Since I didn’t distribute anything last night, I have an overload of items to send. This does not mean that I will send all. No. Only 9 items out of a good deal more. One, however, is so brief that it hardly takes any space or time to read. So it’s more like 8 items.
I begin with the light though as we move down the line things deepen.
Item 1 is Gideon Levy’s tribute to a remarkable person. I do not agree with with this individual on certain basic items, as, for instance, the desirability or possibility of 2 states. But one need not agree on all issues to respect and admire a person. I won’t divulge his name. Perhaps you will know from Levy’s depiction. Levy reveals the name at the end.
Item 2 is barely an item. It merely informs us that the Free Palestine Movement intends to send an airplane loaded with communication equipment to Gaza. I met with one of the organizers in California just a week and a half or so ago. The movement is hard at work seeking funding and support for the project.
Item 3 informs us that boycotts are not only legitimate, but are also Jewish. I was surprised to find this slant on things in Ynet—the electronic version of the Yediot Ahronot, one of Israel’s 3 dailies, which is centristic rather than lef.
Item 4. argues that architects should refuse to design for Israeli colonies and infrastructure in the West Bank.
Item 5 relates that the Minister of Education has cut the school budget for civics class so as to increase the focus on Jewish studies. A few days ago we heard that Israeli schooling is geared to indoctrination rather than to education. Here is further proof of this.
Item 6 informs us that Israel has one of the world’s largest ‘eavesdropping’ intel bases. So that’s where the money goes—on military matters and expansion.
Item 7 is an open letter to the Heinrich Boel foundation by Israelis objecting to the foundation’s participation in an event on ‘What makes a Friend of Israel’ to be held at the very right-wing Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliah, Israel.
Item 8 informs us that anti-Israel Economic boycotts are gaining speed.
And lastly, a long but important article, “Shock, awe, and denial”—about how common in Israel though subconscious is the mechanism of denial.
All the best,
1. Haaretz Sunday,
September 05, 2010
Like a pillar of fire
This weekend an important Israeli will celebrate his 87th birthday. Although he is the same age as Israel’s president, and his influence on Israel’s history has not been much smaller than the latter’s.
This weekend an important Israeli will celebrate his 87th birthday. Although he is the same age as Israel’s president, and his influence on Israel’s history has not been much smaller than the latter’s, the Cameri Theater will not be holding a gala event in his honor nor will the high and mighty cloak him in hollow gestures of love. In fact, no one will probably even notice his birthday.
While his contemporary, Shimon Peres, has always gone along with the crowd, this man went far before it, like a pillar of fire. Alert, original, independent, brave, clear-headed and razor-sharp as always, he shaped the face of the nation more than the nation ever acknowledged. While Peres always tried to satisfy everyone, this man tried only to satisfy his own truth, which became, quite late, the truth of most of us.
And yet, he has been short-changed. Perhaps these lines will set right, in however small a way, the injustice that has been done to this unacknowledged prophet, Mr. Hebrew Journalism, Uri Avnery.
As Avnery celebrates his 87th birthday, and almost the same number of years in public activism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud is discussing in Washington the ideas that Avnery raised 40 years before him. At a time when more than half the country and almost the whole world are saying “two states” Avnery has been forgotten and consigned to oblivion. If his vision comes true – an incorrigible optimist, he never lost hope that it would – at least the minister of history, if not ministers in this government, will remember who set the cornerstone.
Israeli society should have already asked forgiveness from this besmirched and ostracized man, regretted the wasted decades of blood shed needlessly only because his advice was not heeded. It is not difficult to imagine what kind of Israel we would have had had Avnery been in the influential posts that Peres held; if Netanyahu, Peres and the like had adopted Avnery’s ideas in time, and not outrageously late.
A Zionist in the deepest sense of the word, Avnery is a true Israeli patriot. He fought in 1948 and since then, he has fought with the same determination against the perpetuation of the policies of 1948, which, sadly, never ended. A former member of the fighting unit known as “Samson’s foxes”, he was the first and the bravest to stand up against the military government, the expropriation of lands in the Galilee, discrimination, the takeover by the “mechanism of darkness” – a phrase he coined for the Shin Bet security service – of democracy and became among the first to call for an end to the occupation, the establishment of two states and to meet with the leaders of the PLO, when that was considered treason. As a lone MK, his impact on the Knesset was greater than all of today’s quasi-left parties together.
As the editor of the weekly Haolam Hazeh for some 40 years, he influenced the character of the Israeli press more than any other journalist. In Basel, the Jewish state was founded, but Gordon Street in Tel Aviv, the editorial offices of Haolam Hazeh, saw the founding of its independent, anti-establishment press, fighting fearlessly against all forms of corruption from the theft of antiquities by a past defense minister to the theft of lands by the settlers, even if they appeared on the publication’s signature tabloid back cover.
An entire generation of important journalists grew up on this weekly, generations of young people read it, sometimes on the sly, lest they be caught in the iniquitous act. Everyone slandered the publication, even as they stood in line – like the one that formed every Tuesday night at the newspaper seller’s at the doorway of Cafe Kassit in Tel Aviv, and the next morning at the Knesset library – to read it.
From the Hebrew we speak, through the newspapers we read and to the prime minister who is now speaking with his voice – Avnery’s influence can hardly be overstated.
