The frontline of Palestinian protest: a Friday visit to Naalin and Nabi Salih

Posted: April 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Friday was full of events for Israeli lefties: the usual afternoon demonstration took place in Sheikh Jerrah, the NIF held a gathering in south Tel Aviv which happened to take place on the same day another smearing article against them appeared on Maariv; and I joined activist/blogger Joseph Dana on the weekly protest in the Palestinian villages of Naalin and Nabi Salih.


Naalin, West Bank – The first thing that strikes you in Naalin is how small the protest is. Listening to the Israeli media describing the demonstration against the security barrier, one imagines thousands of Palestinians, accompanied by violent leftwing and international activists, marching on the nearby settlements and from there to Tel Aviv. In reality, there are several dozens of young Palestinians and a handful of activists who desperately try to keep the fight to get their village’s lands back alive.

The story in Naalin is very simple: the village was one of the victims of Israel’s decision to construct its security barrier well inside the West Bank, on Palestinian land and around most big settlements. A fence – and later on, a wall – was built a few hundreds meters from the houses of Naalin, separating the village’s poor farmers from about a quarter of their land.

The peak of the protest was during the work on the fence, around 2008. The army’s responds was brutal: 5 protesters, including an 11 years old kid, were killed, many more injured. Most Palestinian activists were arrested and are kept under Administrative Detention. Israelis who tries to help the villagers are constantly harassed and arrested as well, international activists are deported.

In the early afternoon, a few dozens Palestinians, men and boys, walk with flags walk to the wall at the edge of the village. They start shouting in Arab, Hebrew and English “this wall will fall”. Behind the wall is the security fence itself. The protesters try to plant a flag on the wall and some throw stones on the fence. The soldiers on the other side of the fence respond immediately with tear gas. The protesters move back, than some throw stones, the soldier respond with more gas, the protesters move back, and this goes on for a couple of hours.

The handful of Israelis and international activists are not throwing stones nor shouting. Most of them just stand quietly; some take pictures and videos of the events. The assumption is that their presence helps tame the soldiers and brings comfort and moral support to the village’s people. The soldiers keep shooting tear gas, four or five grenades at a time. From time to time the wind carries the gas in our direction. At one point, my eyes and mouth burn real bad, but the effect lasts just for for a few minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking the Silence exposes humiliation of Palestinians, violence and theft by IDF soldiers

Posted: January 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, Uncategorized, war | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Anti occupation group Breaking the Silence published a new set of testimonies, this time from female soldiers who served in recent years in the Palestinians territories. These include stories of humiliation, systematic violence, cruelty and theft by IDF soldiers. The Palestinians who were harmed by those acts were innocent civilians, or in the worse cases illegal workers in Israel or stone-throwers. They weren’t suspect of any terrorist activity against Israelis.

You can read some of the testimonies on Ynet (A good word to Israel’s most popular news site for posting the story in English as well. I wonder what people would have said if it was published on mainstream US media). On the Hebrew version of the article, you can also hear one of the testimonies.

Even though we heard such stories before, some of the stuff is not easy to read or listen to. It seems that in some IDF units, hurting Arabs became a way to gain respect and admiration of fellow soldiers. Some female soldiers, suffering from a lower statue to begin with, apparently did their best to show they don’t fall short from men in this field. This comes from one of the testimonies:

“A female combat soldier needs to prove more…a female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter…when I arrived there was another female there with me, she was there before me…everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem. That was the indicator. You have to see her, the way she humiliates, the way she slaps them, wow, she really slapped that guy.”

In some cases, it seems that violence was kept secret from commanders, at least from the officers in charge (though most officers know more of what’s going on with their soldiers than they care to admit). In other cases, commanders took part in the acts:

Another female soldier’s testimony, who served at the Erez checkpoint, indicates how violence was deeply rooted in the daily routine: “There was a procedure in which before you release a Palestinian back into the Strip – you take him inside the tent and beat him.”

That was a procedure?

“Yes, together with the commanders.”

How long did it last?

“Not very long; within 20 minutes they would be back in the base, but the soldiers would stop at the post to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while the guys from the command post would beat them up.”

This happened with every illegal alien?

