Back in the West Bank (part II)

Posted: August 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s been nine years since my previous military service in the West Bank. Back than, I promised myself that it was the last time I took such an active part in the occupation, but I didn’t keep my word. In the last three weeks I have been stationed in a small base in the Jordan Valley area, north of Jericho. I have a few more days to go. In my previous post I discussed the reason that brought me there. Now I’d like to report some of the things I’ve seen and learned.

The first thing one notices upon returning to the WB are the increased limitations on the Palestinians’ lives. When I was called to the territories for the first time, in 1993, Palestinians traveled freely into and out of the West Bank. During the Oslo days, the WB and Gaza were sealed. Now, after the second Intifada, Palestinians can’t even travel freely between their own towns and villages (though some of the roadblocks were removed recently). Most Palestinians are not allowed to use highway 90, going along the Jordan Valley, and some other main roads as well. The result is that on the West Bank Highways, you only see cars with the yellow Israeli license plates.

There are, however, exceptions. Some Palestinian Authority officials are allowed to pass through roadblocks. Others have permits to work at a certain settlements, or inside Israel, on the other side of the Green Line. Some live near the major highways, so they are issued a special permit to use certain roads which are normally reserved for Israelis. All this leads to an incredibly bureaucratic system of permits and approval, issued and renewed every few months by the army and with the supervision of the Shin Beit (the powerful internal security bureau). In most roadblocks and checkpoints one can find thick leaflets explaining the rights granted to the Palestinians by every permit. And when the permits are not enough, each Palestinian is registered on the IDF computer, so it’s possible to check where he is allowed to be, if he can use a specific “Israelis only” road, where can he work, etc.

This complicated system is operated, at ground level, by 20 years old kids or by reservists on units such as mine. Read the rest of this entry »


Back in the West Bank (part I)

Posted: August 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

As I write this, I still have 10 days until the end of my reserve service in the West Bank. It is my first service in the Palestinian territories in nine years. Until then I was a platoon commander in an infantry unit, and served on a regular basis in the West Bank and on Gaza strip, both during mandatory duty and on reserve. Seven years ago I decided I will not take part in the occupation anymore, and refused to enlist to my yearly service. I was sentenced to 28 days in army prison no. 6, and later removed from my commanding post. When the next call came, I was transferred to a civil defense unit (again, as platoon commander), which usually doesn’t carry out such missions. But lately the army changed its policy, and my unit was called for a 26 days service in the Jordan Vally area. Not “hardcore occupation” like the things I used to do in Hebron or Ramallah, but still, inside the West Bank.

What do I do here? That’s what I’ve been asking myself in the last two weeks. Read the rest of this entry »


Occupation is fun!

Posted: July 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

wall2

I posted here yesterday the new Cellcom commercial, which I believe breaks some records in bad taste, even by Israeli standards. I would like to add now one more thought about the way this commercial represents the current moment in Israel.

I agree with Dimi Reider who writes in his blog that:

Ads aimed at the general market, like this one, are invaluable time capsules, representing public mood much more faithfully than any art. They can’t afford to affront and lose a single customer – and thus they document not just what a society really is, but what it really thinks itself to be, which can be just as decisive as facts and figures. 

This goes even further: this commercial was done by McCann Erickson Israel, the largest advertising company in Israel, for what is probably their biggest client – Cellcom, Israel’s leading cell phone provider. So one can assume that many people were involved in writing and approving the commercial, including McCann Erickson’s top directors and managers. In that sense, the commercial is no “mistake” by some low level copywriter.

Now, I would like to offer an assumption: I bet the people who wrote this commercial are not right-wing people (it is not such a radical though – according to the socio-economical profile of the people in the advertising business, they are likely to be voting for Kadima, Labor and even Meretz). What I mean is that although some people in Israel find this commercial to be in bad taste, even offending, the Israeli mainstream sees nothing wrong with it – in fact, some comments on the internet even regarded it as one that advocates peace, since instead of fighting, the soldiers and the (unseen) Palestinians are having fun playing soccer.

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Separation Wall stars in new Israeli commercial

Posted: July 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media | Tags: , | 3 Comments »

Israel’s largest Cell phone company, Cellcom, has a new commercial. You have to see it to believe it:

The voice over in the end goes: “What do we all want? Some fun, that’s all”. And what’s more fun than not seeing the Palestinians around anymore, thanks to the 10 meters high wall?

(thanks for the link, Dimi).


Border Police on YouTube: It’s just a case of another rotten apple, they will say

Posted: June 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The front story of Haaretz magazine this weekend reveals another ugly face of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank: short films showing the emotional, physical and verbal abuse of Palestinians, taken by Border Police soldiers and posted to YouTube. The Palestinians in these films are forced to sing songs praising the Border Police, to slap themselves and to face jokes and insults. Here is one of the films. The full Haaretz article, with links to other films, can be found here.

The Border Police is a military unit under the command of the police. The people serving in it are not ordinary policeman, but rather young soldiers, on their three years mandatory service. They are stationed mostly (but not only) in the West Bank, which means they get to stay many months, even years, in the same area (unlike regular army units, which only get sent to Palestinian cities or areas for limited periods of time – between several weeks to months). This leads to boredom and frustration among the soldiers. Combined with the arrogance of 19 years old kids who get to run the life of hundreds of people in roadblocks and checkpoints, and the racist tendencies in Israeli society, it brings to the results shown above. This sort of behavior, however, is not limited to the Border Police, or to the films on YouTube. I heard such stories during my own army service, in the 90′s, and I hear them from people to this day.

