me most, and not for the first time, was the total lack of empathy towards the Palestinians that I sensed from these pro-Israeli students. And while I can understand why Israelis can be so blind to the realities of the occupation, considering the very real (if not always justified) existential threat they feel – something Israel’s critic fail again and again to grasp – I don’t see what prevents a Liberal American student from imagining, even for a moment, what it’s like to live almost two generations under military rule.

In all the “pro-peace” material I found in Columbia, I never saw any mention of the restrictions on freedom of travel and of freedom of speech on all Palestinians; of the fact that Palestinians are tried in military courts and not allowed due process for more than forty years now; and of course, of the fact that they are the only people in the world who hold no citizenship. On occasions I tried to raise these issues, I was met with indifference, even some hostility. In short, people wouldn’t even listen. It seemed that for these Columbia students, “peace” was desirable only as a mean to serve one party’s interest. To them, it is as if one should support “peace” not because it might end an unjustified occupation or promote the values we supposedly share, but just because it might be good for Israelis.

It’s not about peace

Posted: February 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments »

One of the common mistakes done when discussing the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is in setting peace as the goal of the political process. It is not only wrong, but also counter-productive, and in the end, serves mainly those who which to maintain the current state of affairs. This is not to say that we shouldn’t wish to end all hostilities between the two sides, but rather that to do so, we must change the way this story has been framed since the beginning of the nineties.

First of all, we should be realistic. As we learned in Gaza, an Israeli withdrawal does not promise an end to the violence. Both sides still have conflicting interests which might lead to the use of military power, and in both sides there are elements that will try, at least in near future, to sabotage any agreement by violent means. It’s clear that the more good faith Israelis and Palestinians show today, the easier it will be to stabilize the region, but more than forty years of occupation will inevitably leave plenty of bitterness on the Palestinian side even after the last soldier leaves and the last settlement evacuated; the evacuation of settlements on the Israeli side bring its problems, and the huge socioeconomics gap between Jews and Arabs on such a small territory won’t help either. So we shouldn’t promise that public something that will be hard to deliver.

Even more important is the image created by all these talks about peace. for many people – and this is something I’ve noticed especially in the US – it seems as though there are two equal parties, almost two states, who are entering a diplomatic process to sort their on-going differences. But there is only one state here. Israel is negotiating – when there are negotiations – with the people who are under its own control, and for which it is refusing to grant civil rights.

In other words, talking about peace hides the real nature of the problem, which is the occupation. When we set peace as our goal, it means that the absence of peace – meaning the violence – was the problem. This is true for the Israeli side, but it’s only partly true for the Palestinians. Their main concern is the lack of civil and human rights. For them, the violence that they suffer is only the result of the initial problem, which is the occupation. By talking about peace and peace only, we are accepting the Israeli definition of the problem as well as its solution.

When we discuss peace, only the two state solution is acceptable, since that’s how you make peace – between states. On the other hand, if it’s a human or civil rights problem, we can also think of other solutions, such as a confederation, or “one person, one vote”. These ideas are totally unacceptable for Israel, so again, by returning to the idea of “the peace process” the world actually chooses the Israeli narrative over that of the Palestinians. I even think that by this endless talk of the would-be-Palestinian state, we almost tend to believe that such state exists, or that at least the Palestinians are running their own lives, when in fact, the army’s control over the West bank has never been tighter, and the measures against the Palestinians have never been harder. Not many people notice that, because in order to understand what’s going on now, when there is no apparent violence, we must ask questions about rights, not peace.

Israeli governments have understood this long ago, and that’s way they never had a problem to enter negotiations with the Palestinians (at least not in the last twenty years). As long as we discussed national security and containment of violence, these endless talks only increased the international legitimization of Israel’s presence in the Palestinian Territories. Advocates for Israel became experts at finding evidence for “incitement” and “propaganda” on the Palestinian side, which served as proof that the other side doesn’t want peace, so we can and should go occupying their land and running their life forever. But ask Israelis and their supporters why Palestinian civilians are tried in military courts without due process for more than 40 years – or any other question concerning civil rights – and you start get funny answers.

That’s why I hate these debates, so common in both Israeli and Jewish politics, on whether or not the Palestinians really want peace. it never gets you anywhere. Each party holds an elaborate theory on why everything is the other side’s fault, with all sorts of historical “evidence” to back it up. This whole concept of a “national desire” for peace is absurd. How can you measure such abstract notion? But these debates do serve the current Israeli interest well; much better than talking about civil rights, which is a simple concept that anyone can understand, measure, and even worse – identify with.

Supreme Court Chief Justice: Israeli practices in West Bank must not be compared to Apartheid

Posted: January 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , | Comments Off

chief justice dorit beinisch

Israeli Supreme Court ruled this week that the IDF has no legal basis for permanently forbidding the use of highway 443 by Palestinians.

Highway 443 is a popular shortcut through the West Bank from highway 1 and the northern entrance to Jerusalem. When it was build – on confiscated Palestinian land – the state declared in court that Palestinians will be able to travel on it freely, but after a series of attacks on Jewish vehicles during the second Intifada, the IDF decided that only Israeli vehicles will be allowed on highway 443. Palestinians were forced to travel on alternative routes, and road 443 became the symbol for the effect of Israeli occupation on Palestinian life in the West Bank.

Most of the media dealt this week with the current verdict’s “bottom line”, and declared it to be a major victory for the Left and human rights organizations, but independent journalist Adi Schwartz actually read the entire ruling, and he found some very interesting parts in it: While accepting the petition, the chief justice Dorit Beinisch warned the petitioners from using the term “Apartheid” to describe the reality in the West Bank:

The comparison made by the petitioners between the use of separate roads for security reasons and the Apartheid policy carried out it the past in South Africa, as well as the actions that accompanied it – is improper. Apartheid is a most serious crime… it is the policy of racial segregation and discrimination, based on legal practices which are meant to make certain race superior, while keeping other races oppressed. The difference between certain security measures taken by Israel to defend itself from terror attacks to the failed policies of Apartheid should forbid us from making any comparisons or use of this term… referring to the act of forbidding Palestinians to travel along road 443 is an extreme comparison which shouldn’t have been made at all.

You can read the entire verdict here (Hebrew). The part quoted is on pages 38-39.

It is interesting to note that Beinisch didn’t write the entire verdict. Read the rest of this entry »

Legal segregation: an update (and a good word for Ehud Barak!)

Posted: December 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Left | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

The threat of an amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom which I’ve been following here has been lifted for now. The amendment was supposed to make the “Citizenship Law” – which prohibits Palestinians married to Israelis from obtaining citizenship – a part of the Israeli constitution, thus making it impossible to challenge the law in court, as some NGOs are trying to do these days.

As I explained both here and here, the Citizenship Law severely hurts the Israeli Arab minority’s basic right to family life. MK David Rotem (Israel Beitenu), who initiated the amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, declared Sunday that his goal is to limit the growth of the Arab minority “through the use of marriages for a Palestinian ‘return’ to Israel.”

On Sunday, Labor ministers prevented the coalition from backing this racist bill.

It should be noted that the Citizenship Law is still applied in Israel, but as a temporary order and not as a part of the “Basic Laws”, which are the closest thing Israel has for a constitution. The fate of the order lies now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a new ruling on the matter in the next few months.

For now, Labor deserves a good word for the work they are doing against the current surge in anti-Arab legislation. I have been objecting – and I still am – to Ehud Barak’s decision to enter Netanyahu’s government, but one must admit that from time to time, he has been backing the right causes quite efficiently (and at the same time, some of Kadima’s members were actually backing MK Rotem’s amendment! Not to mention the fact that they initiated and supported the National Biometric Database legislation. Altogether, Kadima appears more and more like a dangerously cynical party).

It’s the occupation, stupid / some thoughts on the Intifada’s 22ed anniversary

Posted: December 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »
Hebron, 1990 (photo: Nathan Alpert)

Hebron, 1990 (photo: Nathan Alpert)

Last week marked 22 years to the first Intifada, the Palestinian popular uprising which broke in Jebalia refugee camp following a deadly car accident near the Erez Crossing on December 8th, 1987.

Surprisingly enough, I hardly saw any mention of this on the Israeli media. It is not one of this nice “round’ anniversaries that editors love, like 10 or 25 years, but given the importance of the Intifada – alongside with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it’s probably the central event of the decade in the Middle East – you would expect something.

On second though, perhaps this momentary amnesia is understandable. There is something about the first Intifada which doesn’t fit the Israel narrative regarding the relations with the Palestinians. We tell again and again the story of the peace-seeking-Israelis and the Arab-rejectionism, yet prior the first Intifada Israel had 20 years to hand the Palestinians some rights, but we didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Israel did promised to hand the Palestinians autonomy – not even independence, just a chance to manage their own business – as part of the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, but when the moment came to deliver, we chose instead to built more settlements.

By today’s standards, the first Intifada was almost a peaceful struggle. There were violent demonstrations and stones throwing, as well as cases of stabbings, but rallies and general strikes played an important part in the protest. In the first few days, even weeks, the Intifada had no leaders – certainly not the PLO, who was just as surprised as Israel by the events. The Israeli Right likes to see every Arab move as part of “the phased plan” against Israel, but no reasonable person can find in the first Intifada this sort of well orchestrated attempt to destroy the Jewish state. It was a popular uprising. A violent one, perhaps, but given the living conditions of the Palestinians (Jebalia Camp, where the Intifada started, is said to be one of the most crowded places on earth, if not the crowded), the twenty years of military rule they suffered, the taking of their lands, and the total lack of hope that things might get better – the Intifada was justified.

It was not about destroying Israel. It was about the occupation.

More than ever, it is important to remember this fact. when it comes to the Palestinian problem, Israeli governments have been raising all sort of Issues, demands and sub-narratives, sometimes very successfully.  But in the last forty years, the fundamental problem is not security, because Israel wasn’t willing to leave the West bank or give the Palestinians their rights even when there wasn’t terrorism; it is also not some Arab governments’ refusal to normalize relations with Israel; it is not Iran or Syria, and it is not the lack of water or the question of access to holy places. All these are important issues that influence and are influenced by what’s happening between Israelis and Palestinians, but the heart of the matter is that Israel is keeping millions of people for 42 years now without civil rights, and without offering any serious solution to this problem.

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to freeze the settlements or hand the Palestinians their rights? Don’t Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak – who take pride in “the only democracy in the Middle East” – understand that you can’t keep people with no rights for decades, so they must have Barack Obama explain that to them? And if Obama didn’t exist, and Netanyahu could have gotten everything his way, what does he think should be done with the Palestinians?

Me and some other reporters tried to ask Netanyahu this when he came to my paper just before the elections. He didn’t come up with a serious answer.

It’s not about Obama, It’s the occupation, stupid. Read the rest of this entry »