“There weren’t that many…it’s not something you do everyday, but sort of a procedure. I don’t know if they strictly enforced it each and every time…it took me a while to realize that if I release an illegal alien on my end, by the time he gets back to Gaza he will go through hell… two or three hours can pass by the time he gets into the Strip. In the case of the kid, it was a whole night. That’s insane, since it’s a ten minute walk. They would stop them on their way; each soldier would give them a ‘pet’, including the commanders.”

One of the worse cases described is that of a child who’s arms and legs were supposedly broken by soldiers. This is hear-say evidence, but even the fact that it was never reported nor investigated teaches us something about what’s going on in the territories.

“I don’t know who or how, but I know that two of our soldiers put him in a jeep, and that two weeks later the kid was walking around with casts on both arms and legs…they talked about it in the unit quite a lot – about how they sat him down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair.”

Read the rest here.


As I said, this is not the first time these kinds of testimonies are published. Personally, I would have rather these soldiers reporting the acts as they happened or refusing to serve in the WB and Gaza altogether, but as I know form my own experience, it is never that simple. Sometimes you don’t fully understand what’s going on, and even if you do, going against your peers – as well as your commanders – in a combat unit is difficult in a way it’s hard even to begin explaining for those who never served.

Altogether, it’s better to talk late than never. It’s especially important given the fact that there are many people – especially Israel’s supporters in the US – who still believe that Palestinians’ lives are basically OK, that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world”, and all this crap. You can go on supporting Israel or thinking that Israel has no choice but to hold on to the territories and keep the siege on Gaza, but at least be honest enough to look at the price of these policies. I would expect Israel’s supporters – if they are really honest – to be the first to listen to the people of Breaking the Silence. Read the rest of this entry »

End of the wasted decade / slightly optimistic analysis of the current moment in Israeli politics

Posted: December 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »


Almost two weeks of intense political maneuvering ended yesterday. Many people on the Left got worried by Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to split the opposition Kadima party or to have it join his coalition. Both options, it seemed, would have made the PM even stronger, and everything that’s good for Netanyahu is surly bad for the peace process. Or isn’t it?

While I write here regularly against the current Israeli policies, and consider myself to be a part of the Left, I think that the last year have moved us closer to the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, possibly also to the end of the siege on Gaza. The current political circumstances are pretty favorable, to the point that if I could have replaced Netanyahu with other Israeli leaders – say Livni or Barak – I probably wouldn’t go for it.

To understand why, we need to dive into the depth of the complex political dynamics in Israel.


If left to do as he wishes, I have no doubt PM Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t make one step towards the end of the Israeli occupation. His ideological background is one that views the West Bank as part of the land of Israel; he believes that an independent Palestinian state would put Israel’s national security in danger; and his political base has always been on the Israeli right.

But political leaders have to consider political circumstances and limitations, and Netanyahu – unlike the two other PMs from Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. And pressure came from the first moment Netanyahu entered his office.

First, there was the new approach from Washington. It’s not just Obama, but the whole backlash against the Middle East policy of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the world knew Netanyahu, and remembered him as the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin and almost single handedly buried the Oslo accord. And if somebody was ready to consider the idea of “a new Netanyahu”, along came the appointment of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Office and fixed the image of this government – quiet rightly, I must say – as the most extreme Israel ever had. Even Israel’s supporters are having troubles in the last year explaining the PM’s fondness for settling in the West Bank or defending the daily gaffe by the Foreign Minister.

And there was the war in Gaza. It’s hard to grasp how differently the international community and most Israelis view operation Cast Lead. Israelis see the war as a justified, even heroic, act against Hamas’ aggression – which was the Palestinian response to the good fate we showed in withdrawing from the Gaza strip – while most of the international community sees Cast Lead as a barbaric attack on (mostly) innocent civilians. And while the Goldstone report might never be adopted by the UN Security Council, the respond it initiated made it clear that in the near future – and unless something very dramatic happens and change everything (we always have to add this sentence in the post 11/9 world, don’t we?) – there won’t be another Cast Lead. The world won’t allow it.

