Before I run through the 5 items below, I have to tell you about an incident yesterday. Actually, the day as a whole was lovely. Spouse, I, and two acquaintances from abroad went to spend the day in the West Bank, mostly in the village of Qira. That’s right. Lina’s village (for those of you who know who Lina is; for those of you who don’t, she’s a Palestinian child who today is 8 years old, but was only 3 years old when she had a kidney transplant. But that’s another story).
In short, Lina’s family as many Palestinian villagers now were busy yesterday harvesting olives. We joined them and also 3 German girls who had come for that purpose. For anyone who has not experienced this, it’s difficult in just a few words to explain. The work is not easy, but there is so much warmth and love and friendship among the family and friends while working that in the long run it’s a delightful experience.
One incident spoiled the day for me, though. As we left the village to return to road 5 on our way to Ariel to show our friends from abroad what a colony looks like, we came upon 3 soldiers standing on three sides (north, west, and east) with their rifles pointed at a villager who was probably in his 30s and his young 6 or 7 year old son, and their donkey carrying what appeared to be a bag of olives picked that day.
The scene would have been ludicrous had it not been real. I, who was driving, slammed on the brakes and stopped the car and asked the soldiers what they were doing. One came over and said that the fellow and his son had been caught in a military area. They were being held until the officer in charge came to tell them what to do. Another one of the soldiers, the one apparently in charge, demanded to see our IDs. He was decidedly unfriendly. My spouse and I showed them our IDs, at which point I recalled that our friends had told me before we left that they’d forgotten their passports at their lodgings.
I was so grateful that the soldier did not ask for their IDs that I pulled out and left the poor man and his son and their donkey standing there. Later it occurred to me that I could have driven off out of sight, then stopped, gotten out, and let my spouse take our friends for the tour of Ariel while I went back to try to release the Palestinians that were being held (they looked so helpless). But I didn’t. . I won’t make that mistake again. But even once was too much. Hope that the detained were released. I hope. But I don’t know, and that bothers me.
Two days ago I asked you to phone the police to demand the release of a woman who had tried to stop the demolition of an Arab village (unrecognized) in Israel (the village was demolished for the 6th time in a month or so. Found out tonight that she’d been released, though not unconditionally. She is not allowed to return to the village for the next 10 days. She plans to appeal. To those of you who phoned or tried to, Thanks.
Now to the items below. There are 5. There were many more that I had thought I’d send, but don’t want to overload you.
The first 2 deal with the about-to-become law loyalty oath. Tonight spouse and I joined the marchers and sign carriers and walked through Tel Aviv chanting our slogans in Hebrew and Arabic. Will the protest make any difference? I very much doubt it, but one has to try. The only Israeli newspaper of the 3 main ones mentioned the number of protestors– apparently about 6,000. Sounds about right. The government has already passed these bills, but needs the Knesset vote to make them into law. It will. But Israel in making this law is helping to cut off the branch on which it sits, as the 2nd item shows. It is an opinion piece on the issue, and its title gives away the author’s feelings about the law “Keep Dreaming: An oath worthy of Orwell.”
Items 3 and 4 also deal with a single subject: Israel’s ok to construct additions to the settlements, particularly ones in East Jerusalem. The Independent advises that leaders of a large number of countries oppose the act, but item 4 says that Israel is laughing in their faces.
Item 5 is about yesterday’s demonstration in Bil’in. Meanwhile, while that demonstration took place, in other parts of the West Bank villagers found when they started out to harvest their olives that they not only had no olives but also no trees. Colonists had come and cut them down and then burned them to the ground! One family apparently lost some 45 trees, another family 50 trees. Nice people these colonists and also the soldiers who would hold their rifles on a father and his kid—farmers coming home tired after a hard day’s work.
1. Jerusalem Post,
October 16, 2010
Photo by: Ben Hartman
Thousands in Tel Aviv march to protest loyalty oath
Organizers say demonstration against “Liebermanism, the threats of transfer, and the legislative initiatives of the past week.”
Thousands marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday, to protest a recently passed citizenship amendment commonly referred to as the loyalty oath. Protesters also voiced their opposition to what they described as a rising tide of fascism in Israel, as well as the growing legitimization of calls to transfer Arabs out of Israel.
Entitled “Together against Racism – Arab and Jewish march for democracy”, the march from Gan Meir park to the Defense Ministry headquarters brought together demonstrators from the left-wing Hadash and Meretz parties, members of a number of NGOs and activists groups, and thousands of unaffiliated protesters.
