Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem Chair of West Midland PSC
Today’s 6 items do not contain pleasant reports. To the contrary, sorry to say.
Items 1 and 2 are reports by CPT (item one also by Operation Dove) of incidents in the South Hebron Hills (item 1) and the Hebron area (item 2). In item 1 the situation ends ok, but only because internationals were monitoring and helping. Item 2 does not end happily.
Item 3 is about suicide in the IOF. 3a is included as an introduction to 3b. 3a from 2005 reveals that except for periods of conflict, suicide had become the number 1 killer in the IOF, and that most suicides happened the first year after induction. This mooring Haggai Matar wrote about 4 military suicides with which he is familiar, one of them being a female. His essay is in Hebrew, which is why I have not included it here, but for those of you who read Hebrew, it is athttp://www.mysay.co.il/articles/ShowArticle.aspx?articlePI=aaakru
The subject of IOF suicide has not been researched, but should be. It is sad enough when a youngster falls in battle. It must be 100 times worse for the family when the son or daughter takes his/her own life.
Gideon Levy in 3b writes about a single case. And it is clear from it alone that peer pressure and perhaps also family pressure pushes some youngsters into the military who enlisted. Yet though unable to withstand the pressure they were not cut out for what soldiering comprises. In as militaristic a society as is Israel, it is very difficult for a youngster to say ‘no. I will not go.’ The pressure is doubly felt because the Israeli soldier is not going to be sent to Vietnam to fight a war, but supposedly is in the military to defend his/her own people and country by fighting perhaps in Lebanon or Gaza or the West Bank—that is, in the vicinity of his/her own country. Most kids and adults fail to realize that it didn’t have to be this way—that there could have been justice and peace and no reason to enlist. War, after all, is not a necessity. It is not a natural disaster. Other means for dealing with most situations can be found. But Israel devaluates life by putting land grabbing and colonization ahead of life, the most precious commodity that we have.
Item 4 is from the LA Times, and is about Israeli “intolerance,” which “shows up on Internet, in Knesset, on the street as Racism, homophobia and religious discrimination.” As if to prove, Haaretz today brings up the editorial in the ultra-religious journal in which the call is to send Amalekites to death camps. The link to the Haaretz piece accompanies the LA Times commentary.
Item 5 brings us to the Turkel Committee’s findings on the Gaza flotilla episode, in which 9 Turks lost their lives, one of whom was a 19 year old who held dual citizenship—U.S. and Turkish. The commission did not explain why a 19-year old Turk who held also US citizenship, and who wished to be a doctor, ended up being killed with 4 bullets in his head and another in his chest. The Turkel committee’s explanation that ‘he wanted to become a martyr’ is hardly satisfactory. The domestic reports about the committee’s findings were far different from the international ones (and this was first page news on most internet newspaper editions). The international ones contain in addition to the Turkel findings, remarks from others that in no way coincide with these findings. The UN is presently running its own inquiry. We shall see what its results will be. I’ve posted below the Aljazeera report, as it seems to be the fullest, and have listed a few links from other newspapers in case you wish to see for yourselves the difference from the Israeli press and the international media.
Lastly, Gisha writes a position paper objecting to that portion of the Turkel findings that say that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is acceptable.
At-Tuwani, South Hebron Hills, West Bank – On Saturday, 22nd of January, Palestinian farmers successfully plowed fields in Khoruba valley, despite heavy harassment by settlers from the nearby settlement of Ma’on.
In the early morning, about twenty farmers from At-Tuwani started sowing seed and plowing fields in Khoruba valley, southeast from At-Tuwani. Soon thereafter, five settlers arrived from nearby Havat Ma’on outpost and positioned themselves in front of the tractors, in an attempt to prevent the farmers from completing their work. As more settlers arrived, tempers flared and the farmers attempted to move the settlers and physically block them from interfering with the land cultivation.
Approximately thirty minutes later, Israeli soldiers and Border Police arrived and immediately stopped the tractors from plowing. The Israeli forces took the ID cards of three farmers while removing both settlers and farmers from the immediate vicinity of the tractors.
The Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO), the branch of the Israeli military responsible for the coordination of civilian affairs, later confirmed the right of Palestinians to plow the fields but the Border Police requested that all Palestinians and international peace activists leave the area, except for the farmers directly involved in the agricultural work.
Three settler youths moved from Khoruba valley to an area one kilometer south where they stopped another tractor from plowing and proceeded to throw stones at a Palestinian shepherd and his flock. Israeli forces again intervened, removing the settler youths from the area.
After the completion of the agricultural work, one Palestinian farmer was taken to the Kiryat Arba police station for questioning, and later released, after a settler made a formal complaint that he was assaulted.
An international delegation with four British MPs, was present for part of the incident and spoke with Palestinian farmers, Israeli forces, and an Israeli settler.
In the last five years, through several coordinated nonviolent actions, Palestinians from At-Tuwani and Yatta have successfully cultivated fields previously made inaccessible due to settler violence and harassment, Through the reacquisition of this land, Palestinians are asserting their right to the land and working to ensure their food security for the coming seasons.
Operation Dove and Christian Peacemaker Teams have maintained an international presence in At-Tuwani and South Hebron Hills since 2004.
[Note: According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, the International Court of Justice, and several United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements and outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Most settlement outposts, including Havat Ma’on (Hill 833), are considered illegal also under Israeli law.]
Pictures of the incident: goo.gl/zqaGY
Video of the incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w24lt4Kvbw
For further information:
Operation Dove, 054 99 25 773
Christian Peacemaker Teams 054 25 31 323
DATE January 17, 2011
HEBRON REFLECTION: They left their mark everywhere
by Paulette Schroeder
Her dropped head, her clasped hands, her sad face continue to haunt me. I ask myself: How anyone could endure this kind of pain, especially a mother.
I sat in a stupefied silence as the fifty-six-year-old woman told us about the invasion of her home last October. Soldiers had awakened the family and their relatives next door by banging on the door at 12:00 a.m. They then ordered the families out of their homes, locked the women and young children in the shop next door handcuffed, and blindfolded the men and adolescent boys and told them to stand in front of a shop.
In the next twelve hours, the Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinian men accused of killing four settlers. Afterwards soldiers entered the same house although the family had no connection to the killings, shot randomly into the bed, through the blankets, under the bed, into the windows, doors, and table. I wept within when the mother pointed out a beautiful blanket meant to be a wedding gift for one of the sons and his wife, now riddled with bullet holes.
The aggression did not end there. While forty to fifty military vehicles blocked the streets outside, two bulldozers demolished the part of the house where a newly married son lived with his wife. They then destroyed another part of the complex prepared for another son soon to be married. Furniture and remains of furniture now hung from the skeletal frameworks, where once a -family building stood.
One week after they had arrested her sons, the military came for the mother. She remained in prison for 26 days. When asked how the soldiers treated her, she said they “used words that no woman should hear.” At one point, they ordered her to strip, then checked her private areas, using a detector on some places of her naked body. She said that if the soldiers did this to a woman in prison, what must her sons be experiencing. I had no words to convey my sorrow to this mother. I assured her that God would give her strength, but my words sounded like “a ringing brass cymbal”-so weak. I felt burdened with the sadness of this family that had lost so much, sad for the soldiers who now must carry the crimes they have committed into their future, ashamed of my country that continues to fund such aggression.
The mother told me that whenever she tells the story, she feels a headache coming on. She is worried too because her four sons are not working and supporting the family, and her husband is sick. One daughter earns 600 NIS (about $150.00) a week, but that must carry the family through all its needs.
When, Lord! Why do these Palestinian people not count in world politics? Where shall help come for a people who have no defense? Will these words I am writing also fall on deafened ears? Now it is I who hang my head.
December 14, 2005
Fewer officers to be armed as suicide becomes IDF’s top killer
Thirty-three Israel Defense Force soldiers committed suicide since the beginning of 2005, the chief of the IDF
manpower headquarters, Brigadier-General Avi Zimer, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday.
