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.

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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 »


Some more thoughts on the split personality of America’s liberal Jews

Posted: January 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: racism, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 18 Comments »

I had some interesting responses to my post on the “split personality” of American liberal Jews. One of them was from Rabbi Jason Miller from Detroit, Michigan, who posted on his blog some of his thoughts regarding this issue. Among other things, he refers to “the seemingly ironic position that so many liberal American Jews find themselves in concerning their views on Israel.”

Admittedly, I am in this category. I never criticize Israel or its government’s policies publicly, because, well, it’s Israel — my Israel, my homeland. The Jewish state has enough critics, I reason; it could use more people playing defense for the team. But when it comes to religious pluralism, I have no problem expressing my frustration for the control that the ultra-Orthodox wields in Israel. A monopoly by one denomination of a religion for all official religious acts is not democratic.

I think that Rabbi Miller is being very honest here about his views on Israel. In a different post, he refers to the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians by the Jewish community as one of the most important developments of the decade. This is another example of something that the religious establishment in Israel wouldn’t even consider doing – in fact, Rabbis and religious MKs here led the fight against Gay rights – and Rabbi Miller has no problems speaking against Israel’s orthodoxy.

I wonder, however, what is the difference, in the eyes of a liberal person, between Gay and Arab rights. I understand Jews’ hesitations to come out publicly against Israel on issues that involve national security, but when it comes to minorities’ rights, the current government in Jerusalem is far worse than any administration America had in the past fifty years, yet Jews – who took part in some of the great civil rights fights in the US – remain very careful not to criticize Israel on these matters.

Just recently, the Knesset passed a law which would  allow Jewish settlements inside Israel (not to be confused with West Bank settlements), built on public state land, to forbid Arab citizens from purchasing a home within them. At the same time, the Knesset turned down a bill that was meant to make the state allocate land to Jews and Arab on an equal basis.

Doesn’t the fact that Rabbi Miller views Israel as his homeland only makes it more urgent to protest when this country is marching down the “separate but equal” road?

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Going back to the national security issue, my question to Israel’s liberal supporters is if they can imagine a time in which it would be justified to come out publicly against Israel. Read the rest of this entry »


Survey: should we engage in war crimes?

Posted: January 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Israel demanded recently that the US will act to stop “incitement by Palestinian Authority’s officials”. A noble cause no doubt, but what about racism and incitement in Israel?

For example, what would we say if a poll by Iranian or Palestinian television station presented the public with the option of completely destroying Israel? Because this is exactly what Keshet (Channel 2) – Israel’s most watched networked – did on their site’s daily poll today.

To the question “what is your opinion on Iron Dome (Israel’s new anti-missile project), the possible answers were: (a) It’s about time; (b) I don’t trust it; (c) we need negotiations; (d) destroy Gaza.

poll1

Right now, 51 percent of the people who answered the survey chose option D. But the real problem is that nobody should post such surveys to begin with, just as you don’t ask your readers if they support rape.

poll2

(hat tip: 7th eye)


Liberman’s “loyalty law”: an effort to push Arabs out of the Knesset

Posted: January 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Knesset’s ministerial legislative committee is about to vote today on Israel Beitenu’s (Avigdor Liberman’s party) “loyalty law”, which will change the oath all MK’s take at the beginning of each Knesset term, from swearing loyalty to “the State of Israel and its laws,” to swearing loyalty to the State of Israel as a “Jewish democratic state.”

UPDATE: The decision whether to back this bill was moved to the coalition managing body (in other words – it will be Netanyahu’s decision).

The important thing here is the change from the term “Israeli” to Jewish. The name “Israel”, points to an inclusive political model, which emphasizes the “Jewishness” of the state, but at the same time offers room for all the state citizens. Declaring loyalty just for “a Jewish state” will be another symbol for the new model the Israeli Right is trying to establish –one of ethnic superiority of the Jews over all other minorities.

An Arab cannot become – and is not expected to become – a Jew. When he pledges loyalty to Jews, he vows to be loyal to others, to a community he can never be part of. But an Arab can become an Israeli, and can certainly pledge loyalty to Israel – as all Arab MKs have been doing since the state was born. This is not just a cosmetic change. Liberman and his party expect the Arab MKs to reject the new law, what will open the way to banning all none-Jewish MKs from the Israeli parliament.

