“Air Flotilla” successful in exposing Israeli blockade of West Bank

Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, unarmed protest | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Israeli authorities deployed hundreds of policeman in order to stop and deport pro-Palestinian visitors. Minister of tourism announced that “good tourists” will be greeted with flowers

Panic. There is no other way to describe the Israeli reaction to a plan by a few activists—no more than a thousands, according to the most generous estimates—to try and travel to the West Bank via Ben Gurion International Airport. A handful of those visitors got here (five of them already deported), and it seems that the whole country has gone mad.

Haaretz has reported a special deployment by hundreds of policemen and special unites both inside and outside the terminals, “in case one of the arrivals will try to set himself on fire.” The Petach Tikwa court, in charge of the airport area, is to have more arrest judges on alert, and the minister for Hasbara (propaganda) Yuli Edelstein demanded the government to take no chances, “because we should remember what happened on 9/11.”

All this, lets not forget, in order to welcome between a few dozens to a few hundreds Westerners (most of the quite old, according to reports), who would arrive on separate flights and on different hours, who went through extensive security checks before boarding their planes, and who openly declares their intentions to visit the Palestinian territories. This is the national threat that caught all the headlines for some days now in a country armed with one of the strongest militaries in the world as well as an extensive arsenal of Nuclear Bombs.

While events at the airport are more absurd than tragic (there is a torrent of jokes on twitter about this, like: “attention all units, attention all units, a Swedish woman is now getting off flight 465″, or “security personal have been ordered to report all those not singing ‘Heve’nu Shalom’ at landing”), one cannot watch the government’s handling of this situation and not question the judgment of Israeli decision makers, or wonder on the things they are capable of doing if and when they sense a more substantial threat. One of the sole voices of reason was Yedioth’s Eithan Haber, the former secretary of Prime Minister Rabin, whose commentary today had the title: “We simply lost it” (“ירדנו מהפסים”).

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The lunacy started at the top. Earlier this week, Netanyahu’s office has released a statement saying that “welcome to Palestine” campaign “is part of a continuing effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist.” This call for action was supposed to expire long ago from over use (I wonder what doesn’t make, in Netanyahu’s eyes “an effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist?”), but it did spark the desired result in the government. Internal Security Minister Itzhak Aharonowitz (Israel Beitenu) has put his forces on high alert, promising “not to let the hooligans enter Israel,” and senior police officers promised “harsh treatment” for those who will manage to board their flights to Tel Aviv.

The real nugget was revealed today, after Tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov has sent his people to the airport to hand flowers to those arrivals that are not planning to travel to the West Bank. “Handcuffs to the activists, flowers to the tourists,” one of the headlines read. The tourism office, it was reported, fears that arrivals to Israel will “meet unpleasant sights of riots and arrests.”

“My office will welcome ["normal"] tourists in a respectful way that will convey the message that Israel is safe, advance and attractive place to visit,” minister Mazesnikow told the press, in a statement that would have reminder the practices of the Soviet regime, if I wasn’t sure that Mazesnikow, a Russian immigrant, would know better.

There is a deeper point to make here: By dividing the tourists to “evil” ones and to “good” and “honest” ones, according to their political motivation and their views on the Palestinian issue, Israel is confirming the logic of the BDS movement – that any business or contact with Israel is political, and would probably serve Israeli policy. Much in the way the Israeli Foreign Office promotes on his Facebook wall articles on artist who plans to visit Israel next to pieces denouncing the Palestinians, the tourism office now views every visit to the county, be that for business, religious or personal reasons, as a sign of support in the face of “an effort to undermine our existence.”

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In recent days, government officials have made a single talking point regarding the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign: that every country has the right do defend its sovereignty. If the United States, France and Japan can reject people from entering their territory without bothering to cite their reasons, why can’t Israel? Yet these are the same people who on any other week of the year deny even the term “occupation”, claiming that since the Oslo agreement, “Palestinians control their own lives.” PR people and supporters of the Israeli government repeat this idea all the time, and while everyone familiar with the reality in the West Bank knows that the Palestinian Authority has more or less the authority of a local US municipality, it is always surprising how widespread is the notion that Israel has effectively removed its control from the territories.