The head of the IDF’s manpower division, General Eliezar Stern, said during the meeting that to combat this wave of suicides, it was recently decided that officers and non-commissioned officers in rear units will be armed. Additionally, soldiers in rear units will be prohibited to carry weapons while on leave.
These steps join other measures taken by the IDF on the matter, including reducing the number of weapons in soldiers’ hands when there is a fear the guns will be used to end their own lives. The IDF has also worked to increase commanders’ awareness of the necessity of caring for soldiers’ mental distress.
The number of suicide deaths accounts for half the total of 66 soldiers who died during their army service in 2005. Sixteen soldiers were killed in traffic accidents while they were on leave, nine died of illness, six died during operations and two died under what were identified as other circumstances.
Stern said the IDF is fighting a serious battle against suicide, and that the army approaches the subject in the most serious manner possible. The IDF doesn’t make any distinction between a soldier who dies during an operation and a soldier who commits suicide, Stern said, and both are buried in the same section of the military cemetery.
IDF commander-in-chief General Dan Halutz announced last month that suicide had become the number one cause of death among soldiers, although the number of suicides hadn’t grown and the number “is relatively low in comparison to that of other countries in the world.” Most of the soldiers who killed themselves did so during their first year of army service.
Overall, the number of total deaths in the IDF in 2005 is lower than in previous years, according to the statistics presented to the Knesset Committee. The drop can be attributed to a decrease in the number of soldiers who died in offensive operations. By comparison, in 2004, 112 soldiers were killed, and of them, 39 died in offensive maneuvers; in 2002, 230 soldiers died and of them, 134 were killed in offensive operations.
January 21, 2011
In the line of duty
Khalil Givati-Rapp, a medic in the Nahal Brigade, could no longer bear the role society had forced upon him.
“I would like you to write about Khalil. This time Khalil is a Jew, whose grief over the wrongs of the occupation led to his death at the age of 20 and a few months.” Those words, which reached me in an email from the father of Khalil Givati-Rapp, left me thunderstruck. It took a few days before I could muster the courage to reply, and another few weeks before I gathered the strength to make the visit.
Raindrops fell this week on Klil, in the Western Galilee, making the trees and plants glimmer with pearls of water. Smoke rose from the fireplaces burning in the widely scattered houses, and only the patter of the rain broke the silence. After three hours of painful, restrained conversation with Khalil’s father, Mishael, we went out into the lovely garden to smoke a cigarette. We stood there, mute. The very air seemed fraught. A path of stones leads to a pond of water plants, a vine straggling above it. Mishael suddenly broke the silence: Here, beneath the vine, at sunset, opposite the sea is where Khalil wanted to be married, he said in a whisper. After his son died, Mishael built the pond and added a pergola for the vine that was to have been a wedding canopy. A small shrine in Khalil’s memory.
His room, too, has been left as it was, as a memorial. Military gear lies on the table, as though its owner were just about to return, and alongside it are books. Maybe they tell the whole story. Maybe they contain the code that will solve the mystery of his death. Why, last Holocaust Remembrance Day, shortly after the ceremony on the base and lunch with his buddies, his manner indicating nothing unusual, did Khalil take his rifle, go into the bathroom and put a single bullet into his head?
It’s unsettling to look at the stack of books in his room. It’s hard to touch them. Every title is another clue. “Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits,” Friedrich Nietzsche; “The Book of Disquiet,” Fernando Pessoa ; “Death with Interruptions,” Jose Saramago; “The Exile of the Poets,” Bertolt Brecht; “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters,” J.D. Salinger; “Gog and Magog,” Martin Buber; “1984,” George Orwell; “Walden; or, Life in the Woods,” Henry David Thoreau; “At the Crossroads,” Ahad Ha’am; “The Birth of Fascist Ideology,” Zeev Sternhell; “Infiltration,” Yehoshua Kenaz; “Past Continuous,” Yaakov Shabtai; and also David Avidan, Lea Goldberg and Natan Zach; and Meir Ariel’s “Shirei Hag, Moed Venofel,” Khalil’s favorite album. A note written by Khalil lists books he loaned out: “The Complete Works of S.Y. Agnon” and “Catch-22” to Mishke; Naomi has already returned the two books she borrowed. There’s a soccer ball on the floor, signed by everyone who plays in the regular Tuesday game. In a drawer are all the publications of Breaking the Silence (“Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories” ) and pamphlets of the struggle for the rights of the Bedouin. Now Bat Sheva, Khalil’s mother, is reading her son’s books. Book after book, she seeks explanations for her son’s death.