All these elements – the change in Washington, the suspicious welcome the world gave Netanyahu and the respond to the war in Gaza – are forcing Netanyahu to do something he never planned to – at least with regards to the Palestinians: to act. That’s why he announced the settlement moratorium, and that’s why he is willing, according to today’s reports, to negotiate a Palestinian state on the 67′ borders, and even to talk about Jerusalem’s statues. And this is the man that won the 1996 elections after he accused Shimon Peres of agreeing to divide the Israeli capitol.


Yes, I would have preferred a Hadash-Meretz government. But this isn’t, and won’t be an option in this generation. Right now, the political leaders with a shot at the PM office are Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, maybe Shaul Mofaz, and god forbid, Avigdor Liberman. Next in line after them are people with basically the same agenda.

I don’t trust Ehud Barak. I don’t know what drives him, I don’t think anyone understands what his views are, and I believe he has at least partial responsibility for the failure of the Camp David summit and the negotiations with the Syrians – and all that followed this failure.

With Kadima and Livni, it’s even worse. Under Ehud Olmert, this party brought to perfection the art of talking about peace and declaring wars. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Why I like Karni Eldad

Posted: November 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

karni eldadKarni Eldad, settler daughter of MK Arie Eldad from the radical Ihud Leumi party, is writing Op-Eds for Haaretz recently. I kind of like her articles: they are so blind and self-righteous, they actually make readers grasp the reality of the West Bank Apartheid -  Something even Amira Hass or Gidon Levi are having troubles doing. I often wandered if it’s some kind of satire, but from what I gather, she is for real.

In this one [English; Hebrew], for example, Eldad is portraying the ordinary middle class dilemma of a young couple: how to find a nice home with no Arabs around?

One of these hilltops had a special attraction for us. It has a mixed population, an excellent location, is close to civilization but not too close, without any Arab villages nearby. A young community, with young people who have a dream, and all the intrigues of any small community.

“There are three vacant prefabricated homes. Choose,” we were told. I turned white. “But, but,” I stammered. “I have already lived in a prefabricated home. Is there no exemption? Can you understand – I’m a musician and the acoustics in a prefabricated home are simply awful, and the doctor has forbidden it, and besides,” I said, pulling out the doomsday weapon, “besides, I’m spoiled.”

“It’s as I said,” the secretary continued, smiling. “There are three prefabricated homes. Choose one. I suggest the one belonging to Foxman; it hardly leaks at all.”

Great. What a headache. It turns out that it’s impossible to be a real right-winger without implementing the ideology using your place of residence as well. And it turns out that, like many other young couples in Israel, we can’t let ourselves live in one of the economically established settlements where there is asphalt instead of mud. It’s simply too expensive. So it turns out that we are moving to a hilltop. Soon. Maybe in the summer.

Listen to Congressman Brian Baird on the Goldstone Report

Posted: November 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Most people who criticize the Goldstone report in the US have never been to Gaza, not even before Cast Lead. But Congressman Brian Baird from the state of Washington (D) visited the strip after the Israeli offensive, and these are the wise and sensitive words he had for his fellow legislators, just before an overwhelming majority of them (344-36) backed a resolution calling “the President and Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the [Goldstone] Report“:

Brian Baird is coming from a district that split almost equally between Democrats and Republicans – it went 53-47 to Obama in the 2008 elections – so his approach cannot be seen as an attempt to please the West Coast liberals (which don’t like him very much anyway, after he opposed the health care bill on Saturday’s vote). It seems that his February visit to Gaza – he was in Israel and traveled to Sderot as well – really made him question the administration’s unequivocal support of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Read the rest of this entry »

Justice is done

Posted: October 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: | 3 Comments »

If you read Hebrew, you must check out this post: a hearing in the Supreme Court shows how the investigation of an accidental death of a ten years old girl – on her way to buy a candy – looks likes today.

It’s all the story of Israeli justice and the Palestinians in a nutshell: A girl is killed without any reason. The army doesn’t bother to investigate and the case is closed. The family then files a petition to re-open the case – but now the state answers that this would hurt the defendants’ rights, since there was no serious investigation on the scene.

And we don’t hurt defenders rights. After all, this is a democracy.