Now, the fullness of his years outshines his youth. This noble senior is writing, protesting and fighting. In the ultra-Orthodox world he would have long ago been considered a supreme leader; in the secular world he has remained as always – a lone soldier thrust onto the sidelines. He long ago won the Alternative Nobel Prize. No one mentions him as a candidate for the Israel Prize, although awarding it to Avnery would give respect to the prize rather than the prize giving respect to Avnery. A more honest and courageous society would at least now be listening to him, and then would bow its head in great respect to this wonderful man on his 87th birthday. Congratulations, Uri Avnery, to you and to us.
2. Jerusalem Post Sunday,
September 5, 2010
Free Palestine Movement plans to send plane to Gaza
The Ariel boycott announced by artists, authors, and professors provoked great commotion around here. As if a grave crime had been committed. Some argued that boycotts are wholly illegitimate and, heaven forbid, constitute a Diasporic custom. The more cautious ones argued that those who enjoy public funding – theaters and universities, for example – must not boycott other Israelis, whoever they may be.
Boycotts are a legitimate means anywhere in the world and a vital political weapon. The Americans and Indians imposed a boycott on British products when they fought against the English occupier. Anti-slavery Americans boycotted US manufacturers who used slaves. Many states boycotted South African products while the country was under racial segregation.
Elsewhere, the US boycotted the Olympics in Moscow, while the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. Labor unions and consumers also boycotted lettuce and grapes in the wake of a labor dispute between American farm workers and farmers. Boycotts are the way of the world.
And also the way of the Jews. Indeed, the Jews imposed a boycott on other Jews, known as Samaritans. This was not done because the latter were sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle, but rather, because these Samaritans believe that Mount Gerizim is a holy site, while Jerusalem is not.
The fact that the Samaritans read and believe in the Torah, while largely discounting the rest of the Bible (which is very common among current-day haredim) made no difference. The fact that they uphold the mitzvahs to a much greater extent than the average secular Jew made no difference. Just because of their political (religious) views, Orthodox Jews imposed a boycott on them, with the State of Israel doing the same. A major boycott.
Not to mention the Jewish boycott against Ford vehicles. Today, there are plenty of Fords in Israel. Yet in the 1920s, the Jews imposed a boycott on Ford. Why? It doesn’t really matter. What’s interesting about the story is that it was one of the more successful boycotts, like the one imposed against South Africa. The car manufacturer eventually shunned the anti-Semitic writings of the corporation’s founder.
Elsewhere, “Zionist” Jews in Eretz Yisrael imposed a boycott on products produced by other Jews, who employed Arab workers.
And what about boycotts imposed by those funded by the State of Israel? There are plenty of those. All Orthodox Jewish institutions, which are state-funded, nonetheless boycott Reform and Conservative Jews. Meanwhile, haredi Jews in Israel impose a boycott on stores that sell non-kosher food next to kosher food – something that haredi Jews in London would never dare do. All of this is done via government-funded bodies, often yeshivas and “Torah” institutions.
Yet when it comes to the politics of religion, Limor Livnat and Benjamin Netanyahu (who are now preaching their views about state-funded boycotts) do not utter a word.
The European Union imposed a boycott on settlement products and did not recognize them as Israeli-made, thereby charging customs fees. So what did the Israeli government, which comprised Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert, and Limor Livnat do? It agreed to cooperate with the boycott, and Ariel products are no longer recognized as Israeli-made.
Finally, the Israeli government does not recognize the Ariel College. The Higher Education Council legislation does not apply in Ariel, and when officials tried to apply it, the Council resisted. Hence, the college is recognized via a decree issued by a military governor, Jordan’s replacement at the occupied area. That is, the boycott against Ariel was started by the government, Limor Livnat as head of the Higher Education Council was a full party to it, and she continues with it. Everything was done with public funds.
So why do actor Dror Keren and author David Grossman deserve all the nonsensical condemnations? For acting like Jews and their governments had been acting for many generations? For doing what any freedom fighter who objects to discrimination and oppression would do?
4, Haaretz Thursday,
September 2, 2010
HomeCultureArts & LeisurePublished 02.09.10
Architects out of Ariel
The time has come for those planning the red-roofed facts on the ground to refuse to design any more buildings in the settlements.
After dozens of actors, theater workers, professors and writers declared their refusal to appear in the new cultural hall in Ariel or any other settlement, the time has come for architects and planners to wake up and announce publicly that they will not continue planning new buildings in the settlements.
The architects protests will be more meaningful than any other effort. Architecture is the implementer of political decisions. Architects and planners are the ones who implement in practice the occupation policy of Israeli governments and continue the conflict on the drafting table.
Unlike the scenery in a play, the facts that architects establish on the ground do not go back into the theater warehouse after the curtain falls. Their footprint is irreversible. Those who sketch the blue lines of master plans of settlements are bound more than anyone else by the red lines of conscience.
Architects have a hand in all aspects of the settlement effort in Judea and Samaria. They are the ones who prepare the master plans for establishing communities, they plan the red-roofed residential neighborhoods in Ariel and all the other communities, and shape the public facilities built there.
The new cultural hall in Ariel was also designed by an architect, as if it were just another cultural center in another community within the state of Israel.