Khalil was born in New York. His parents, graduates of the fine arts department of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, now in their fifties, spent seven years in New York. Shortly after the birth of their son, they returned to Israel and settled in Klil, an ecological village not far from Nahariya. Mishael’s father was the late Dr. Uri Rapp, a lecturer on theater; and Bat Sheva’s parents are Holocaust survivors. Her mother objected to the name Khalil, but Bat Sheva liked the sound of it, and Mishael liked the political connotations of the Hebrew-Arabic name.
Khalil was a very sociable boy who played sports, loved music and was very politically and socially aware. He read Spinoza and Thoreau at a very young age; Goldberg was his favorite poet. On his last leave from the army he took advantage of the “three books for NIS 100” deal at a Tzomet Sfarim branch to buy “Flight to Arras” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi and a book on Zen Buddhism by Jacob Raz. His dream was to study medicine, become a surgeon and go to Africa. In high school he pondered whether to join the class trip to Poland. His parents say he did not care for the nationalism signified by students wrapping themselves in the Israeli flag at Auschwitz. But, not wanting to disappoint his grandparents, who had been through the Holocaust, he decided to go.
In the 12th grade he was one of the initiators of the letter from high-school seniors to Ehud Olmert about the fate of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Khalil spent two consecutive weeks in the family’s protest tent in Jerusalem and appeared twice on the “New Evening” current affairs program. Now I watch him on a video recording from 2008 telling the anchor, “As a young person who is about to be drafted for combat service, I feel that I have to enter the army with the thought that the state will bring me back if I am taken captive. That is a type of covenant between me and the state, between my parents and the state, and I feel that this covenant must be implemented. The fact that Gilad has already been in captivity for a thousand days shakes my confidence and the confidence of young people my age.”
A year later he was interviewed again: “We are being drafted with the feeling that the government is abandoning us.” His parents did not find out about the second interview until after he died, when they asked for the first interview. He said to his parents when they visited the protest tent: “Ehud Olmert and the government of Israel do not understand the depth of the crisis they are creating among young people.”
This week, his mother said, “I think we did not understand the immensity of the crisis. It flowed in his veins: the sense of failure about freeing Gilad.”
This week I watched the two interviews and video segments taken in the protest tent and edited into a film after his death. Khalil is handsome, sure of himself, tall and articulate, issuing orders to his friends in the tent, constantly surrounded by friends, very impressive, giving interviews in English and Hebrew, a red scarf around his neck. “Help!” reads a poster behind him, in Shalit’s handwriting. At the end of the film he is seen telling his friends about a tour he made in Hebron with Breaking the Silence activists and about how shocked he was at what he saw. He recommends that his friends in the tent go to Hebron. An argument breaks out; some of those in the tent voice hard-line nationalist opinions. Khalil was to have been deployed in Hebron shortly after he shot himself.
After high school he did a year of national service in Jerusalem’s disadvantaged Kiryat Menahem neighborhood. He lived in a commune, helped Ethiopian children with their schoolwork and was active in the neighborhoods’ consumer cooperative. His parents think the encounter with poor children in Jerusalem added to his consciousness of failure, like the failed struggle to obtain Gilad Shalit’s release. “He felt that his fate was sealed, that an individual could do nothing,” his mother says. He thought hard about whether to enter the army and was envious of R., a good friend from the commune, who refused to serve and was jailed.
On one occasion, on the way to the train station in Nahariya, his father told him, “If you decide not to serve, we will be behind you.” Khalil said only, “I know.” Now his father says softly, “maybe if he hadn’t gone into the army, none of this would have happened.” Khalil, his parents say, was torn between his civic duty to state and society, and the feeling that the army was partner to the wrongs of the occupation. In the end, he decided to do combat service, despite an offer to serve in an elite intelligence unit. He didn’t see himself sitting in an office, at a computer.