Here, for example, is a quote the glossary section in the internet site of the Propaganda organization “Stand with US

Israel never formally annexed the West Bank or Gaza, and the Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and wish to have their own state. Today, Palestinians have their own government, the Palestinian Authority.

This is Morton Klein, head of Zionist of America, in often-cited 2002 article titled “There is no Occupation“:

Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5% of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under “Israeli occupation” is simply false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the 2% where Israelis reside.

And this is another mouthpiece for the occupation, Washington Post’s blogger Jennifer Rubin:

Now ninety-five percent of Palestinians are under the jurisdiction of the PA, which is responsible for everything from local police to schools. Israel’s official interaction with West Bank Palestinians is limited to intelligence gathering and extraction of terrorists.

The Welcome to Palestine campaign was meant to prove that not only did Israel never remove its control from the Palestinians, the West Bank is effectively under an Israeli blockade, with every person or good entering the Palestinian Authority must be cleared first by Israel. Some might argue that this is a legitimate security precaution, but the history of this policy proves that it weren’t security concerns the determined whether people got permission to enter or leave the West Bank, but the political needs of maintaining the occupation. A couple of familiar cases were that of Prof. Noam Chomsky and a Spanish Clown that were denied entry for their support of Palestinian independence, but these kind of things happen on a daily basis.

Considering all this, it’s clear that even before a dozen activists landed here, the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign won the day. Israel has played it part in it perfectly, spreading threats and promising to immediately deport anyone who would state his intention to visit the West Bank or would cite a political motivation for his travel. Israel has even prevented a couple of Dutch pro-Israeli journalists from boarding an El-Al flight, perhaps fearing that they might report something Jerusalem won’t like.

When the first news items on the “air flotilla” appeared in the Hebrew media, some of the comments by Israelis wondered why the activists won’t enter the West Bank through the crossing point at the Jordanian border, believing it to be controlled by the Palestinians themselves. The myth of the Oslo withdrawal was so successful, that even some Israelis took it as a fact.

After a week of headlines on the activists’ invasion, everybody knows that even more than Gaza—which can be entered through Rafah, where there is no Israeli presence—the West Bank is under an Israeli blockade.


Brecht in the West Bank: Israel’s major theaters going to the settlements

Posted: August 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: culture, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The first major theater hall in a West Bank settlement will open on November 8th. The Ariel Culture Hall, located in the settlement of Ariel (south of Nablus) will host major productions of leading Israeli theaters, including Habima, Israel’s national theater, and Tel Aviv’s city theater, The Cameri.

According to Haaretz, The Ariel Culture Hall will have 540 seats, and 40 million NIS (11 million USD) were spent on its construction. The Hall will open with the Israeli adaptation of Piaf, a play by British Pem Gems on the life of the famous singer, performed by the Beersheba theatre. Later this year, Ariel will host Tel Aviv’s Cameri theatre’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht

Some Israelis noticed a cruel irony in hosting a play dealing with concept of justice and fair trial in a place where the majority of the population have no rights, and is tried in military courts, without due process. Arab-Israeli actor Yousef Sweid, who plays in “A railroad to Damascus”, also scheduled to show in Ariel, told Haaretz that “I’m opposed to it, but this is the first I heard about it and I’d like to investigate the matter further.”

Israeli journalist and blogger Ofri Ilani wrote in the leftwing group blog Eretz Haemori that this marks a new record in the whitewashing of the occupation’s crimes:

To what level of ridicule will the heads of the culture scene degrade (…) we had murders who talk about spiritualism, Arms dealers who play the piano and Military radio stations that play protest songs (…) but to recruit Brecht to legitimize the colonial project of [Ariel's mayor] Ron Nachman?