A B’Tselem report defines Ariel as a long, narrow enclave that penetrates deep into Palestinian territory, a place that was designed as it was not for pure planning reasons, but based on political considerations the gist of which was a desire to create a buffer between Palestinian towns and interrupt the territorial continuity between them.
Architects and planners do not need B’Tselem; they know enough about analyzing maps and plans to discern on their own that this is the situation. Their voices are what should be heard.
In the architectural community, more than in any cultural area, it is common practice to have sterile separation between architecture and politics. This is a comfortable arrangement that enables many within the community to continue viewing themselves as leftist, while planning for the right.
From the ranks of architects, no public protest has been voiced against the presence of an architecture department in Ariel College, which instills in its students the art of alienation from the surroundings, in contrast to the proper principles of planning and the appropriate professional ethic.
They never spoke to them about politics, as students in the department said in an interview here seven years ago. No wonder that the surroundings seem to them like an unspoiled biblical panorama, they said, and they feel free and uninhibited there.
Culture Minister Limor Livnat’s call this week urging theater people to leave the political debate outside of cultural and artistic life is superfluous in the architectural community, where the political debate is always pushed outside professional life, although it makes its way in through the back door.
Trends and worldviews seep in from the other side of the Green Line and impact on architecture in the rest of Israel more than architects are willing to admit. A protest by established architects within the community, figures with a reputation and influence, could lead to a protest movement that will draw many, restore to architecture its confidence in itself and its values, and may also make its own contribution to the end of the conflict over the land. Architects? Protest? Peace really can happen.
5. “”We have reached an absurd situation in which students and teachers want to focus on the subject but the Education Ministry is preventing them,” a veteran civics teacher said.” [Below]
September 05, 2010
Education Ministry cuts schools’ civics budget for focus on Jewish studies
Civics classes focus on issues pertaining to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and often provoke class-wide debate.
The Education Ministry has cut most of its budget for the intensive civics classes for 11th and 12th grades, and the regular civics classes for 10th grade, and will invest the sum in the teaching of Jewish studies.
The budget cut was carried out on the order of Zvi Zameret, chair of the ministry’s Pedagogic Secretariat, who was appointed to the post early this year by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
In most cases, civics is taught in 9th grade and then in the 11th and 12th grades as part of matriculation requirements. Most students take two credits of civics in their high school careers. However, in recent years the Education Ministry has expanded the program and civics are taught also in some 10th grade classes, and the subject is offered for five credits in some of the schools that selected this option.
Funding for the program is taken from the budget of the ministry’s Kremnitzer-Shenhar Unit, which is responsible for the advancement of civics and Jewish studies in the education system.
The Education Ministry refused to provide precise details on the extent of the cuts, but Haaretz has learned that only a third of the 60 schools which met the criteria for the funding will receive it. This is contrary to previous years in which funding for civics classes was significantly higher.
The implication of the cuts will be that in many schools principals who rely on the funding to bolster civics programs will now be forced to shut down the program. “We have reached an absurd situation in which students and teachers want to focus on the subject but the Education Ministry is preventing them,” a veteran civics teacher said.
Haaretz has learned that the budget cut has allowed greater allocations of funds for Jewish studies. Support for this area of studies is one of Sa’ar’s declared goals.
The teacher said that “we have nothing against Jewish studies, but bolstering them should not come at the expense of civics.”
The decision about the cuts was relayed to schools only days ago, and has stirred significant opposition among teachers and principals. “What is more important than being a good citizen and knowing the realities in a more serious way? The decision signals a blatant message that the subject of civics is not important, and this is an obvious contradiction to earlier years,” one school principal said over the weekend.
“It is not possible to sweep under the carpet the rifts in Israeli society,” a teacher of civics in northern Israel said. “The Education Ministry’s solution is to just cease funding for these subjects.”
Civics classes offered to 10th graders concentrate on issues that pertain to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. “In our class we talk about social differences, the tension between personal rights and equality, and also about Arabs and Druze,” says a teacher in the north. “We discuss their rights but also ways in which they are incorporated into broader society. These are matters of utmost importance which are hardly taught under any other program. My pupils say that suddenly they understand the reality that surrounds them.
A teacher in the south said that “there are raucous discussions in class, but they are genuine because they touch on issues that are among the most painful in society. This is how I was taught education should be. The Education Ministry decision to cut the support says that the subject of civics is too risky for the pupils, that there should be no challenge to accepted views.”
6, Haaretz Sunday,
September 05, 2010
Foreign report: Israel has one of world’s largest ‘eavesdropping’ intel bases
The base, near Kibbutz Urim, is central to the activities of the main Israel Defense Forces signals intelligence unit, 8200, according to report in Le Monde Diplomatique.
Israel has one of the largest signals intelligence (SIGINT) bases in the world in the western Negev, Le Monde Diplomatique reported. The base, near Kibbutz Urim, is central to the activities of the main Israel Defense Forces signals intelligence unit, 8200, the report says.
According to the report, the base has 30 antennas and satellite dishes of different sizes and types, capable of eavesdropping on telephone calls and accessing the e-mail of “governments, international organizations, foreign companies, political groups and individuals.”
One of the base’s main purposes is to listen to transmissions from ships passing in the Mediterranean, the report says. The base is also the center of intelligence activity that “taps underwater communication cables, mostly in the Mediterranean, connecting Israel with Europe.”