“It makes no difference whether you press a computer button or you shoot,” he told his parents, and was drafted into the Nahal Brigade’s reconnaissance unit. His parents trusted his choice, convinced that he had resolved the dilemma for himself.
No signs of distress were apparent in the course for combat medics. For the first time in his life, Khalil had an organized notebook; he studied day and night and was an outstanding soldier. At the end of the course he was declared an “exemplary cadet.” His parents were thrilled and proud to see him at the final ceremony in his oxblood combat boots. After the course he was given an extended leave.
It was to be his last Pesach. Khalil had a pleasant time on leave. He went to the desert with two girls and spent a day by himself with Primo Levi in his knapsack. Bat Sheva says he showed no signs of distress, not even of the type that people see in retrospect. She asked friends who were with him at the last parties whether he had stood apart or seemed preoccupied – but there nothing like that. He went to see “The Blind Side,” starring Sandra Bullock, bought clothes in the mall – Khalil hated brand names and wore nothing made of leather – and bought a knapsack for his older sister, who was about to go to Nepal. “He seemed to be at his peak,” his parents say about his last furlough.
At the end of his leave, his father drove him to the Nahariya train station. A friend who traveled with him related that Khalil had, as usual, given his seat to an elderly person with no place to sit. He was in a good mood. At the Nahal base outside Arad he met up with his team from the reconnaissance unit, whom he hadn’t seen since leaving for the course. The meeting was good, he told his parents on the phone. No one knew that at home in Klil, stuck deep inside a workbook of drawings from Bezalel that belongs to his parents, was a suicide note. A few days later, on April 12, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the usual ceremony was held on the base outside Arad. His friends said afterward that it was an uninspired event, but that at one point someone read out the words to Yehuda Poliker’s song, “Perach” (Flower ). Only one member of the team would later tell Khalil’s parents that he had thought Khalil was overwrought; no one else noticed anything.
After the ceremony the soldiers returned to the tent. Khalil stood and quoted from memory Tzruya Lahav’s lyrics to Poliker’s melody: “Whoever pulls the trigger, / Stains his heart with blood, / In wars for justice / Children die, too.” Then he asked his fellow soldiers, “What do you think that says about us?” No one replied. Khalil said no more. They went to the mess hall for lunch. Khalil asked someone for a pen and wrote something on a scrap of paper, which he stuffed into his pocket. After the meal he got up and left. A few minutes later a single gunshot was heard; everyone thought it was from the shooting range. In fact, Khalil had gone into the bathroom, locked the door and shot himself in the head. He was found a few minutes later, when a soldier noticed blood on the floor. The stained note in his pocket said only that he was sorry and “let whoever is supposed to read this, read it.”
Critically injured, he was flown by helicopter to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva. Not long after, while his family was having lunch at home, three army officers arrived with the tragic news and took the stunned parents to the hospital in Be’er Sheva. Khalil died the next day and was buried in Klil in a civil ceremony, at his parents’ request. He himself had once told them, “If anything happens to me in the army, I don’t want a military funeral.” The funeral took place five days after his death, when his sister returned from Nepal, after being located by Chabad emissaries.
On the day after his death, his mother turned his room inside out, looking for what people look for in such circumstances. “I just didn’t believe that he had gone from us like that.” Finally, she opened the drawer and found the letter, from which she now copies one passage for me: “This world is filled with evil, exploitation, injustice and pain. All my life I was between doing something to correct it (even though most of what I did was also meaningless ) and observing from the side. From the moment I was drafted I moved to being part of the side that creates this situation, and I could not cope with that … It’s said that everyone has to create a small change … Maybe finally I have succeeded … in creating my change.” The letter, in which Khalil takes his leave from each of his friends and the members of his family, is undated.
The flames dance quietly in the fireplace and a heavy silence has descended in the room. Only once during our conversation did tears well up in Mishael’s eyes. “I am so cynical. If I could only tell him: Khalilik, what you did creates no change. It’s such a pity for you.” His voice cracked. “If Khalil had studied medicine and gone to Africa, as he dreamed of doing, he would have fomented a bigger change. But I can no longer persuade him.”