But those voices are an exception. Most Israelis are blind to the occupation, and Ariel – which sits literally in the heart of the West bank – is by now an ordinary Israeli town, with a secular population, not that different from the Israelis living in Tel Aviv’s suburbs. The entire idea that one can separate “good” Israel west of the Green Line from “bad” Israel lying to its east is ridiculous. Every aspect of Israeli civilian life, from the economy through real estate to culture, has something to do with the occupation.

It seems that the heads of the major theaters in Israel were even surprised somebody made a deal out of their recent bookings. A Habima spokeswoman told Haaretz: “Habima is a national theater, and its repertoire is supposed to suit the entire population.” Chairman of Jerusalem’s Chan theater said that “Everybody is invited to watch the shows. We don’t take side in the political question.”

Bertolt Brecht, I think, would have loved this last one.


Injuries, tear gas in Nabi Saleh, record crowd in Sheikh Jarrah / Personal notes from Friday’s demonstrations

Posted: May 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, media, The Left, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »
soldiers at Nabi Saleh

soldiers at Nabi Saleh

“Each Friday, there are at least 10 demonstrations involving Israelis and internationals in the West Bank,” tells me Didi Remez, as we drive to Nabi Saleh, the tiny village that has been fighting for months to regain access to a small spring that was taken over by settlers from nearby Halamish. Dozens of Israelis come to these protests, not counting the hundreds who arrive each Friday to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

Not much is going on when we arrive at Nabi Saleh. As we wait for the protesters to gather, we are offered lunch and cold water in a local house. Around 1.00 pm we join a small march down the village’s main street. Suddenly, three army jeeps appear and block the street, and about a dozen soldiers come out. About 25 protesters, most of them children and young girls, go all the way down to the soldiers, singing and shouting, accompanied by the photographers and the internationals. This goes on for about half an hour.

Then someone throws a stone. The soldiers respond with tear gas, lots of it. Together with a few other Israelis, I find shelter behind a local house. The wind carried the gas into the house and the old woman who lived there is now seating outside, tears running down her face. She signals me not to try and wash my face and instead just wait for the effect of the gas to fade.

The soldiers are chasing protesters into the village. Some of them occupy one of the houses, while the others fire tear gas from the street. Some of the nearby houses fill with gas, as their windows are broken from previous demonstrations. The Palestinians move to the upper part of the village, while the Israelis and internationals – who don’t take part in the stone throwing – are looking for safe corners, trying to avoid both the gas and the (very few) flying stones. Every now and then, the wind carries another cloud of gas towards our way.

The soldiers are shooting the gas cans directly at the protesters, and not in an arch, like I remember we were taught to do it in the army (you can see this in a these videos from a previous demonstration). Later, a Palestinian is injured after suffering a direct hit in his face.

After a couple of hours, we decide to leave the village (though the protest will go on almost till dusk). On the way back to the car, I see several boys, around the age of ten, falling to the ground, gasping for air after inhaling too much gas. Their faces are red and one of them is hardly breathing, but in a few minutes he recovers and rejoins the protesters.

A woman whose house was hit by tear gas

A woman whose house was hit by tear gas (p: Didi Remez)

By the time we get to Jerusalem, the protest on Shikh Jarrah is already on its way. The turnout is the best I’ve seen here: between 300 to 400 people. Without PR or money for busing, and after no less 30 protesters were arrested last week – somehow, it seemed that the protest is just getting bigger and bigger.

As Lisa Goldman notes, after Nabi Saleh, Jerusalem seems like a peaceful afternoon get-together. But for me it’s just as important, and I feel more at home here. Supporting the protest in the West Bank villages is crucial, but I find it emotionally hard to bear. After the last time I took part in it, it took me a full month to mount the strength to come again. To have soldiers point guns at me and fire tear gas is not only scary, but extremely strange. There is something in this experience that shakes my world. After all, I’m still an Israeli, and a reserve captain in the IDF for that matter!

I don’t take part in the stone throwing, but I definitely understand it and support the villagers in their struggle. Yet today in Nabi Saleh I asked myself from time to time what happens if the demonstration becomes more violent. What would I do – or feel – if a Molotov Cocktail is thrown?

I don’t have a good answer.