The data collected at the Negev site is relayed for processing to a 8200 base near Herzliya, the paper says. Other reports say 8200’s base is near the Mossad headquarters, which receives the intelligence along with IDF units, the paper says.
The report quotes a former soldier in 8200 who said her job was to intercept telephone calls and e-mails in English and French.
“It was very interesting work, which centered on locating and identifying the ‘gems’ out of routine communications,” she said.
The report says that the base’s antennas can be identified if you go to the right websites. The antennas there are lined up in rows, it says.
The author of the article, Nick Hager, is a New Zealand investigative reporter specializing in intelligence and technology related stories involving signals intelligence. In 1996 he wrote a book on the role of New Zealand in international intelligence gathering, and discussed cooperation between New Zealand, the U.S., Britain, Australia and Canada.
Le Monde Diplomatique repeats assessments in Israeli and foreign media about 8200’s contribution to Israel’s intelligence capabilities.
The unit has several bases, and is described as being the main body for signals intelligence collection in Israel, according to the report and other foreign media. Besides SIGINT, which involves communications, it also deals in ELINT, collecting signals from various electronic sources, including radar.
There are also 8200 units specializing in code breaking.
The unit’s great, known successes include the interception of a telephone call between Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan during the first day of the Six-Day War, and the interception of the telephone call between Yasser Arafat and the terrorist group that hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship in the Mediterranean in 1985.
Hager compares the Urim base’s capabilities to those of the U.S. National Security Agency, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters and a similar organization in France.
“However, there is one difference,” he says at the end of the report. While those units were uncovered long ago, “the unit at Urim remained unknown until this report.”
7. [forwarded by Ofer N]
From Citizens and Residents of Israel: Please Stop Legitimizing Israeli Warmongers!
Dear official of the Heinrich Boell Foundation,
We are concerned citizens and residents of Israel. We would like to express our dismay at your cooperation with Israeli public figures and institutions which espouse nationalism and violations of human rights, on the one hand, while silencing Jewish and Israeli critics of Israel’s apartheid and occupation policies, on the other hand. One example would be the cancellation of Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s lectures in Munich and Berlin, at the “Israel, Palestine and the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War” meetings earlier this year )Dr. Finkelstein has been a driving force and a source of inspiration in the struggle for human rights and the application of International Law in Israel-Palestine.(
– Moshe Arens, former Minister of Defense during the 1st Intifada (1990-1992), a time when brutal means were applied by the IDF against civilians in the Occupied Territories. Arens is a champion of the “Greater Israel” vision.
– Dan Margalit, a racist journalist who treated MK Jamal Zhalka in a shameful manner on live TV.
– Dore Gold, aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, and a member of the war mongering American Enterprise Institute.
Germany stood alongside Israel and 16 other member countries of the UN, who voted against the adoption of the Goldstone Report, while 114 countries voted in favor. The report details alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity which may have been committed by Israel, according to International Law, during the onslaught and mass killing in Gaza in Dec. 08-Jan. 09. Even though the ratio of the killings was 100:1, the ratio of civilian casualties at least 350:1 and the ratio of houses demolished 6000:1, the Goldstone report lays out its findings in a 575 page document with a ratio of 9:1 – where only 90% of its volume is dedicated to Israeli crimes, much in favor of Israel. The report also covers alleged war crimes committed by Hamas. As Finkelstein was scheduled to speak on the Goldstone report and the assault on Gaza – we are left to conclude that your actions are indeed no better than your government’s vile attempt at silencing it.
Your proclaimed goal is promoting the welfare of fellow men and women and defending human rights for all. It is most unfortunate that you have chosen to betray these values and betray the mandate given to you. We strongly believe your actions have undermined the struggle for peace and human rights in Israel/Palestine. This makes you a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. In view of this, we shall recommend to the groups in which we are active to reconsider cooperation with you and ask our colleagues to do the same.
All those who have hitherto genuinely doubted the economic efficacy of BDS and all those who hypocritically opposed BDS because “it cannot work,” as if they have the magic formula for what may actually “work,” must find the following article quite insightful and, hopefully, transformative.
As to those who oppose BDS because “it hurts the Palestinians,” I repeat what I’ve often stated: “Do not patronize us! Feel free to oppose us, to openly defend our oppressors’ right to maintain apartheid, or to say you don’t really care; but please do not patronize us! We do not need white liberals (as most often is the case with patronizers) to preach to us, brown natives, about what is in our best interest–it smacks of colonial arrogance, not to mention indisputable falsehood!” We realize the cost we must pay for ANY resistance, as our South African comrades did, but a huge majority in Palestinian civil society has endorsed BDS, understanding well the price we must pay to attain freedom and justice and more than ready to pay it.
Anti-Israel economic boycotts are gaining speed
The sums involved are not large, but their international significance is huge. Boycotts by governments gives a boost to boycotts by non-government bodies around the world.
The entire week was marked by boycotts. It began with a few dozen theater people boycotting the new culture center in Ariel, and continued with a group of authors and artists publishing a statement of support on behalf of those theater people. Then a group of 150 lecturers from various universities announced they would not teach at Ariel College or take part in any cultural events in the territories. Naturally, all that spurred a flurry of responses, including threats of counter-sanctions.