I asked Bat Sheva and Mishael why they wanted me to write about Khalil. “I want to convey what Khalil wanted,” Bat Sheva said. “He hated the occupation, the attitude toward the Bedouin and the attitude toward Gilad Shalit. He saw the immorality of the army and he asked himself: What can I do? In our country that is not a legitimate question. There is one moral approach and there is no in-depth discussion about it. An 18-year-old kid has to fight Benjamin Netanyahu’s war. There is no deep discussion, and anyone who thinks differently is delegitimized. I would like to speak for the youth who are about to be drafted, who are not allowed to ask these questions and are delegitimized on top of it. I don’t say we don’t need an army, but there need to be other ways to serve the state. There is a great deal of deep contempt for anyone who thinks differently.”
Mishael adds: “He is exactly the person who should not have gone into the army. He could not handle it. With his vegetarianism and his hatred of the occupation. How sad that he had no one to talk to about that. How sad that he had no other option for serving. He felt that society would not allow him to refuse to serve in the IDF. And his conscience, too, told him that he was obligated. And then he felt that it was coming: another month and he would be in Hebron and might have to shoot someone. He postponed and postponed that moment. He went to a course, but he knew that in the end he would get to Hebron, and that tortured him. It was an ideological death that was planned in advance. He felt that very soon he would either have to shoot others or shoot himself. He chose the second option.”
Afterward we went out to the garden, to the pond of water plants and to the straggling vine, beneath which Khalil thought he would be married one day, and we said nothing.
4. LA Times,
January 23, 2011
Israeli intolerance shows up on Internet, in Knesset, on the street
Racism, homophobia and religious discrimination seem to be more prevalent, taking the form of threats and even a government motion. But one journalist says the trend is just a sign of ‘growing pains.’
The intent of the anonymous Internet video was unambiguous: “This person should be killed — and soon,” read a message underneath a photo of Israel’s deputy state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan.
His alleged offense? “Betraying” his Jewish roots by opening a criminal inquiry into racist threats and hate speech expressed on two Israel-based Facebook pages with statements in Hebrew such as “Death to Arabs.”
It was the latest, and most overtly violent, sign of what many here are calling a wave of intolerance toward people of different races, religions, orientations and viewpoints.
From rabbinical prohibitions against renting homes to “non-Jews” to government crackdowns on left-wing activists, Israelis are grappling with their nation’s identity and character.
Across the political spectrum, some see the struggle as a threat to Israel’s democratic ideals. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, warned that “an evil spirit has been sweeping over the country.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said a “wave of racism is threatening to pull Israeli society into dark and dangerous places.”
Faced with a Cabinet move to force non-Jewish prospective citizens to declare loyalty to a “Jewish state,” government minister Dan Meridor parted with fellow members of the conservative Likud Party in opposing the motion. After the motion won Cabinet approval, he said, “This is not the Israel we know.”
A recent Israel Democracy Institute poll found nearly half of Jewish Israelis don’t want to live next door to Arabs. But the list of unwanted neighbors didn’t stop there. More than one-third didn’t want to live next to foreigners or the mentally ill, and nearly one in four said they wouldn’t want to share a street with gays or the ultra-Orthodox.
“A Time to Hate,” was the headline in the newspaper Haaretz this month. Some have compared the hostile climate to 1995, shortly before a right-wing fanatic assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“The immune systems of Israeli society are clearly crumbling,” Labor Party lawmaker Daniel Ben-Simon said.
To some, the timing of the rising intolerance is surprising because it comes during a period of relative security and prosperity. The number of terrorist attacks in Israel dropped last year to its lowest level in more than a decade, and Israel’s economy is growing faster than those of most other countries.
Ben-Simon said the lack of pressing outside threats might be contributing to the domestic friction.
“The stronger the external tension, the more repressed the internal tension,” he said. “Any lull in outside pressure causes the internal ones to rise…. This led people to feel that if they’re squared off with the outside and feel secure enough, ‘Let’s fight a bit.'”
