Dear Friends,

Just 3 items below—not because there aren’t any more (there may very well be) but because we had an electricity outage for several hours, this time due to a tractor cutting an electric wire right in front of our house.  The municipality has decided to redo all the streets in Nof Yam, the community in which we live.  It’s our street’s turn.  The change will make this rural street full of trees, but no sidewalks, modern with sidewalks, with electricity underground (apparently some of it was already there) and probably one way, as it is too narrow for 2-way traffic.  Most of the residents on the street did not want to have the change, but we were informed by the mayor that the street belongs to the municipality, not to us, so we have no choice, even though we will have to pay for it.  Anyhow, apparently the workers were not informed that there were electric wires where they were working digging up the road.  Suddenly there was a large explosion and no electricity.  The electric company did come out eventually, after we kept phoning and telling about the repeated explosions.  And eventually all was fixed and the electricity returned.  But that left me little time to read on-line.

The three items below are all from Haaretz.  I did not find anything in either Ynet or the Jerusalem Post that I thought interesting.

Item 1 is an editorial that tells the government to stop killing innocent citizens (with reference to the 4 Palestinians who were killed this week).  It’s sound advice, but advice that should not have had to be given.  Why indeed is Israel killing innocents?

Item 2, from a blog Strenger than Fiction, is about an Israeli movie, “The Gatekeepers,” in which past heads of the Israeli secret service (Shin Bet) speak their opinions about the occupation.  Carl Strenger’s critique gives you the details about the film.  My only comment is with respect to his remark at the end that “that a country capable of producing soul-searching with such depth and beauty may yet harness the creative energies of its best and brightest for a better future.”  His error is that it is not Israel that produced this film, but an individual who happens to be Israeli.  From that standpoint, the film says nothing about a brighter future for Israel and Israelis.

The third item is very touching—it is about 2 diaries from the Warsaw ghetto.  But in addition to bringing the horror of that period to my mind, it also made me think of Israel’s attack on the refugee camp in Jenin in 2002.  The attack was reprisal for a devastating suicide bombing at the Park hotel in Netanya at a Passover Seder.  But the bomber was not from Jenin.  Why PM Ariel Sharon decided to attack Jenin, I don’t know.  But I can only imagine that the people there felt very much the same as the two people whose diaries tell something of the uprising in the ghetto.  I was in Jenin a week after the IOF pulled out, saw the devastation left by 7 days of constant bombing and demolitions, not to mention the fact that all males from 17 and up were taken and separated from their families, who had no idea where the men had been taken to.  War is ugly.  World War II was horrific.  But so was the attack on Jenin, as were Israel’s later attacks on Gaza—and the civilians caught in such situations have much in common, be they Jews or Muslims or other.

1 Haaretz Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stop killing innocent citizens

The consecutive incidents in which Palestinians were killed in recent days give the feeling that Palestinian blood may be shed with impunity.

Haaretz Editorial | Jan.17, 2013

The mother of Palestinian youth Sameer Awad mourns during his funeral in the West Bank village of Budrus near Ramallah January 15, 2013. Photo by Reuters

Samir Ahmed Awad, 16, of the West Bank village of Budrus, was killed by IDF soldiers. So was Uday Darwish, 21, of Dura and Anwar al-Mamluk, 21, of Gaza.

None of them was a “ticking bomb.” Their crime was attempting to cross the separation fence near Ramallah, or the one enclosing the Gaza Strip.

It is not clear yet how Mustafa Abu Jarad, 21, of Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip, was killed. The IDF denies its soldiers killed him, while the Palestinians say he was shot by soldiers.

Four Palestinians killed in five days. In some of the cases the IDF is looking into the firing circumstances, as the customary IDF spokesman’s response goes.

But in one case at least – the incident in which Awad was killed – preliminary evidence shows the soldiers did not follow procedures, failed to use crowd control means, which were not at their disposal, and apparently did not warn the youth.
The basic problem emerging from these cases is not procedural. The problem is in soldiers and commanders’ overly-free interpretation regarding the circumstances permitting killing Palestinian civilians who only approach the fence, or even try to cross it, without endangering the lives of Israeli soldiers or civilians.

A few weeks ago soldiers who were attacked with stones decided not to respond with fire. Other soldiers, it appears, opt for the lethal response.

The consecutive incidents in which Palestinians were killed in recent days give the feeling that Palestinian blood may be shed with impunity.

The IDF does not lack advanced means and abundant experience in discerning between a person intent on carrying out an act of terror and one trying his luck in landing – illegally – a day’s work in Israel.

When this distinction blurs, the margin for soldiers’ interpretation on the ground widens. The rules of engagement become, at best, a retroactive excuse and at worst – a dead letter.

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz must not only probe and bring to justice the guilty parties in the killing, but also take responsibility for putting an immediate end to the killing of innocent civilians.


2 Strenger than Fiction by Carlo Strenger

Keepers at the gates of our democracy

The Oscar-nominated film ‘The Gatekeepers’ is stirring and soul-shaking. It’s also a testimony to the thriving democracy we could one day become.