That was all at the local level. There’s another boycott, an international one, that’s gaining momentum – an economic boycott. Last week the Chilean parliament decided to adopt the boycott of Israeli products made in the settlements, at the behest of the Palestinian Authority, which imposed a boycott on such products several months ago.
In September 2009, Norway’s finance minister announced that a major government pension fund was selling its shares in Elbit Systems because of that company’s role in building the separation fence. In March, a major Swedish investment fund said it would eschew Elbit Systems shares on the same grounds. Last month the Norwegian pension fund announced that it was selling its holdings in Africa Israel and in its subsidiary Danya Cebus because of their involvement in constructing settlements in the occupied territories.
The sums involved are not large, but their international significance is huge. Boycotts by governments gives a boost to boycotts by non-government bodies around the world.
Human-rights organizations in Europe are essentially running campaigns to boycott Israeli products. They are demonstrating at supermarkets, brandishing signs against Israeli goods. Worker organizations, with millions of members, send circulars to their people calling on them to forgo Israeli products.
I talked with farmers who say there are retail chains in Europe no longer prepared to buy Israeli products. The same is true for a chain in Washington.
The world is changing before our eyes. Five years ago the anti-Israel movement may have been marginal. Now it is growing into an economic problem.
Until now boycott organizers had been on the far left. They have a new ally: Islamic organizations that have strengthened greatly throughout Europe in the past two decades. The upshot is a red and green alliance with a significant power base. The red side has a name for championing human rights, while the green side has money. Their union is what led to the success of the Turkish flotilla.
They note that boycott is an especially effective weapon against Israel because Israel is a small country, dependent on exports and imports. They also point to the success of the economic boycott against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The anti-Israel tide rose right after Operation Cast Lead, as the world watched Israel pound Gaza with bombs on live television. No public-relations machine in the world could explain the deaths of hundreds of children, the destruction of neighborhoods and the grinding poverty afflicting a people under curfew for years. They weren’t even allowed to bring in screws to build school desks. Then came the flotilla, complete with prominent peace activists, which ended in nine deaths, adding fuel to the fire.
But underlying the anger against Israel lies disappointment. Since the establishment of the state, and before, we demanded special terms of the world. We played on their feelings of guilt, for standing idle while six million Jews were murdered.
David Ben-Gurion called us a light unto the nations and we stood tall and said, we, little David, would stand strong and righteous against the great evil Goliath.
The world appreciated that message and even, according to the foreign press, enabled us to develop the atom bomb in order to prevent a second Holocaust.
But then came the occupation, which turned us into the evil Goliath, the cruel oppressor, a darkness on the nations. And now we are paying the price of presenting ourselves as righteous and causing disappointment: boycott.
9. Haaretz Friday,
September 3, 2010
Shock, awe – and denial
IDF soldier Eden Abergil’s Facebook photos of herself with bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners recently shocked Israelis and foreigners alike. But can the public see the bigger picture?
Military service in times of both peace and war has a long tradition of producing great memorabilia. One of the tradition’s most popular “sub-genres” – photos of soldiers with POWs – came into being almost immediately after the invention of the camera. Since then, the whole genre has undergone sweeping changes. You won’t find images of World War II soldiers thumbing their nose at POWs or blowing them a kiss. The culture was different then, as was the technology. In the past, when soldiers wanted a souvenir, they needed the assistance of a military photographer, and the pose was more formal.
But now soldiers have YouTube and Facebook, and in recent years they have produced an abundance of digital and cellular manifestations of “slips of the tongue.” The most recent is credited to Eden Abergil, an ex-soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, who posted photos of herself with bound and blindfolded Palestinians in what she titled “the best years of my life.” The blog Sachim (http://sachim.tumblr.com – in Hebrew ), which monitors young, unself-conscious Israeli mainstream culture, immediately spotted the potential and posted the photographs. Within 10 hours Agergil was famous worldwide. Moreover, the world was astonished by her.
Astonishment. There was astonishment in the Israeli media, astonishment in the Western media and astonishment in the IDF Spokesman’s Office. Such astonishment, in different intensities and for different reasons, had filled the air in previous cases, too. It was palpable some time ago when a Palestinian was forced to take his violin out of the case at a checkpoint, started to play, and was filmed by a volunteer from Machsom Watch, which monitors activity at the checkpoints; it was there when a settler woman from Hebron was filmed cursing a Palestinian and calling her a “whore”; and it was there when Border Police ordered a Palestinian to slap himself as hard as he could while saying “Ana behibak mishmar hagvul” (“I love the Border Police” ) – and filmed him doing it.
Astonishment, revulsion, disgust and shame are also expressed by media people, IDF spokesmen and politicians. “On no account can we accept brutal behavior like this,” then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, stated in response to the “slut” episode, adding, “When I saw the images on television, I felt ashamed.”
Captain Barak Raz, from the IDF Spokesman’s Office, speaking in English on YouTube about the photos, said, “As an officer and commander, I am disgusted by such acts and as an IDF spokesman I can assure you that this act in no way, shape or form reflects the spirit of the IDF.”