The protests in Jerusalem don’t carry such ideological and emotional problems. Ironically, the political message here is much more radical, since many Israelis who think we have nothing to do in Bilin or Nabi Saleh won’t like the idea of handing Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinians, but the difference between the two events is unmistakable. Shikh Jarrah is an Israeli demonstration (with some Palestinians present); in the West Bank’s villages it’s the Palestinians who lead the action, and we are just guests. I find it fitting. I don’t expect many Israelis to come to Nabi Saleh to protest, but I do hope many will continue to take part in the demonstrations in Jerusalem, and that many others would join them.

Driving back from Jerusalem, this time with my mother, I was a bit encouraged. Recently, I’ve come to realize that Fridays in Sheikh Jarrah don’t feel like any other leftist event I’ve been to – and I had my share of them. Over the years, we had much bigger demonstrations, on much bigger issues – but something feels more real here, something even feels better. As if for the first time in years we are really doing exactly the right thing, and for the right reasons.

Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah

Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah

I forgot my camera today, so excuse the crappy photos taken on my phone. When I get better ones from one of the photographers who were with us, I will post them.

UPDATE: read Amitai Sandy’s account of the day’s protest in village of Maasra on comment #2.


The litmus test for Israel’s intentions

Posted: May 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Every now and then I get to hear the argument that Israel never claimed the West Bank for itself (therefore it’s not Apartheid nor occupation, etc.). After all, Barak offered almost the entire West Bank to the Palestinians in Camp David, and in 2008 Ehud Olmert had gone even further, so basically it’s the Palestinians fault that we are still there.

But even of you subscribe to the “generous offers” idea – and I don’t – actions speak louder than words, and Israel never stopped colonizing the West Bank. Even while talking to the Palestinians about evacuation, we kept sending our settlers to the occupied territories, thus making it practically impossible to carry out a full withdrawal. The greatest trick Israel was ever able to pull out was the spreading the notion that the settlers “hijacked” the state. The settlements are, and have always been, a government project, financed by taxpayer money and carried out by state agencies, from the justice and housing departments to defense ministry.

Read Akiva Eldar’s report in today’s Haaretz. Israel wouldn’t even evacuate the outpost that the state itself has declared illegal, and it states so publicly!

A statement that prosecutors sent the High Court at the end of last week on behalf of the defense minister, the army’s commander in the West Bank, the head of the Civil Administration and the commander of the Samaria and Judea Police District needs to be read at least twice in order to believe it is a document from a supreme law enforcement authority.

The statement relates to a petition by Palestinians via human rights organization Yesh Din, asking to enforce a High Court decision to evacuate the illegal outpost Amona, established about 10 years ago. Petitioners have also asked for the removal of fences that prevent access to their lands. The petitioners’ attorney, Michael Sfard, noted that during the four years since the demolition of nine structures at the outpost (which took place only after a previous petition by Yesh Din), Amona settlers have built new buildings to replace them.

In the statement to the High Court, the State Prosecutor’s Office confirms Amona is an illegal outpost. It stresses that the defense minister, the Civil Administration and the police take a grave view of the improper conduct of the Mateh Binyamin local council (which receives its budget from the state!), “and most certainly when it comes to construction on private lands belonging to Palestinians”. The prosecution saw fit to boast that “for many years now the state has been strict about not building any settlement on private land”. Really, bully for the state. It would be interesting to note, incidentally, what it intends to do with the property it handed out to settlers before it stopped stealing private land.

And here comes the line that could go down in a book of records for insolence: The prosecution asks to reject the demand to evacuate the illegal settlement, since diverting the limited means of enforcement to old illegal construction “is not high on the respondents’ agenda.” And why not? “Means of enforcement” are needed to implement the temporary building freeze in the settlements.

In other words, the government’s decision in the matter of the temporary moratorium on construction in the settlements has become the illegal settlements’ insurance policy. All that remains is for them to ask the government to extend the freeze.

President Obama was right to insist on the settlements issue. It is the litmus text for Israel’s intentions. And right now, it doesn’t show any sign of a policy change.