The rise of Israel’s nationalist and religious parties might also be playing a role. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party and the religious Shas party now account for about one-third of the ruling coalition’s seats in the parliament, or Knesset, and have emerged as key players in advocating a conservative agenda in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.
Party leaders say their agenda is not about intolerance but is designed to instill Jewish values in the government, and preserve the Jewish character of Israel. They point to their growing popularity among voters as evidence of public support for their programs.
But critics say Arab Israelis and foreigners have borne the brunt of their agenda.
Last month, dozens of municipal rabbis issued an edict against renting or selling real estate to non-Jews, particularly Arab citizens. A group of rabbis’ wives followed with a public letter urging Jewish women to avoid contact with Arab men.
Meanwhile, the Knesset is considering a bill that would allow Israeli communities to form local committees that could ban prospective residents based on race, sexual orientation or marital status.
Israel’s rising population of migrant workers is also drawing fire. Ultra-Orthodox city leaders in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak have tried to ban the rental of apartments to foreigners and pressured landlords who resisted.
In Ashdod, some African immigrants narrowly escaped death when their front door was set afire with a burning tire. In Petah Tikva, Girl Scouts born in Israel to African parents were beaten on their way home by attackers who called them names.
Tolerance of differing political viewpoints also appears to be shrinking.
The Knesset this month gave its provisional approval to an investigatory committee to examine the foreign funding of leftist and pro-Palestinian groups that criticize Israel’s military. Leaders of the targeted groups likened the move to a “McCarthyist witch hunt” designed to silence government criticism.
But it’s not only liberals and minority groups who are facing attack. Some of the same religious and political groups who are backing the crackdowns on Arabs and leftists are also feeling the rise of intolerance.
After lawmaker Faina Kirschenbaum — part of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which includes many Russian immigrants — introduced the motion to investigate left-leaning organizations, her office received a letter reading, “A good Russian is a dead Russian,” and characterizing Russian immigrants as “whores, thieves and hooligans.”
Last fall, a radio talk-show host launched into an on-air tirade about welfare payments to non-working ultra-Orthodox men, calling the men “parasites.”
And Arab Israelis, according to the Israel Democracy Institute poll, appear just as intolerant. About two-thirds said they wouldn’t want to live next to Jewish settlers, the ultra-Orthodox or gay couples. About half preferred not to live near foreigners.
Some question whether the tide of intolerance is rising at all, saying the public debate in Israel has been hijacked by extremists in part because of the weakness of the centrist and liberal political parties.
Bambi Sheleg, founder of the magazine A Different Place, a respected social affairs journal, said she doesn’t think Israelis are becoming more xenophobic, but that extremist viewpoints are receiving more attention.
“Israeli society consists of a gigantic center,” she said. “But there is no one to lead it and its voice isn’t heard.”
She expressed hope that the recent trend would trigger a backlash among Israeli centrists that would lead to more tolerance.
“We are on the threshold of the understanding that we all have to live here together and compromise,” she said. “These are growing pains.”
Contradicting a UN report, inquiry exonerates military of wrongdoing in raid on Gaza-bound Turkish aid vessel.
The commission questioned several high-ranking Israeli officials, but was not given access to individual soldiers [EPA]
An Israeli inquiry commission has defended the actions of the country’s troops during a deadly raid on a Turkish-led flotilla of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip last year.
The core findings were issued in a 300-page report released on Sunday by an Israeli government-appointed panel.
Made up of four Israelis and two foreign observers, the panel said Israel did not violate international law.
However, it did criticise the military planners of the mission for not taking into account the possibility of serious violence in the May raid.
“The soldiers were placed in a situation they were not completely prepared for and had not anticipated,” the commission said.
The report, which was was widely expected to exonerate the country’s military of any wrongdoing, contradicts a UN-backed report issued last year.
UN report contradictions
In September, a UN-appointed panel concluded that Israeli forces showed “incredible violence” during and after the raid on the flotilla that left eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American dead.
The UN probe added that there was “clear evidence to support prosecutions” against Israel for “wilful killing” and torture committed when its troops stormed the aid flotilla.