However, astonishment is rarer with internet commenters. Most of those who referred to the Abergil episode defended her and the genre of bound-prisoner photos, for various reasons. One mentioned harsh pictures publicized by the Breaking the Silence organization (www.shovrimshtika.org – Hebrew and English ), saying that photographs taken with bound Palestinians are commonplace. The commenter wrote that the prisoners in the photos “are not in an embarrassing position. On the contrary [they are blindfolded] … This shows that they are being treated well.” He added, “What do you want? Photos from the base canteen?” Others said “animals” should be tied with chains, not only handcuffed. But in comparison to the hundreds of responses in Abergil’s defense, by patriots, nationalists and declared Zionists, another type of talkback didn’t seem much better. An example: “I looked at one photo after another and I cried. I just cried.” “What’s going on in the IDF?” asked another shocked person.
What is going on here? Without going into who’s right and who’s wrong, the IDF has been dealing in diverse ways with the routine of the occupation for more than 40 years. Or, as one commenter wrote about the Breaking the Silence photos, “And let’s say that not even a single soldier ever had his picture taken next to a dead body – would that make the occupation all right?”
Making up a story
All the reactions – astonishment, embarrassment, fury, defensiveness, Schadenfreude – are more interesting than Abergil’s photographs themselves, just one more representation of the routine friction that exists between soldiers and Palestinians in the territories. They are not the worst or ugliest reflection of that situation, perhaps, but it’s easy to be shocked about them.
Prof. Izhak Schnell, from the Department of Geography and Human Environment at Tel Aviv University, and Charles Greenbaum, professor emeritus from the Department of Psychology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, agree that the astonished response to the Facebook pictures is related to people’s denial of the “big picture.” Schnell, a social-cultural geographer, has studied the influence the occupation has on Israelis. A forthcoming collection of essays, which he co-edited with Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, an educational psychologist from Tel Aviv University, is entitled, “Impacts of Occupation on Occupiers: Lessons from the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” For his part, Greenbaum was a social and organizational psychologist in the IDF years ago, and later specialized in the treatment of at-risk children; he is also chairman of the Israeli branch of Defence for Children International. Thus, both Schnell and Greenbaum know a thing or two about denial.
“The denial mechanism is like an object whose existence people know about, but which they lock in the storeroom. It does not become part of the knowledge that they make use of in their life,” Schnell says. “In the storeroom, right-wingers place the object in a box of dehumanization and victimization, while left-wingers put it in a box of humanitarianism, kindness and shock.”
The occupation is a daily and ongoing phenomenon. Cases like Abergil are only its symptoms. Why do we react to them with such astonishment?
Schnell: “Studies have shown that in situations of a prolonged conflict which has no solution in the near future, society needs to muster all its resources in order to preserve a positive self-image. We are facing occupation, the rebellion escalates, the measures to suppress it also escalate and there is no end to it. To cope with this, two mutually complementary processes occur: The first is the dehumanization of the Palestinians (‘The Palestinians are animals’ ); the second is victimization (‘We are the victims of these animals’ ). The astonishment at YouTube clips and Facebook photos stems precisely from this place of delegitimization and victimization. When such things come up we are appalled, because they show us what we are denying.”
Greenbaum: “These photos and video clips, and our responses to them, are a reflection of a number of defense mechanisms that we activate upon seeing the occupation, which make the astonishment possible. The first mechanism is denial, which is generally a conscious action, in which we try to distance a particular reality from our consciousness, but do not always succeed. A second, deeper mechanism is rationalization, which helps us maintain a positive self-image while we do things that are not consistent with that image.
“A third mechanism is dissonance reduction: The actions are dissonant and we try to eliminate the cacophony by adducing various reasons – ‘We are doing it for the sake of security,’ or ‘The Arabs would do it worse,’ or ‘We are only doing what others do.’ Abergil herself said: ‘Everyone does it, so why am I the one being picked on?'”
Are we just pretending to be astonished?
Schnell: “I believe in the authenticity of this astonishment. We create a story for ourselves … and inject it with a bias that enables us to preserve our self-esteem. That’s what makes Abergil say: ‘I didn’t curse them, I didn’t throw anything at them, I gave them water.’ It’s exactly the same as when we are humane to cats and dogs – when we don’t curse them and don’t throw anything at them, and give them water. And we also take our picture with them. For most of us, denial allows us to preserve a moral self-image even as we suppress the animals.”
Greenberg: “Part of the astonishment, particularly in the case of Abergil, is due to the fact there is something new here. Man bites dog is news, and a soldier who posts pictures like that on Facebook is also news. The settlements, by contrast, are no longer news. They are like dog bites man. In that sense, I don’t think the astonishment is fake.”
How does right-wing astonishment and denial differ from left-wing astonishment and denial?
Schnell: “I am currently doing research, with the participation of 100 Tel Aviv students, which examines the essence of moral judgment. I see very clearly that when an almost identical dilemma is posited – in one case in a neutral context and the second time in the context of the occupation – people who ‘applied’ moral judgment to the first case went on to apply very ethnocentric principles in the Palestinian case.
“In the past I saw this mainly among people who espouse right-wing opinions, though also among those who define themselves as left-wing. They behaved and passed judgment like right-wingers and used considerations of dehumanization and victimization almost to the same degree. I would divide the left into national left and radical left. Only the radical left-wingers – and I would say this is a group that represents 10 percent of the overall population – applied identical moral judgment in both cases, in the name of values of equality among human beings. In other words, only 10 percent of Israel’s [Jewish] population is free of mechanisms of dehumanization and victimization. This too might have a more complex explanation. It’s possible that their defense mechanism is constructed like that: They feel they are the good and the just, and this is how they preserve their positive self-image.”