Read the rest of this entry »


Netanyahu accepts a Palestinian state (has some tiny conditions, though)

Posted: June 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

cross-posted with FPW.

You can say that Benjamin Netanyahu raised impossible demands from the Palestinians in his “major diplomatic speech,” as he called it (full text here). You can say that he didn’t accept the American demand for a complete stop of all construction projects in the West bank and East Jerusalem. You can say that he spent most of his time repeating his usual narrative of peace-seeking Israelis and Arab Rejectionism, and that he was “boldly stepping into 1993“. And you would probably be right in saying all this.

But what I heard today was the last Israeli leader to accept the idea of a Palestinian state.

There is no national figure to the right of Netanyahu, only second rate extremists. Avigdor Liberman long ago accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. So did, in less than a decade, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni – all of them formerly Likud people, even hard-liners, who finally understood that from an Israeli point of view, even a Zionist one, there is no real alternative. Twenty years ago, even Labor leaders didn’t speak of a Palestinian state. It was considered a radical-leftist idea. Things changed; one can’t deny that – but at what price!

So much for historical perspective. Now we can take apart some of the smaller details of the speech:

Negotiations: Netanyahu called for immediate negotiations with all Arab leaders, “without preconditions.” This in something Israeli leaders always said, and the Arabs will probably reject this idea again. The reason is simple: The only asset the Arab leaders are holding is the possibility of legitimizing Israel, and negotiations can be seen as a form of legitimation. That’s why most leaders will ask for something in return before engaging in direct talks – if not from Israel, than from the US.

A Jewish State: Netanyahu wasn’t completely honest when he claimed to be ready to negotiate without preconditions. He had some conditions, especially for the Palestinian side. First, he asked Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (in fact, if I got it right, he kind of asked the whole Arab world to do so). This is something the Palestinians will never do, because they would be betraying the cause of Palestinians citizens of Israel – which make up 20 percent of the population – for equal political and civil rights. But Netanyahu knows that this demand sounds good to the Israeli public, as well as to American Jews (unlike his insistence on building settlements), so he keeps on raising the issue, assuming it can help him out of tough corners in the future.

Hamas: Netanyahu had another condition for the Palestinians. He demanded the PA does something the Israeli Army couldn’t do: remove Hamas from power and re-seize control over the Gaza strip. Again, Netanyahu probably knows that moderate Arab leaders, with the silent support of the Obama administration, are moving in the opposite direction, of establishing a Palestinian unity government that will be able to negotiate with Israel. The Hamas problem allows him to buy time.

In my view, this is currently the biggest obstacle in the way of the peace process. This is not about declaring something about a Jewish homeland, like the previous demand. We can always work out a fancy statement that will keep almost everyone happy. This is a real political mess: Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO controls the West Bank. Are we to establish three states? The position Netanyahu took actually gives veto power over any agreement to Hamas – and the PM might be counting on them to use it.

Settlements: Thirty words. That’s what Netanyahu had to say about the issue which stood at the bottom of his confrontation with Obama, as well as his political problems at home. Bottom line: the PM presented the consensus he was able to build in his government as a response to the American demand. No new settlements will be built, and there will be no further confiscation of Palestinian land (I won’t go into the legal details, but this doesn’t mean much, because Israel decided long ago most of the land in the WB is “public land”, and therefore open for construction). We will have to see what Israel really does on the ground – and how the Administration responds – in order to judge both sides’ commitment to their positions.

Borders, Security, Refugees and Jerusalem: we had nothing new here. A typical Israeli hard-line. Netanyahu even said at one point that “my positions on these matters are well known.” And that’s exactly how we should look at them – his positions, which will be subject to whatever happens at the negotiating table.

And that’s my bottom line: I never thought – and I still don’t think – that Benjamin Netanyahu is the right man to lead Israel out of the West Bank (not to mention bring peace for the region). Not because he is a radical – Sharon was considered much worse before he took power – but because he hasn’t got the right character, nor the right ambitions. But he can still play a big role in this process, and if he does, this day will be remembered as his first step. It took Obama only two months to get him there. We should be optimistic.


Just another day in the West Bank

Posted: May 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

This is not the stuff I usually deal with (there are better places to get information regarding the West Bank), but every now and than, one has to remind himself that even a day without news, like today, is another day of the Israeli occupation.

Around 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. This is how their life looks like:

In Video: Settlers preventing Palestinian farmers from reaching their lands. The IDF soldiers “separate” the two sides, and finally send the Palestinians back home. Link through Amitai Sandy.


How Israel is Drifting away from the World

Posted: April 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, the US and us, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

If you get your news about Israel from Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post – or worse, from the NYT or the LA times – it will probably be hard for you to appreciate how disconnected the Israeli public is right now with the rest of the world. While it seems that everyone else is in some sort of diplomatic frenzy – whether as a reaction to the stagnation of the Bush years, as a result of the economical crisis, or for whatever other reason – Israelis live in some kind of a bubble, where only remote echoes of the current moves are heard.

It is true that the most of the public never cares much for international news, and not only in Israel. But I am not talking about events in China or even Darfur. Israelis don’t think about the West Bank anymore, let alone the peace signals from Syria. With the possible exception of national security issues – such as everything that has to do with Iran – we couldn’t care less about the regions’ problems.

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