Israel’s military response to the flotilla “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality” and violated international law “including international humanitarian and human rights law”, the three-member panel said.
“The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence.”
The commando raid on the group of aid ships prompting international criticism of Israel’s actions and soured relations with several countries, particularly Turkey.
Israel established its own commission of inquiry after rejecting criticism that its troops had acted with excessive force in the raid.
The inquiry commission, headed by Yaakov Turkel, a former supreme court judge, is reportedly also examining several other aspects of the raid, and is expected to release a second report at an as yet unspecified date.
That report is expected to look at the mechanisms available for complaints about the raid.
The commission has heard testimony from high-ranking Israeli officials, including Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, the defence minister, and General Gabi Ashkenazi, the army chief.
Giving testimony last year, Barak termed the flotilla a “planned provocation”. He said that top officials had suspected that the aid convoy’s organisers were “preparing for an armed conflict to embarrass Israel”.
“We regret any loss of life,” he said, “but we would have lost more lives if we had behaved differently.”
None of the soldiers who carried out the raid were authorised to provide their testimony. The commission was only authorised to speak to the army chief or Major-General Giora Eiland, who carried out the military’s own investigation into the incident, on matters relating to the military’s response.
Commission members were authorised to submit questions to individual soldiers who participated in the raid only through a military committee.
The raid on the flotilla severely damaged Israel’s relations with Turkey, which had been one of the few Muslim countries to enjoy friendly relations with it.
Recep Tayyib Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, dismissed the inquiry’s findings. He told reporters on Sundayin Ankara, the capital of Turkey, that the Israeli report had “no value or credibility.”
Cengiz Aktar, a journalist with the Turkish Daily News, told Al Jazeera that this latest report is unlikely to change their relations for the better.
“The relationship between the two countries is slowing down at a tremendous pace, and this report won’t help. There were some attempts by some members of the Israeli cabinet, but it totally failed, and this report will be yet another blow.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
A few Additional links to the Turkel Commission findings:
6. Gisha on Turkel Commission’s interim conclusions:
No Commission of Inquiry Can Authorize Collective Punishment
January 23, 2011: In response to today’s publication of the interim report of the Turkel Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of 31 May, 2010, and its conclusion that the naval closure of the Gaza Strip, as well as the actions Israel took to enforce it, are consistent with the provisions of international law, Gisha notes:
No commission of inquiry can authorize the collective punishment of a civilian population by restricting its movement and access, as Israel did in its closure of Gaza, of which the maritime closure was an integral part. Gisha notes that a primary goal of the restrictions, as declared by Israel, was to paralyze the economy in Gaza and prevent its residents from leading normal lives. International law forbids using civilians to advance “strategic” goals, under circumstances in which Israel controls their ability to transfer goods. Although some of the restrictions were removed following the flotilla incident, Israel continues to restrict the movement of persons, the entrance of building materials and the transfer of goods for sale outside Gaza – with no valid security justification.
International law permits restricting movement for purposes of security, so long as Israel protects the rights of residents in Gaza to engage in normal life. However, imposing a closure for purposes of punishment is forbidden, as the International Committee of the Red Cross stated in reference to the maritime incident. According to official documents obtained by Gisha under the Freedom of Information Act, Israel prevented the passage of civilian goods such as spices, raw materials and consumer items and even set limitations for the amount of food it would permit residents of Gaza to purchase. We disagree with the Commission’s conclusion that the restrictions were justified for military or “strategic” reasons. It is unclear how preventing the transfer into Gaza of industrial margarine, paper, and coriander contributed to a legitimate military goal.
So long as Israel controls central elements of life in Gaza, including movement via the crossings, it must take responsibility for the effects of its control on the 1.5 million human beings living in the Gaza Strip. Gisha expresses hope that Israel will cancel the many remaining restrictions that are not related to concrete security risks and will allow the free movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, subject only to individual security checks.
For a position paper on the maritime closure and the Turkel Commission,
click here. [if clicking does not work, visit the website]
For a position paper on the continuing restrictions on access into and out of Gaza, click here.