By Carlo Strenger | Jan.16, 2013
The Israeli film ‘The Gatekeepers.’ Photo by Toldot Yisrael

These days are quite depressing politically: The elections don’t promise any change, and the campaign primarily shows how unwilling most of Israel’s current political leaders are to tackle the country’s great existential questions. Instead, they focus on addressing their pet issues. But last Saturday I had an experience that proved to me that, behind the tired political system, Israel’s democracy is alive, well and indeed kicking.

My wife and I went to see Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers,” nominated for best documentary in this year’s Oscar competition. The experience was eerie: The film didn’t uncover anything we didn’t know. And yet we sat spellbound, at times literally on the edge of our seats, both of us deeply shaken.

“The Gatekeepers” so far has clocked a 100% positive rating on movie critic site Rotten Tomatoes, where critics have characterized it as a harrowing, eye-opening masterpiece.

The film’s narrative backbone involves a series of interviews with six chiefs of the Shin Bet, the internal security agency that safeguards Israel’s physical safety. They include Avraham Shalom, who worked there in the late 70s, through Yaakov Peri, currently running for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party; Carmi Gillon, who led the Shin Bet at the time of the murder of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; Ami Ayalon, former commander of Israel’s navy; and Yuval Diskin, whose tenure ended a year ago.

These men are not soft-headed idealists. They know Palestinian society better than most. Each of them has authorized many targeted killings, some of them very high profile, like Yihye Ayash, the so-called engineer, and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader. They share their pain and frustration when they failed in preventing terror attacks, and their pride when they succeeded in what Gilon called “an elegant” operation.

The film does not make use of melodrama. Its aesthetics are subdued and precise. And none of its protagonists is given to over emotionality. But as the film progresses, you realize that these hard-headed men carry both deep pain in their chests and a profound conviction in their hearts that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a catastrophe. With the exception of Dichter, all of these men, who served Israel’s security for most of their lives, have come to the same conclusion: Israel’s occupation is eating away at the country’s political and moral substance.

One of the film’s high points is when Dror Moreh talks to Yuval Diskin about Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the Orthodox chemistry professor, philosopher, religious thinker and renaissance man who, since 1967, warned that the occupation would be Israel’s end. Leibowitz had an incredible influence on my generation of intellectuals, but is today considered anathema because of how harshly he criticized Israel’s policies, and for his role as the prophet of wrath who left no taboo unturned. But Diskin doesn’t flinch from associating himself with Leibowitz, saying dryly: “Leibowitz was right.”

These heads of the Shin Bet are willing to come forward and state their position loud and clear. But they are by no means unique: I speak to many members of Israel’s security establishment who cannot be quoted, and most of them have come to the same conclusion as protagonists in “The Gatekeepers.” And they are deeply concerned by Netanyahu’s apocalyptic world view. Those who can speak out publicly, like Yuval Diskin and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, do so time and again. And Ami Ayalon, formerly a fierce military leader and then the respected Shin Bet chief has spent the last 12 years of his life leading initiatives for peace including Blue-White future, an organization pushing for a two-state solution (full disclosure: I’m one of the signatories).
“The Gatekeepers” is a wake-up call. I wish it were mandatory for all Israelis to watch it, and I hope that some of Israel’s well-meaning right-wing friends, who keep telling the peace camp that we are unrealistic at best or self-hating Jews at worst, will take the trouble to find out how utterly wrongheaded their position is.
They might want to ponder that while Israel’s politicians on the right keep frightening the electorate and speaking about the impossibility of a political process with the Palestinians, the people who were actually responsible for Israelis’ security think otherwise. Their years of serving the country faithfully have made them acutely aware of the terrible moral and political price of the occupation, and they all have come to the same conclusion: End the occupation. Now!
“The Gatekeepers” is, first and foremost, a masterpiece of filmmaking. But it is also a testimony to Israel’s democracy. While these former Shin Bet chiefs do not divulge any secrets, it is no small matter that a documentary can be made and shown in which leading figures of the security establishment criticize the policies of most of Israel’s governments of the last 35 years. They do so mercilessly, declaring without any ambiguity that Israel’s citizens have been misled for decades; that the occupation does not only fail to protect Israel, it weakens it on all fronts.

We progressives, for whom Israel’s liberal character and democratic future is the number one priority, will lose these elections. Netanyahu, considered a lost case by the world’s political leaders from Obama to Merkel, will be Israel’s next prime minister, and he will drive Israel into even deeper isolation. But both Israel’s friends and its critics should watch “The Gatekeepers. They will conclude that a country capable of producing soul-searching with such depth and beauty may yet harness the creative energies of its best and brightest for a better future.