What part do the media play in stimulating such surprised reactions? Do they focus on the eye-catching symptoms of the occupation instead of the daily routine of checkpoints, walls and settlers?
Schnell: “It’s similar to the media’s choice to deal mainly with personal events that cause heartache. It’s like showing the empty refrigerator of a poor person once a year, instead of talking about poverty. In this case the media talk about Abergil and not about the occupation. There is almost no public discussion of any issue in the media today.”
Greenbaum: “To some extent, this can be seen as a conscious or unconscious decision by the media and the establishment. The media outlets say: Look, we are truly dealing with the attitude of soldiers toward Palestinians and giving it extensive coverage. But they do not in parallel deal with the invisible masses who suffer from this abuse every day, for years on end. In both cases the Palestinians are a landscape, so to speak. What is truly interesting and disturbing about photographs of the Abergil genre is that the Palestinian landscape is photographed in the forefront. But Abergil’s bound Palestinian is at least a landscape with some sort of presence. The settlers, the checkpoints, the attempts to push people out of their homes, the thousands of children who don’t have classrooms, the daily routine – all that is a landscape which has almost no presence.”
January 2007. A settler named Yifat Alkobi harasses a Palestinian neighbor in her home; the woman’s husband, Rajah Abu Aisha, documents the confrontation with a video camera. “Sharmuta (whore ),” Alkobi says. “You’re one yourself,” Abu Aisha’s wife replies. At one point Alkobi turns to a soldier who is standing a meter away and asks him in astonishment, “Soldier, didn’t you see what she did?” The soldier, who is outside the frame and not part of the event, does not respond. “Whore!” Alkobi yells, seemingly in a trance. “You and all your daughters, all whores. And God help you if you open this door here.”
The “whore” clip soon reached the media in Israel and abroad, and generated shockwaves. One commenter on YouTube, a woman, declared: “I support Israel’s policy … and if I were prime minister I would have long since cut off the electricity in Gaza until Gilad Shalit returns and I would drop bombs on Hamas. But … that bitch of a dosit [derogatory term for religiously observant woman] in the clip, and that soldier who stands there like some crappy golem – I would really let them have it. Not only because they are giving us a bad name, but because of the wickedness of harassing a family with children. I am right wing but not racist, I am against a Palestinian state but in favor of equal rights for all Israeli citizens. It’s just anarchy what we see in this clip.”
Greenbaum: “That talkback is an example of our ability to live with dissonance. The woman refers to something that happened to a real live person, the Palestinian woman. The suffering of the Palestinian woman is staring the commenter in the face. It shocks her in a genuine way, and also makes it possible for her to tell herself, automatically, that she herself at least is a humane person. Shutting off the power in Gaza is not concrete. Neither the commenter nor we can envision its real consequences, how it will affect families with children. They are abstract and absent, and it is easier to rationalize about them: Gaza must be punished for holding Shalit.”
In Hebron, every day is cursed. Among those who know this are the soldiers who uploaded “Palhod 50 [unit] rock the Casbah in Hebron,” a clip in which a six-man patrol does an obviously rehearsed dance to “Tik Tok,” by American artist Kesha (http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/israeli-soldiers-dance-into-trouble -on-patrol/ ). Many viewers and media outlets in Israel and abroad were charmed, the IDF Spokesman’s Unit scolded the soldiers, and the argument over the clip and when it was made reflected, once again, various mechanisms of rationalization and denial.
Does the fact that we are in the era of YouTube and Facebook oblige us to snap out of our denial – or, paradoxically, does it encourage denial because it causes us to be preoccupied with only the symptoms of the occupation?
Schnell: “On one hand, these tools draw the territories closer to Israel and Israel closer to the territories, and maybe the technology will have a cumulative effect that will crack the Israelis’ wall of denial. On the other hand, too much information is tantamount to an absence of information. The hyper-stimulation shuts us down. Generally speaking, I think technology will have a beneficial effect on people who are somewhere in the middle and are open to questions. Those on the right are immune to this kind of information. ‘Look,’ they will say, ‘another left-winger who used a camera or stole a private photo from Facebook is now out to badmouth the country.’ For them, the technology only increases the pressure on and the loathing of the left.”
Greenbaum: “Both possibilities operate in parallel: The new technological means and the online platforms increase the potential that information will reach the public and people will relate to it. If that happens, then Eden Abergil’s photos will have had a positive effect. On the other hand, if we take each such event separately and do not think about the implications or about how frequently these things happen – then the exposure only intensifies the numbness.
“We should be very cautiously optimistic about the new media. The technology of exposure is improving, but the machinery of concealment is also improving and its practitioners are also aided by technology. You can write something and falsify the writer’s identity. You can prevent people from behaving in a certain way or from saying certain things because they are under more powerful technological supervision – like in demonstrations, in which the authorities film people and later identify them in the police computer.
