Just 4 items tonight. I’ve been away from the computer for several days due to unforeseen circumstances. One result is that you have had less to read. Nice for a change, I’m sure. The other result is that the 200 or so emails in my inbox folder that I had before have accumulated to 900 emails. Since I realize that not in my wildest dreams will I be able to read even 1/8, I intend to delete almost all. If you have written me or had a question, please resend, and in the subject line please write Attention Dorothy.
I apologize in advance for any duplicates in tonight’s message.
The first of the four items is brief. The term ‘kapparot’ in the title means ‘atonement’ (for one’s sins). Before Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, religious Jews use chickens to carry their sins. Chickens swung around the head (3 times) replace the sacrificial goat of biblical times—but the practice is a left-over from tribal days. The argument below is with regard to the practice. Were Israel to be a Jewish nation-state as Bibi is demanding (knowing full well that the Palestinians will not, cannot agree to this), then such problems as the one below would probably rule the day.
The second item by Ofra Yeshua-Lyth takes the subject of a Jewish nation-state further, explaining why it would not be a good thing for either Palestinians or Jews.
Brief item 3 shows that the principle of academic freedom is not to be taken for granted in Israel.
The 4th item is longer and hard-hitting. Phillip Weiss relates (in anger) his visit to Jerusalem—not a very pleasant tour. As for Jerusalem, it is worth knowing that the biblical city was barely a pinpoint in what is now called ‘Jerusalem.’ Between the biblical city of David and the present Jerusalem, there is absolutely no resemblance in size or anything else.
One point that is not in any of the above items but comes to mind is that this evening on a TV interview, Hillary Clinton bemoaned the fate of guess who? Right. Gilad Shalit. Well I also pity his parents. But Shalit was a soldier. Who knows what if any crimes he committed in Gaza? He was captured! Why does Hillary Clinton lament his fate but not say a word about the other 10,000 or so Palestinians in Israeli jail—some of them around 12 years old? Isn’t that terrible?
September 16, 2010
Tel Aviv: Haredim, seculars in chicken slaughter feud
City council member calls on mayor to prohibit chicken slaughter in Ramat Aviv. Haredi representative slams ‘needless hate’
Over 2,000 people have signed a petition, led by Tel Aviv City Council Member Reuven Lediansky, calling on Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to prohibit the ceremonial slaughtering of chickens, as part of the ritual ceremony performed prior to Yom Kippur.
Members of the “Free Ramat Aviv” group, which has been operating in recent years to counter the Haredi takeover of the northern Tel Aviv neighborhood, plans to take whatever legal steps necessary to prevent the slaughtering, if it indeed takes place in public.
Last year the municipality prohibited the ritual in public and it was therefore moved indoors, to a banquet hall, where members of the “Free Ramat Aviv” group had already begun protesting early that morning.
The city plans on permitting the custom this year, but under certain conditions: It can only be performed adjacent to synagogues or markets, within a span of 48 hours prior to the start of the fast and under suitable sanitary conditions.
Adv. Lediansky, the council member leading the petition, wrote in his letter to the mayor that “thousands of chickens will be severely and violently abused. Religious entities plan on performing this ritual throughout the city again this year, including in residential areas, and by doing so will offend many residents of Tel Aviv.” Lediansky added that the chickens are often held in small and crowded stalls, sometimes going for days without water of food. He also quoted clause 4 of a Tel Aviv bylaw stating that “the slaughter of chickens is only permitted inside a slaughterhouse.”
Tel Aviv City Council Member Rabbi Naftali Lobert insisted the ritual is not barbaric, but rather, religious.
“This is no different than a slaughtered chicken that you consume,” he added, “Regarding the chicken’s living conditions, take it up with the chicken farmers.”
The Tel Aviv Municipality commented: “The municipality’s policy is to allow the religious community to perform the ritual for the duration of 48 hours prior to the holiday. As such, the ritual has been authorized in several locations throughout the city, provided the chickens are held inside the stores under suitable conditions and the slaughtering is performed inside the store.”
2. National Jewish State: Not a good idea for Palestinians and Jews alike
So many bags are going to be packed and unpacked all over again in the present round of Israeli Palestinian Peace talks. According to the special American envoy George Mitchell, the rivaling leaders have agreed to meet every two weeks over the coming months, with U.S. representatives attending at least some of those meetings. One may look enviously on the lavish gatherings, the next one due this Monday at the enchanted Egyptian-Bedouin Sharm El Sheikh resort. At the same time respect is due for the perfect candor sizzling out of the off-record briefings: no, nobody expects real progress to come out of the discussions, thanks for asking.
President Barack Obama made a special festive plea to Israel and the Palestinian Authority “to move beyond their differences”. However the luggage of the Israeli Prime Minister contains some two thousand year old axioms that would guarantee no such “move” will not occur in any foreseeable future.
“Moving beyond the differences” between a mini-superpower and a semi-functioning civil administration totally controlled by it is already a great challenge. Any symmetry between the two parties will be limited to the sizes of the delegations’ respective presidential suites. The good food and elegant settings might help to forget that Benjamin Netanyahu is the elected leader of the occupying might, fully backed by his relevant constituency, while Mahmoud Abbas’s presidency over an exasperated population with no citizenship or even valid travel documents is much contested.
Still, just for the case that the Palestinians should accept too many Israeli security demands and expect some gesture in return, a real effort was made by the Israeli delegation to secure the breakdown of the negotiations with null results. Benjamin Netanyahu inserted a trump card with an old-new mantra to take the center stage: “we expect you to be prepared to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”, Netanyahu reportedly told President Abbas in Washington, making headlines and rallying supporters to the customary indignant Israeli complain: what about our right for self-determination?
What most supporters will not see, and the majority of supposedly impartial observers fail to notice, is that this demand has nothing to do with self-determination; In fact it represents the opposite of this very idea. The basic right of every person to choose and declare his or her own national identity is denied to Israeli citizen and residents alike.
There is no such thing as “Israeli Nationality”. Israeli citizens are categorized according to “nationalities” that in fact represent their religion affiliations or ethnic origins. Rare challenges to this anomaly from within Israel are crushed (if raised by Arabs) or ignored (if the challengers are Jews). The state accords a privileged status to the “Jewish Nationality” which may be certified only by the authorities of the Orthodox rabbinate.
As Netanyahu, a seemingly secular, smart and sophisticated modern man, and the overwhelming majority of Israeli-Jewish citizens know only too well, the concept of the “nation state for the Jewish People” entails green light for human rights violations sanctioned by the strict, undemocratic and openly xenophobic decries of a very ancient, unreformed and outdated religion.
The Orthodox Jewish establishment that exclusively decides “who is a Jew” is far removed from the majority of the Jewish religious institutions in the US (in fact many American Jews are not even as eligible to call themselves Jewish according to the orthodoxy). But it had mastered the reverence and the full cooperation of the Israeli state and its supporters, enabling a perfect instrument for the practice of blatant discrimination against non-Jews who happen to live in the land, mainly the indigenous population.
In the National State for the Jewish People residential rights as well as property claims have their limits for the non-Jewish population. Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel are expected to accept a second-class citizenship. In the occupied territories, the discrimination becomes even more painfully obvious, while its origins are seldom noticed. The flourishing Israeli settlements, resided by Jewish nationals only, are enclaves of state-financed welfare and prosperity. Their dwellers may roam the space between the river Jordan and the sea unhindered by the military checkpoints. Their elevated status is a direct derivation of their religious affiliation. In fact, any complete foreigner landing in these regions from abroad is entitled to the lavish subsidies that make life in the occupied areas so attractive to many Israeli Jews. Provided, of course, that he or she can display the mandatory religious affiliation credentials.
It is hardly surprising that feeble calls for secularization of Israel – a mere separation of politics and religion (“Church and State”) are greeted with panic and libeled as “calls for the annihilation” of the Jewish State. Non-religious Israelis often resent the extent at which the Jewish religion interferes with their personal affairs, down to the consumption of food, leisure patterns, transport and matrimony. They dislike most aspects of the orthodox religious education system and the generous funneling of tax money to sponsor non-working religious populations. Israeli women know that law of the land does not accord them the same rights as men, and on some Jerusalem buses their place is in the back as not to interfere with the view of pious Jewish men. Still, the concept of the “National Jewish State” remains a sacred taboo.
However there is no reason in the world why a Palestinian leader should endorse this taboo and not regard it for what it really is: a basic fault of the Israeli political entity. Perhaps he should remind his Israeli interlocutors that they would certainly recoil were he to present them with a parallel demand to recognize a future Palestine as a “National Moslem State”. Advocates of a Two States Solution should think twice before accepting that one of the desired future political entities would be allowed to be fully identified with any version of an ancient religion.
If anything, Middle East pundits would be well advised to ask Israel to move towards secularity and real democracy. This will be a real step to enable “moving beyond the differences” for the parties in our long suffering region. En route they will be doing a favor to many Israeli Jews.
A disciplinary tribunal reprimanded two Ben-Gurion University students on Wednesday for taking part in a protest over May’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla and said it would suspend them if they repeated their actions.
One of the students, Ran Tzoref, said the “harsh and disproportional penalty would bar students from political activism.”
This week, the Be’er Sheva-based institution began taking disciplinary action against students involved in campus protests in violation of university regulations. On Tuesday, it brought a student who was involved in a demonstration for maintenance workers’ rights before a disciplinary panel. In all, seven students are slated to be disciplined, with potential penalties as severe as suspension from classes.
Students and faculty members have castigated the university’s decision, which they say infringes on the students’ freedom of expression. University administrators say they are enforcing the institution’s regulations.
Dr. Dani Filc, head of BGU’s Politics and Government Department, who represented the two students at yesterday’s hearing, complained that university regulations do not enable demonstrations on short notice. Moreover, he said, bringing a small number of demonstrators before a tribunal constituted discrimination.
Tzoref charged that “the decision’s main purpose seems to be to intimidate students and deter them from political activity.”
“We have no intention of violating regulations on a daily basis, but the university has sent a clear message that any small deviation from its restrictive, undemocratic regulations will lead to our suspension from classes,” he said.
He added that the students intend to continue fighting against the university’s restrictions and are considering appealing the tribunal’s decision.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel yesterday joined in the criticism of BGU’s conduct. “Ben-Gurion University has a dubious reputation for upholding students’ freedom of expression,” ACRI’s Anat Hod said. “We have appealed to the court in the past to oblige the university to allow students to demonstrate on campus, but its conditions and restrictions almost nullify the court’s ruling.”
In the last two days two guides have taken me through the geography of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, and I’m staggered. I wonder why this monstrous structure is not better known, even to people like me, who study the conflict. I wonder how it is that American reporters are not describing the racist devouring of Jerusalem every day in our newspapers and showing it every night on our television news. I wonder why our politicians, or our liberal Democratic ones anyway, are not holding angry press conferences in front of the repulsive separation wall as it lunges to separate a Palestinian village from virtually all its connections to the outside world, so as to privilege the lifestyle, and short commute, of Jews in the new development on the hilltop above them.
I wonder why Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who calls for boycotting the “pharaoh” of BP as a response to the destruction in the Gulf, cannot see the Pharaoh’s works right here and call for boycott. I wonder how it is that Ethan Bronner of the New York Times, who lives in West Jerusalem, could give lectures back home about covering the story and lament the (remote) possibility of Palestinians moving back into Arab houses in West Jerusalem when the only real movement and dispossession, eastward, is in front of his eyes; and millions of Palestinian ambitions are blighted by lack of freedom of movement and constant insults to their human rights. And believe me, if a fraction of what the Palestinians are experiencing were happening to Jews, it is all we would hear about.
But let me try to be a little more reportorial.
What I’m seeing is the result of 40 years of Jewish colonization of one of the jewels of world civilization. During the 43-year occupation, the Israelis have essentially constructed a system of spears radiating out from Jewish West Jerusalem into Palestinian East Jerusalem, and on into the West Bank. These new Jewish neighborhoods are designed to solidify Israeli control over greater Jerusalem in the event of any possible division of the place in a two-state solution, but more important, to make Jerusalem into a Jewish city by choking off the Palestinian life of this international city.
And yes, I imagine, there is a security component to the thinking too. They want to kill us, we have to keep them behind fences.
The choking-off is what I saw in my tours. As this colonization progresses, it takes more and more village land around the city and throws out more infrastructure to serve the colonists, special roads and high barbed wire fences and walls to protect the drivers and their communities. The infrastructure isolates more and more Palestinians from one another. You can tell Palestinian villages from the black water vessels dotting the rooftops—because their water is shut off for days at a time. So when Jeffrey Goldberg, pushing the Israeli side in the U.S., says that Gilo is just a neighborhood in Jerusalem, well it is actually a white stucco fortress/colony built on the outskirts of southern Jerusalem on Palestinian village land, and now requiring more of that land so as to expand, with plans to build a wall right through the neighboring village to protect the colonists from the farmers in the valley. And again, all of this on land that international law says is Palestine’s.
Homes are routinely demolished in that village facing Gilo, so as not to prevent the colony’s growth; and as you travel through Greater East Jerusalem you often see the rubble of Palestinian buildings, Palestinians who dared to try and develop their communities. The Israeli authorities come in and destroy the houses or businesses. Even as the Israelis expand a colony nearby. Rubble and palaces. In a word, systemic racism.
Maybe the most pitiable sight I saw yesterday, inside the West Bank but close to the north Jerusalem colonies of Ramot and Ramat Shlomo, is the hilltop tomb of the prophet Samuel, which is worshiped by Jews and Muslims. The tomb is both a mosque with a minaret and a Jewish place of worship. Well when we visited, busloads of Jewish schoolchildren were arriving and Israeli soldiers were in the tomb davening and Hasidic boys were descending, too. A moving sight. We must have seen 150 religious Israelis.
And meantime the Islamic portion of the tomb is dead. The door is chained, pigeons fly into the outer rooms, the Palestinian who runs a store there told us that the authorities had shut down the minaret. There are no Palestinian worshipers.
Alongside the tomb is a Palestinian village in the West Bank, but the occupation has now cut this village off from the rest of Palestinian life in the West Bank. The school serving the village—that is the photograph at the top of this post—is a one-room building. At this point in our travels, my wife walked away for a few minutes so that our Palestinian friend who lives under these conditions all the time would not see her feelings.
And this is a National Park. An Israeli National Park for the tomb of Samuel, inside Palestinian territory! Do you think the Israelis are ever going to part with this colony? Of course not. We are in the West Bank, the home of the Palestinian state, and these Jews will be here forever.
Now let me remind you that the Israeli settlement nearby, Ramat Shlomo, is the one that pissed off Joe Biden in the spring, when he blew up at Netanyahu over the latest construction orders. Biden got really angry. He said you’re endangering American lives. There was a showdown, and in the end what happened, Obama swallowed it.
Still, you can see why Biden was pissed off. This situation is monstrous and racist. If our politicians were not hogtied by the Israel lobby, they would be bringing reporters with them to the tomb of Samuel and saying, Is this right? This is happening with our tax dollars? They are making a National Park inside Palestinian territory and choking off all Palestinian access to the place! Are you crazy?
Our politicians would declare that the road to peace in Jerusalem doesn’t lead through Baghdad or Tehran– no the road is right here in Jerusalem, and it is blocked by Israeli bulldozers.
Now I mentioned a minute ago that my wife hid her feelings from our Palestinian friend, and I want to unpack this somewhat. The Palestinians live with this all the time. They have the boot stuffed down their throat at every turn. Even the educated professionals, their horizons are blocked off, their aspirations. Academics can’t travel, even into Jerusalem; and when I say, Oh they can’t sustain this, my friend responds, They have sustained it as long as I can remember. You cannot normalize this oppressive situation. The polticians talk about all the businesses thriving. Well the Palestinian people are always trying. The Palestinians are not defeatable, and they are always struggling for this and that. You see beautiful restaurants inside the occupation, lovely hotels, good book stories. But it is not a flourishing life. It is not the life that these people would make for themselves if they had any real freedom. If they were able to compete and cooperate as equals with the Israelis, you would see something entirely different.
So they live with this daily humiliation and they stuff their souls down inside their chest somewhere and one day they bring in friends from the United States and show them around, and a visitor is so overwhelmed by the oppression that she starts crying and has to walk away. Well you understand that it is a little rude to show your friend just how pitiable life here seems to us.
I don’t know how they live with this, my wife said later, and of course you ask that question. The other day we met a man who works in Sheikh Jarrah, right up from the house evictions that happened last winter, a funny Palestinian, my wife and he were joking around a lot, when I said to him, “Are they still living in the tent down there?” I meant the Palestinians who had been thrown out of their houses in Sheikh Jarrah and were living in a tent in the road.
The man’s smile disappeared. “I don’t know.“
“Well it’s just a block away.”
“I’ve never been there. It would make me sick. And then I would have to walk away and there would be nothing I could do about it. So I’ve never seen it.”
Imagine feeling so helpless, and feeling that powerless over your own fate and the life of your society that you avoid knowledge of the fierce conditions. Jews were like this during the advance of anti-Semitism in eastern European cities, they tried to ignore it.
And that’s why my wife walked away, she didn’t want to seem a complete tourist of someone else’s suffering.
My rage at this situation is directed at my own community, American Jews, who have allowed this to develop. I can think of only a few responses to Jerusalem that I can honor. Earlier this year Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights visited Jerusalem and came back and gave speeches about the colonization and said the two-state solution is finished. Jeff Halper came to the States more recently and described the endless process of house demolition. And Charney Bromberg came back and told a Columbia University audience that this situation reminds him of apartheid.
These are exceptional statements. Liberal Zionists generally can’t face this reality; and our politicians are mute and even the fairly-good piece that Isabel Kershner did on the colonization of East Jerusalem a couple of months back in the Times didn’t convey the monstrous reality. No, liberal Zionsts are are concerned with preserving Israel against the “demographic threat”– a possible Palestinian majority. When you see what Jewish control has meant for non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem, that seems a particularly filthy euphemism.