Forget the peace process (part II)

Posted: September 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

There were interesting comments to my previous post, regarding the future of the struggle to end the occupation. My basic point was that though the two state solution remains the most popular – and even most likely – idea on the table, we might have reached some dead end, at least as far as the Israeli public is concerned (and to be honest, right now the Palestinians don’t seem too enthusiastic about restarting negotiations as well). My point was that maybe we should stop thinking, at least for some time, about the desired political structure (one state? Two states?), and go back to dealing with the basic human and civil rights problems which are at the heart of the matter. I think that with time, this approach might even lead us out of the political deadlock.

There was one issue, raised in the comments by Aviv and Judy, which I like to answer here. Judy writes: “isn’t there such a body as the Palestinian Authority that the Palestinians of the West Bank vote for?” And Aviv adds:

That the Palestinian’s internal national institutions are less than democratic is not Israel’s problem – civil rights have to be earned in hard work of Palestinian nation building. (In this case it would have to be the first Arab civil society, which is even harder).

This argument – that the Palestinian got their civil and human rights within the PA so that the international criticism on the matter should not be directed at Israel – is very popular with the Israeli right and among Israel’s supporters in the world. The irony is that these are the same people – Netanyahu, Bennie Begin, etc. – who rejected the idea of a Palestinian autonomy during the 90′s, and now they use the autonomy to support their claim that “there is no occupation”.

The problems is that as my right-wing Professor Martin Sherman use to say, sovereignty’s main characteristic is that it cannot be divided. You can divide authorities or jurisdictions, but at the end, in the current international system, there isn’t but one sovereign. In most cases it is the state apparatus, which represents – even in undemocratic regimes – the people. And it is within this sovereignty that civil rights are given.

Now, who’s the sovereign in the West Bank? I don’t really think there is any question. Last month I gave some examples from my own experience, but here is something from today’s paper:

Tensions are mounting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following Ramallah’s call on the International Court at The Hague to examine claims of “war crimes” that the IDF allegedly committed during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip… Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank – an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership – on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International Court.

The Palestinian “authority” can’t even decide over the deployment of a cellular provider without an Israeli approval – which comes with very specific, and not at all related, conditions – let alone issues such as air and ground travel, export and import, construction and commerce, and much more. Even more important is the fact that for more than forty years, Palestinians are tried in Israeli army courts, were suspects’ rights are considerably reduced. A fight for civil rights for the Palestinians could start with the demand to incorporate them into the Israeli civilian system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Forget the peace process. It’s time for a civil rights movement

Posted: September 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

You have to give it to Netanyahu: he has managed to sail through this week magnificently. He got to meet Obama and Abu Mazen on his own terms, without publicly agreeing to a settlements freeze that would have put his right wing coalition in danger; he made no new commitments or promises to the American administration or to the Palestinian President; he enjoys the full support of Ehud Barak on his left and Liberman on his Right, and his speech on Iran and the Holocaust won many praises here. It was, I believe, a cynical use of the Holocaust, but the Israeli public was certainly impressed. To Israelis, the whole world, and especially the UN, has become a sort of a threat – full of boycott supporters, Halocaust deniers, pro-Arab media and anti-Israeli propaganda. So the feeling was that Netanyahu “taught them a lesson”.

Netanyahu’s picture – waving Auschwitz’s blueprint, which was given to him a month ago in Germany – is on the front page of the weekend papers. As Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz at the time, Netanyahu was a bit arrogant, even rude, towards Israel’s friends in Germany who handed him the blueprint, but who remembers this now? The PM is coming back to Israel as a winner, his approval ratings are high, and he made the American president – who is considered by Netanyahu as the biggest political threat he is facing – look like an amateur.

But what’s the purpose of all this impressive maneuvering, except for political survival, which is not a goal by itself? Where does the Prime Minister want to go? Does he have some sort of vision regarding our relations with the Palestinians? What’s his plan? Except for accepting the general notion of a Palestinian state, without explaining how exactly he will get there, Netanyahu never told anyone what is it exactly that he wants to do. I still think that he doesn’t really know.

This issue does not hurt Netanyahu on the Israeli public. On the contrary. Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the West Bank (part III)

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »