Government Press Office doing PR for the settler movement

Posted: January 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

It seems that every state agency in Israel is becoming a tool in the effort to further colonize the West Bank and deepen the control over the lives of Palestinians.

Soon after the government reached an internal “deal” with the settler movement that would keep the families who settled in a so-called “illegal” outpost on the ground, the Government Press Office – once in charge of handling press cards and other bureaucratic duties – is now engaging in propaganda efforts on behalf of the settlers.

A few days ago, the foreign press corps received the following mail, inviting members to an ideological tour in the heart of the settler land – “Samaria,” in the north of the West Bank (links appeared in the original):

Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
Government Press Office
Jerusalem, 12 January 2012
TO: Foreign Journalists in Israel
FROM: Israel Government Press Office

GPO TOUR OF THE SHOMRON (SAMARIA) REGIONAL COUNCIL

We are pleased to invite you to a tour (in English) of the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council on Thursday, 19.1.12, from 09:30-16:30.  Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein will participate.

09:30  Departure from Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

11:00-11:30  Visit to community of Barkan: Briefing by local resident Natalie Hershkowitz on the history of the community, westward view to the   Mediterranean Sea.

11:45-12:15  Barkan Industrial Park: Tour of plant that employs Palestinians,  briefing on effect of Arab boycott on the plant.

12:35-12:45  Itamar; stop at Fogel family residence.

12:45-13:15  Itamar: Meeting with local resident Leah Goldsmith at her home. Briefing on her move from the US, the establishment of Itamar & life in the community.

13:30-14:15  Lunch at Giv’ot Olam Organic Farm, with participation of Minister Edelstein, and Shomron Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika and Asst. Chairman Yossi Dagan (responsible for Council Strategic Affairs Dept).

14:30-15:00  Overlook of Nablus, Joseph’s Tomb and local communities from Mt. Gerizim; guided by David Haivri & with participation of Minister Edelstein.

15:00  Departure.

16:30  Return to Teddy Stadium.
Hila Tal
Government Press Office

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Rightist Propaganda Min. looking for Arabs, gays to represent Israel

Posted: January 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Hoping to boost the liberal image of country, Israel has increased efforts to use the gay community for advocacy and PR assignments.

Ad by the Hasbara office inviting gays and minorities to do propaganda and advocacy work for the government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first to appoint a government minister in charge of propaganda, advocacy and international public relations. Minister Yuli Edelstein has taken this position at the head of the Hasbara office so seriously that he has even asked Netanyahu to be relieved of other government duties so that he can concentrate on advocacy and propaganda.

Edelstein, a member of Likud, is known for his rightwing views. Recently, he posted a status message on his Facebook page referring to the Arabs as a “despicable nation.” Asked by +972 blogger Yossi Gurvitz to clarify this statement, a spokesperson for the minister said that Edelstein did in fact mean “all the Arabs.”

Yet this doesn’t keep the minister from to look to some of those despicable Arabs to represent Israel abroad. In an ad published recently on the Ministry’s official website, Arab and gay candidates were invited to apply for advocacy work abroad.

The office for Hasbara and Diaspora […] is announcing the widening of the pool of candidates for Hasbara [propaganda] activities abroad. The office invites candidates who are meeting the following requirement conditions to send an application for the pool, and especially would like to receive applications from people who represent the diverse faces of Israeli society, such as members of minority groups, representatives of the gay community, people who represent the variety of opinions in the Israel society, etc.

It should be noted that Minister Edelstein and his party are not very hospitable to gays either. When Yisrael Beiteinu introduced legislation allowing marriage-like status for non-Jews, Likud joined the Orthodox parties in blocking an attempt by the left to add gay and lesbians to this arrangement. Yet it’s no secret that Israel has found the gay rights issue especially useful in its propaganda campaigns.

In recent years, speakers for Israel have been advised to compare the status of gays in Israel to Muslim countries, and advocacy groups give prominence to this point in their publications; Israel is using targeted advertising campaigns for the gay community, and has recently put a four-page ad in the last issue of Attitude, the most popular gay magazine in Europe. A few months ago, a PR man connected to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office promoted a Youtube video in which an LGBT activist named Mark encouraged human rights organizations not to support the Gaza-bound flotilla. Mark was soon exposed by the site Electronic Intifada as an Israeli actor.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times titled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’” dealt with the efforts to use the gay rights issue to conceal the massive human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza. This piece drew heavy criticism from Jewish writers – including liberal ones – and was even cited by an aid for Netanyahu in a public letter detailing Netanyahu’s decision to decline an offer to author an op-ed in The Times.

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Rightist blog’s discovery: Palestinians buy Israeli goods!

Posted: July 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

US-based blog Elder of Ziyon has posted a somewhat Orwellian piece: The latest installment in the “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” Hasbara-project actually celebrates the fact that a new Gaza supermarket sells Israeli goods.

… if [passengers of the flotilla] do visit Metro [the new Gaza supermarket], they would be forced to protest the fact that it is not adhering to BDS because it sells so many Israeli products – and even features them prominently.

[photos of Israeli products in the supermarket]

It’s a terrible world when Israel boycotters can’t even convince stores in Gaza to stop selling Israeli goods.