This move by Yisrael Beitenu – undoubtedly the most dangerous party in Israel right now – should be seen in the context of the current surge in anti-Arab legislation. This has nothing to do with security measures. It is an effort to change the nature of the state, making it, in the words of the Arab MK Ahmed Tibi, “a democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for all others”.

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The Jewish-American paper Forward published an op-ed by me on the future of the Israeli left. It touches exactly this point, of Arab-Jewish relations.


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).


Israeli segregation / The end of the road for the “Jewish AND Democratic” model?

Posted: December 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A new amendment into the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom might officially turn Israel into a democracy for Jews only.

Since it’s founding, Israel has claimed – and most of the time was regarded – to be both a Jewish state and a democratic one. In the Israelis’ views, the two elements don’t contradict, but rather complete each other. Criticism on this view has focused on the facts that (a) the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were never granted Israeli citizenship and the civil rights that come with it, and that (b) Israel’s “Law of Return” distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews, as it only allows the former to automatically become Israeli citizens.

Israel’s answer to A is that the West Bank and Gaza are not officially part of the state, and that within the Green Line border, all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, have full rights. The answer to article B is very similar: yes, we allow Jews into the state, but once someone becomes an Israeli citizen, he enjoys full rights, regardless of his ethnic origin, religious or sex.

A new legislation effort by Yisrael Beitenu (Liberman’s party) might put an end to all this reasoning. This legislation is about to make discrimination and racial segregation a part of the legal codex of Israel. If passed, it will make it very hard to view Israel as a democracy – at least in the common meaning of the term in the West – regardless of the situation in the West bank.

Here is a little background:

There are thousands of Israeli Arab Citizens who are married to non-Israeli Palestinians or Arabs from other states. On July 2003 the Knesset enacted the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which prohibits the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories who are married to Israeli citizens. In 2007 the law was also applied to Israeli citizens who marry residents of Lebanon, Syria, Iran or Iraq and/or any place defined by the Israeli security forces as where activity is occurring that is liable to endanger Israeli security.

The meaning of this legislation is that Arab citizens can’t enjoy their right to family life if they chose to marry a non-Israeli – as the non-Israeli partner does not receive an Israeli citizenship, or even the right to reside in Israel. In most cases, the couple is force either to leave the country or to live separately.

Officially, it were security concerns that led to the 2003 and 2007 bills; but this was probably just an excuse, since even before the new law was accepted the Ministry of Interior had the authority to refuse citizenship to any person which is suspected of presenting a security threat without a need to justify its decision. More likely that it was the demographic logic that led to the legislation, with the will to simply prevent Arabs from entering the state, and even forcing them to leave, playing the central part, and security issues only coming later. This assumption is supported by most of the public statements made during the debate on the law.

There is a point here which must be made clear: by refusing to allow a Palestinian woman who married an Israeli to immigrate to Israel, it is not the woman’s right who is violated, but the man’s. In all democracies, each citizen has the right to marry whoever he whishes to and to live with him or her on their own state. The new law takes this right away from the Arab population, while still granting it to the Jewish one. It distinguishes between the rights of citizens to family life based on their ethnicity.

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Since 2003, several human right groups are waging a legal campaign against the  Citizenship Law, claiming that it stands in contradiction to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. “Basic Laws” are the closest thing Israel has to a constitution.

In a famous 6-5 split decision, the Supreme Court dismissed in 2006 the petitions against the Citizenship Law. However, the court harshly criticized the Law, with Justice Edmond Levi, who voted with the majority, writing that this is only a temporary approval, and that “a different arrangement” must be reached. The chief justice Aharon Barak voted with the minority against the Citizenship Law. The Supreme Court also allowed the petitioners to bring their case before it again in the future, and the common assumption is that it will eventually rule the Citizenship Law as unconstitutional.

And this is exactly what the current Knesset is trying to prevent. As Jonathan Liss reports in Haaretz, 44 MKs, among them members from the opposition party of Kadima, are backing an amendment proposed by Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, intended to bring it into line with the Citizenship Law. The coalition will decide this Sunday whether to back the amendment, thus promising it an automatic majority in the Knesset.

In other words, the Knesset will have the Israeli constitution include an article which distinguishes between the right to family life of Jews and Arabs. Read the rest of this entry »


Minarets in Switzerland, Burqas in France: Israeli Right finds allies in Europe

Posted: November 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

mineratsSome Israelis got exited today by the referendum in Switzerland, in which Swiss voters have approved a right-wing-backed proposal to ban construction of new minarets. There are many people here that view the Palestinian problem (and even more, the relations between the Arab citizens of Israel and the Jewish majority) as a part of a “Clash of Civilizations” between the West and the Muslim world. For them, today wasn’t only a victory in one of this war’s major battles, but more importantly, further proof that “we are not alone” in the fight.

The historical irony, of course, is that our allies in this cultural war are the same political forces – if not the same people – that used to persecute our grandparents just a few decades ago. Since there aren’t that many Jews today in Europe, the xenophobes of the Old World decided to pick the Blacks and the Muslims as their current enemies, much to the joy of the Israeli Right.

The referendum in Switzerland – much like the debate over the burqas in France – is used by neo-Zionists and Israeli conservatives as proof that it is possible to limit the rights of ethnic minorities and still remain a democracy. Much in the same way, they propose limitations on the Arab citizens of Israel in order to protect the “cultural identity” of the state. I’m pretty sure that in the next few days we will have some articles in the Israeli papers drawing a line between the European cases and the Israeli one.

It is, however, important to understand the major differences between the legislation regarding minorities’ rights in Europe and the Israeli case.

First, the Palestinians in Israel – both the states’ citizens and the Palestinians in the West Bank – are a native minority (oppose to minorities created by recent immigration wave, like in Europe). As even a Zionist legal scholar such as Amnon Rubinstein notes, Modern human rights concepts promise such minority the right not to assimilate into the dominant culture, to keep its religious traditions and to educate its children and speak in its own language.

But the real difference is that unlike in France or Switzerland, Israel doesn’t ask nor wants its Arab Citizens to assimilate. In other words, France is demanding the Muslims to accept the dominant secular culture, as a precondition to handing them full civil rights. It’s basically the same idea in Switzerland: the state is accepting the immigrants as citizens, but demands them to abandon their original culture, or at least some aspects of it.

But Israel is not a secular state that can have minorities assimilate into it. Israel is a Jewish state by definition, and it doesn’t ask nor expect the Arabs to assimilate in return for full rights. Even if the Palestinian citizens here stop speaking Arabic, don’t mention the Nakba anymore or build minarets, they will still be second rate citizens by definition.

Those who promote the Anti-Arab legislation in Israel are not really imitating the French republican model or the Swiss multi-cultural democracy. They try to create something new: an ethnic democracy, were all citizens will enjoy basic rights, but Jews will have extra privileges.

To the best of my understanding, this is no democracy at all.


2008 Sikkuy report: huge socioeconomic gap between Jews and Arabs (with this government, it’s likely to grow)

Posted: November 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Diplomacy has caught most of my attention lately, and I haven’t written in a while about Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Unlike the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, the situation of the non-Jewish minority in Israel is not receiving enough of the world’s attention, so in a sense it’s even more important to follow it closely.

About a week ago, Sikkuy, The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, published its annual report. The report is an Index measuring the socioeconomic gap between Arab and Jews in Israel; from what I gather, it uses a similar statistical method to the one the National Urban League uses to measure the gap between Blacks and Whites in the US. All the data Sikkuy uses comes from official government sources.

There is almost widespread agreement in Israel that the gap between Arab and Jews is a critical issue that should be addressed as soon as possible (the Government-appointed Or committee wrote so explicitly). Yet there was little interest in Sikkuy’s findings this week. Only a few Journalists came to the Press conference in Tel Aviv I attended, and in the following day’s papers, their reports were hard to find. Many media organizations in Israel don’t even have a reporter covering the Arab population, even though it makes up to 20 percent of the citizens.

In short, the situation is not good – and it’s getting worse. Out of the five elements the 2008 Sikkuy report checks, in four – housing, health services, welfare services and employment – the gap between Arab and Jews has widen. In education there has been a slight improvement, but it was more due to a decline in the Jews’ achievements.

The socioeconomic gap is not the result of a lack of effort on behalf of the Arab population, like some people like to think, but of government policy, dating back decades. Evan today, the money invested by the state for social services for each Jew is 1.5 times the sum invested in an Arab citizens – even though the Arabs are the poorest people in Israel.

More Arabs go to university than ever – but they can’t find jobs, not on the private sector but also not on state agencies (the number of Arabs employed by the state is much lower than their proportion in the population). Arab Unemployment is much higher than Jewish one, especially unemployment among university graduates. And these figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

The 2008 Sikkuy index will soon be uploaded to the association’s English site. The reports from 2006 and 2007 can be found there as well. It should be noted that preliminary data from 2009 is even worse. It shows, among other disturbing figures, an unusually sharp drop in the number of Arabs entitled for a high school diploma.