3 Haaretz Thursday, January 17, 2013

For first time, rare Warsaw Ghetto Uprising diaries unveiled
In one diary, a 37-year-old lawyer described ghetto life and the fight against the Nazis; second diary by an anonymous woman, previously read only by researchers; ceremony attended by President Peres, 70 years after the uprising

By Ofer Aderet | Jan.17, 2013
A street in Warsaw destroyed during the failed 1944 uprising against Nazi occupiers. Photo by Reuters

A rare journal written by an unknown Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto during the uprising there was unveiled Thursday morning at a ceremony at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in the presence of President Shimon Peres. In the diary, the writer, a 37-year-old Jewish lawyer, describes life in the ghetto, the Jewish underground fighters who were active there and his march to deportation.

The journal is 38 pages long and written in Polish. It was also released Thursday on the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum website, 70 years after the first phase of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – “The January Revolt” – which constituted the start of the resistance to the Nazi regime. During the course of the deportation from the ghetto, armed fighters engaged German soldiers in brutal close-quarters combat. In the struggle, Jews who were being led in convoys to a gathering point succeeded in escaping.

The author of the journal, some of whose family members were murdered in the Holocaust, was later sent to the Trawniki concentration camp. His fate remains unknown.

He wrote in his journal, “A volley of shots. The bullets hit the paving stones in the street. The ghetto fighters are struggling in a battle of a few versus many. On the roof an automatic rifle is rattling. The fighter will exact a high price in return for his life. Beside him are small flags – a red and white Polish flag and a blue and white Zionist flag.

“Tomorrow at this time everything will already be over. I am calculating coldly. Now it is 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon. I am looking at the clear April sky. They will take us to Treblinka tonight. When the dawn breaks I will no longer be alive. The calculation is simple – for the last time I am seeing the blue sky between the clouds.”

“April 19, 1943,” he wrote at another point in the diary. “In a week’s time I will be 37. Nu, fine, what difference does that make? A new group of people has been taken to the Umschlagplatz [death camp]. Among them are friends, acquaintances, people who managed to survive in the ghetto, who they haven’t yet managed to eliminate. They are telling me: Your mother has been shot. I am not shocked. I am beginning to realize that she suffered from July to April, nine months. She survived the death of her daughter, the death of her husband, the necessity of hiding – in stinking, suffocating lairs. In vain she suffered the torture of the constant fear. Suddenly I understand that I was not sensitive enough towards her, that the ghetto deprived me of tenderness and sensitivity, that cruelty reigned over everything and I absorbed it into myself like Roentgen rays.”

“In one of the halls lies the corpse of a woman who was shot yesterday evening by a Ukrainian,” he wrote. “He shot her when she approached the window, because it is forbidden to get close to the windows. Near the woman’s body a small child of about four years old is crawling. He touches his mother’s lifeless body, he pulls her hair. Her motionless, hard body amuses him. He pushes a finger into her half-open mouth, touches her glazed eyes that do not see. And suddenly he begins to cry, a pitiful wail.”
The diary came to the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in the 1970s as part of the Adolf Abraham Berman Collection. The collection was compiled and given to the museum by Adolf Berman – a resistance activist who together with his wife, Batya Temkin-Berman, collected letters, memoirs and diaries during the war and initiated extensive documentation activity.
He kept the collection after the war until he arrived in Israel in the 1970s and gave the documents to the museum. There they remained in the archives for many years until they were translated and deciphered more recently.

At the ceremony held at the museum on Thursday morning, extracts were also read aloud from another diary written by another fighter, an unknown woman, who was a member of the resistance group of the fighting Jewish organization Eyal or the Revisionist underground Etzi, which were active in the area where the diary was found. This diary, too, lay untouched in the Berman Collection until five years ago, when it was given attention and published in research journals and the professional literature on the ghetto revolts. It was given to President Peres as a gift at the ceremony.

In her dairy, the fighter writes of her brave colleagues’ testimony about building the bunkers, the organization of the forces and the struggle in the wake of the January Revolt: “Evening, Wednesday, April 28, 1943. For the moment the bombing and the shooting have stopped and the danger lying in wait for us has turned in another direction. People are bathing, handing out coffee, cooking. Everything is being done quietly, in silence. All the people and the guards are working efficiently, everything is done in accordance with the instructions from the head of the bunker. Ten days of fighting with our bloodthirsty enemy, who intends to destroy us altogether. He began the fighting with grenades and tanks and ended with setting houses on fire. We must survive, we hope we will survive. We are fighting for justice and for the right to live.”

Two of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters who survived the Holocaust and are still alive, Havka Foleman-Raban and Sincha Rotem (Kajik), attended the ceremony. President Peres turned to them and said: “To sit among you is like sitting between a dream and a legend. It’s difficult to grasp the courage you possess. I can’t comprehend the depth of Nazi atrocities, against the heroism of the Warsaw ghetto fighters.”

Foleman-Raban, who was in charge of communications during the uprising in the ghetto, said: “For me, to be in the land of Israel is a dream. When I was a fighter in the ghetto in Warsaw, when I was captured and detained in German prison, when I was transferred to the camps, during the death march and when facing the horrors… We never stopped dreaming of the land of Israel. We prayed we will arrive to Israel, establish a kibbutz and create new life.” 

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