Well, here is another scoop for EOZ, free of charge: all grocery stores in Bil’in have Israeli products in them, too. I also seem to remember spotting Israeli goods in Hebron and in Jericho. Come to think about it, EOZ’s story is much bigger than you think: it seems that almost every store in the Palestinian territories sells Israeli products – and yet the Palestinians call for the boycott of Israel! What hypocrisy! How naïve are those useful idiots who listen to them!

Back to planet Earth: Israel controls the economy of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel decides what goods are let in and out, just as it has most of the control over electric power and water in the territories. This is called “the occupation,” something that EOZ and the likes of him have yet to hear about.

Until last year, Israel allowed only a limited list of food products into Gaza. Changes to the list were made not according to the needs of the Palestinians, but to those of Israeli farmers and food companies. An investigative piece by Haaretz, published a couple of years ago, exposed the network of middlemen who chose the identity of Israeli businesses that were allowed to sell their products to Gaza’s captive audience – not a very affluent one, but still consisting of almost 1.5 million consumers.

A year ago, the IDF began allowing more goods into Gaza – a triumph of the first flotilla – yet most products still have to go through Israel, and in many cases – from it (though we should remember that Cairo has its share in the blockade of Gaza through Egypt’s control over the Rafah crossing). Some Israelis still make very good money out of the occupation.

The BDS call, which EOZ referred to, is a Palestinian request of solidarity from the international community. Palestinians are forced to buy Israeli goods – just as they are forced to work for Israelis in order to survive – but they ask others, who do have a choice, to avoid 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.


Ignorance is a blessing: UK Jewish leaders cancel trip to West Bank

Posted: January 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

The only way to continue supporting Israeli policies these days is to enter a state of denial regarding the occupation and its consequences. This is exactly what leaders of the Jewish community in the UK decided to do.

Jewish Cronicle reports:

The Jewish Leadership Council has postponed a trip to meet Palestinian leaders in the West Bank following an angry reaction from community representatives.

Chairman Vivian Wineman had been due to travel to Ramallah next month with other council members including Sir Trevor Chinn and Rosalind Preston. They would have met Palestinian Authority officials and members of non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam and War on Want.

[…]

News of the trip was revealed at Sunday’s Board of Deputies meeting, drawing an overwhelmingly negative reaction from deputies.

The following day the JLC took the decision not to travel to Ramallah, saying it wanted to “take soundings from the community on the nature of the trip”.

Finding the fingerprints of the Israeli embassy all over this shouldn’t come as a surprise:

Another factor in the postponement was the breakdown of talks between the PA and the Israeli government. It is understood the Israel Embassy was also opposed to the trip, but a spokesman for the ambassador declined to comment.

Mr Wineman, who also serves as Board president, said he was taken aback by the reaction from the embassy and the deputies.

He said: “I spoke to my colleagues on the JLC but then I did take opinion from the embassy, and with other people knowledgeable on these issues, and I was surprised they had a very much more critical take on it. We are not going to do anything that would be seen as damaging the interests of the state of Israel. It is the last thing we would do.”

It seems that the people at JLC see themselves as nothing more than a propaganda office for the Israeli government. With the way things are going on in Israel recently, I believe this attitude deserves a second thought.


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.


Flotilla | the case against an Israeli-led investigation

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

It seems that the White House is now suggesting that Israeli will lead the investigation of the flotilla incident, with a US representative serving as an observer. VP Joe Biden mentioned this idea in his Bloomberg interview yesterday, and Barak Ravid reported today in Haaretz that it was mentioned in talks between American officials and two of PM Netanyahu’s men. earlier Today Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman expressed support for such an investigation (Ehud Barak still objects it).

It’s a bad idea. Here is why:

1.    The attack occurred in international water, and it involved a Turkish vessel (which is regarded as Turkish sovereign territory) and Israeli soldiers. Even if one thinks that the soldiers had the right to board the ship in order to impose the blockade, during the fight it was still Turkish territory. How can Israel investigate something that happened in another country?

2.    Israel has confiscated some of the most important material for the investigation, namely the films, audio sections and photos taken by the passengers and journalists on board and the Mavi Marmara’s security cameras. Since yesterday, Israel has been editing these films and using them for its own PR campaign. In other words, Israel has already confiscated most of the evidence, held it from the world and tempered with it. No court in the world would have trusted it to be the one examining it.

3.    This is probably the most important argument: even if Israel can be persuaded into handing the recorded material, testimonies from the passengers will take a considerable part in the investigation. It’s clear that Israel cannot be the one questioning them, since even if the passengers agree to speak to Israeli investigators, this would look more like interrogations then testimonies.

We are left with the option of having an investigation that will take place without presenting the recorded material and without talking to the passengers. The report it will produce won’t enjoy much credibility.

Having the US use put its own name on this probe – on which it will serve only as an observer, without the power to subpoena material or to question witnesses – is pure madness, not just from an American point of view, but also from that of those wishing to see it reignite the diplomatic process in the region. Not only that it might destroy American credibility in Europe and the Middle East, but it could also damage its relations with Turkey beyond repair, not to mention weaken the administration at home, as both sides won’t like this move – all of this in order to cover up for the failure of en extreme Israeli government.

Even the Bush administration, who all but gave Israel a Carte Blanche regarding the use of military force, never placed itself in such a position.


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.