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There is another important point to make here. The previous government didn’t do enough to promote equal opportunities, but this was still part of its declared policy, and Ehud Olmert himself said several times that he is committed to fighting discrimination against Arabs.

In that sense, the difference from Netanyahu’s government is striking. It’s the first time in many years that promoting equal opportunities for none Jews is not part of the official agenda for the coalition. Furthermore, some cabinet ministers are doing their best to harm the Arab minority, to limit its rights and to insight against it. If once Israelis used to take pride in the rights Palestinian citizens enjoy here – as opposed to other countries – these rights are seen by many today as a burden. As I claimed on the first post of this blog, and repeatedly since, racism is the best currency in Israeli politics right now, one which is likely to bring a politician immediate publicity and support.

Just to give an impression of the dangerous slop we are on, here are a few proposals and declarations made by cabinet ministers in the few months the Netanyahu government has been in power:

● The minister of transportation, Israel Katz (Likud), is promoting an initiative according to which all Arab names on road signs will be replaced with Jewish ones.

● The minister for Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov (Israel Beytenu), demanded that the pope cancel meeting with the Arab mayor of Sakhnin on his visit to Israel.

● The Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) called to stop Arab “spreading” in Wadi Ara, a region densely populated by Israeli-Arabs. he is currently pushing a plan for a city for orthodox Jews in the area.

● The Education Minister Gidon Saar (Likud) ordered that Arabs won’t be allowed to teach the term Nakba, referring to their national disaster of 1948.

● The minister of the Police, Yitzhak Aharonowitz, has told an undercover agent he “looks dirty like a real Arabush” (a Hebrew slang word that carries a cultural meaning very similar, or even worse, than “nigger” in the US).

● The Finance Minister, Yuval Shtainitz, declared that one of Israel’s problems is that Arab women “don’t want to work”.

● and finally, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman – a man who disgraces not only the state, but the entire Jewish people – promotes plans for striping Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship or from the rights is gives them.

By its actions, the Israeli government is currently doing more than any of Israel’s enemies to bring life to the claim that Zionism inevitably leads to racism.


Those ungrateful Arabs

Posted: October 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

If you want to understand everything that’s wrong about the way Israel is treating its Arab minority, just read what Jerusalem District Police Chief Aharon Franco had to say about the demonstrations near the Temple Mount that’s been taking place in the last few days:

“There is a degree of ungratefulness from the side the city’s Muslim population after the police had worked to ensure peaceful prayers in the Temple Mount throughout the month of Ramadan.”

Ungratefulness? Why didn’t Franco also call the Orthodox Jews of Jerusalem “ungrateful” as well, after their violent clashes with the police a few weeks ago? After all, Franco’s cups worked very hard to let the orthodox pray in their holidays as well.

Apparently, Jerusalem’s Chief of police believes that he did the Arab citizens some sort of favor by letting them celebrate the Ramadan, and now he expects them to return one. You might say that that’s exactly the way many, if not most of the Israelis look at the relations with the non-Jewish minority: we are doing them a favor by letting them live here, let alone enjoy some rights, so they are expected to keep quite, ask for nothing and do as they are told.


Arab of 48′ is in the house

Posted: September 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A friend posted on Facebook a link to an excellent blog (in Hebrew). The author’s nick is  “Arab 48″, and he describes himself as a Palestinian lawyer from the north, 61 years old (as old as the state, or if you prefer – as the Nakba). The anonymous writer is 28. He wrote that his age is 61 to represent the situation of the Arabs citizens. He is religious, and naturally, an Israeli.

Arab 48′ writes mainly about his daily life and thoughts. He focuses on his place as a Palestinian in the Jewish state, and on every day’s encounters between Arab and Jews around him. This is the stuff you won’t read in the papers: an argument between him and his brother regarding the noises from the Arab villages in the area, which bothers their Jewish neighbors; a story of an Arab cantina worker who gave him too much change, “because the boss is a Jew”; a reminder to say to your Arab neighbors “Ramadan Karim” at the beginning of the Ramadan, and more. in a time when racism is on the rise and more and more Israelis believe in ethnic segregation, this stuff is a must-read.

Unfortunately, the blog is updated only few times a month, so I recommend you subscribe, or add it to your RSS reader.