“It’s also paradoxical that human rights organizations have been wrestling with this dilemma for years, long before YouTube. Since World War II and the visual documentation in the hands of the Nazis and the Allies, there has been a rise in international legislation regarding human rights. On the other hand, we continue to see atrocities in every part of the world. For social psychologists, this is our challenge: to bring about not only legislation, but internalization of the norms the laws reflect.
“Documentation on YouTube or Facebook, at least when it is specific, exposes the gap between behavior and legislation. We have to work on closing that gap. There will be no change until the awareness enters the public consciousness that things can be translated into action. Sometimes that happens fast, as with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and sometimes it just never happens.”
What has changed in terms of the old image of the “beautiful soldier,” in the era of Facebook and YouTube.
Schnell: “I am 62. As a young soldier I knew I was fighting for Israel’s existence, for our home. It was not a slogan. The border was five kilometers from Tel Aviv, next to the house. When I was stationed on the border as a guard, I was guarding my home. There was a very powerful feeling of justice. On the other hand, after 1967 and more particularly after Oslo, there was a feeling that we were no longer fighting for our very existence.
“The occupation creates daily situations that become routine. In every such situation, the Israeli, whether he is a soldier or a settler, always bears arms. The Palestinian, who is without a weapon, always knows that the rule of law will stand behind the Jew and not behind him. Since these are daily encounters, occurring over decades, the Palestinian stops being a human being and becomes an object that can be maneuvered in any direction. This also creates a norm.
“In the 1970s the norm in the territories was that if two cars, one driven by a Jew and the other by a Palestinian, arrived together at an intersection, the Palestinian would give the right of way, because he knew the Jew was afraid and might shoot him. Norms like this spring up, deteriorate into abuse and become institutionalized, and the Palestinians accept them.
“The encounters between soldiers and Palestinians are also fueled by a breach of norms. In many of these encounters there is an aspect of frustration, particularly on the part of the soldiers. When a soldier is standing there with a rifle, and children or women are cursing him or throwing stones, he is helpless. The cowed Palestinian ceases to play the part of the cowed Palestinian. Rage wells up in the soldier until the outburst occurs. That is also how we understand it. The soldier is still the consensus, ‘our boy.’ The ugliness has not yet reached him.”
Schnell adds, “The ugliness is already identified with the senior officer echelon in the IDF, and to a large degree also with the military as such.”
Red line, Green Line
There are a number of recurrent motifs in the IDF Spokesman’s responses to the photographic “slips of the tongue” captured by private cameras. One is the insistence on education. Another is the emphasis on the relentless struggle the officer corps is waging against such phenomena.
In November 2004, an Israeli soldier examined a Palestinian’s violin at a checkpoint near Nablus. After the soldier ascertained that there were no explosives in the case, the Palestinian was made to play. The event was filmed by a woman from Machsom Watch and made its way to the media in Israel and worldwide, and generated astonishment. The IDF Spokesman said at the time that the IDF “is constantly utilizing educational, command and disciplinary tools in order to emphasize to the soldiers and officers at the checkpoints … the need to carry out the mission with sensitivity and thought.”
When Abergil, who had been an outstanding soldier, complained that she was abandoned by the army, the IDF Spokesman stated, in a response published on YNet, “The IDF reacts strongly against any soldier who behaves unbecomingly toward suspects and detainees. Along with punishment, the distinction between what is permitted and what is forbidden is drilled into soldiers and officers on a daily basis, in training and in the messages that are part of the orders. The IDF and its commanders are making every effort to ensure that exceptional events like this will not recur.”
Schnell: “The army displayed hypocrisy all along, which developed at the very start of the occupation. This hypocrisy is reflected in the fact that the orders remain the same, but the practices change. According to the orders, soldiers and settlers know that they are allowed to use firearms only when they are in immediate danger. What changes is the interpretation of these orders – the fact that soldiers allow themselves to open fire and inflict abuse and injury, knowing the army will conclude that only the soldier knows whether there was great danger or not.
“High-ranking officers were witnesses to many situations like this, and if the situations were not documented, they backed the soldiers. A norm of legitimacy ‘from above’ developed, and the disparity between practice and principle grew constantly wider. Yet all this time the army continues officially to preserve primary values. If a lone soldier, like Abergil, is caught, the army will punish her as though she is the rotten apple in the barrel.”
Denial also involves transforming the West Bank into a different territory, in our minds. Not only in the sense of state and military laws, but in the private sense. A soldier returns to the other side of the Green Line, and leaves behind everything he did there. Did Eden Abergil exceed this boundary and bring into Israel what she should have left on the other side?
Schnell: “I can understand a situation in which soldiers inflict extreme abuse on Palestinians and think they are leaving the abuse behind when they cross back into the area within the Green Line. It’s of course naive to think one can create a ‘there’ and a ‘here.’ The reality from there penetrates and trickles into the reality within the Green Line, together with dulled senses and a loss of sensitivity. In the case of Abergil, who thinks she is a good, humane person, I can only guess that she didn’t think she had to leave anything behind.”
When do we stop being astonished at what we ostensibly leave behind?
“It is very difficult to part with the mechanism of denial. I don’t expect that we will ever reach a state of contrition. If there is place for optimism, it will come in the wake of a political agreement that will be signed with sour faces and mistrust. Only years later, after a lengthy period of conciliation, will we be able to understand our behavior.”