Organizers said the protest march was called to “protest the murky tide of Liebermanism, the threats of transfer, and the legislative initiatives of the past week and those planned for the coming months.”
The group also said it is protesting “the dangerous retreat of Israeli democracy”
The controversial amendment was approved by the Israel cabinet on Sunday, October 10th by a vote of 22 to 8. Under the amendment, non-Jews trying to become citizens must pledge loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The 8 opposing votes included five ministers from the Labor party and three from the Likud.
Many protesters, including Hadash Party Chairman Dov Henin spoke about what they said is the mainstreaming of calls to transfer Arabs from Israel proper, mentioning a police and prison service exercise earlier in October as evidence.
Speaking outside the Defense Ministry, Henin said “transfer is no longer something that only the extreme parties talk about, or that is only on the extreme margins,” adding that “we must fight this and that is one of the reasons we are here today.”
On October 7th, Israel Radio reported that security forces held a large-scale exercise in the north of Israel the day before partly to prepare for a scenario in which Israeli Arab riots break out in the wake of a population exchange agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
In response to controversy that greeted publication of the exercise, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the exercise “was to train officers for an imaginary incident dealing with demonstrations, and does not indicate any sort of standing or intentioned policies.”
Israeli “Elka Kaye” (not her real name), was at the march on Saturday, and said it brought up memories of her past protesting fascism in the UK, before she immigrated to Israel in the 1960s.
“I remember standing in Trafalgar Square (in London) to protest fascism 40 years ago. And now here I am doing the same in Israel,” Kaye said, adding that watching what is happening in Israel gives her “a terrible, sad feeling, I’m crying on the inside.”
George Orwell defined ‘doublethink’ as ‘simultaneously holding two opinions which cancel out…’ Its articulation uses a vocabulary ‘deliberately constructed for political purposes.’
The plot thickens. In our last episode of “As the Jewish World Turns,” the once sacrosanct maxim “we are one” was being attacked by Knesset members promoting legislation on conversion that threatened to alienate vast numbers of Jews around the world. With tension over the issue reaching a crescendo, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu orchestrated a dramatic end-of-season cliffhanger by keeping the proposed law from coming to a vote until the Knesset recessed for the summer – leaving a large audience of avid Israel-watchers waiting breathlessly for the show’s next installment.
This week the drama resumed with an unexpected twist, boosting Israel’s media rating once again and assuring our beleaguered nation yet another chance to be crowned “the country the world most loves to hate.”
Even as Jewish leaders were still struggling to defuse this spring’s “who is a Jew?” crisis, the prime minister overloaded them a new one by raising the no less complex issue of “what is a Jewish state?”
He did this by advancing legislation requiring non- Jews wishing to become citizens to declare their loyalty to Israel “as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Sorry, but this time the director has lost me entirely.
ONE, THE proposal is oxymoronic, not to mention duplicitous. Equality is fundamental to democracy, yet this declaration, purportedly intended to uphold that very value, tramples on it instead. Only non-Jews would be required to pledge their allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, thereby instantly turning it into a nondemocratic one. Doublespeak at its finest. Words, in the words of George Orwell, “deliberately constructed for political purposes.”
Two, it’s not sensible. Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
I was one of the authors of the Jerusalem Program adopted by the World Zionist Organization in 2004 that calls for “strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state.”
But that same manifesto also calls for making of that state “an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character… rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.”
There needn’t be a disconnect between the two phrases, but this week the cabinet created one.
In this newly proposed loyalty oath, does “Jewish state” refer to a political entity inherently belonging to the Jewish people – in which case we are back to grappling with the question of who is a Jew, not to mention ignoring the Palestinians’ legitimate claims to portions of the land. Or perhaps it refers to a state based on Jewish values, or maybe Jewish law? Is it a country in which Bible is history, or metaphor? Maybe it means a state which guarantees a Jewish majority – leaving open the question of how a growing non-Jewish minority might eventually have to be dispensed with.
All these options are open to innumerable interpretations and multiple manifestations. As a non-Jew I certainly wouldn’t pledge allegiance to a Jewish state until I knew just what “they” had in mind. I probably wouldn’t do it then either, even if I’d had every intention of being a loyal citizen. There are some things that are just too hard to say. For God’s sake, Jews in America are incensed by morning prayers in public schools even when their own children are excused from attending them. And how many Jews would be prepared to live anywhere where they had to swear loyalty to Christendom, even if guaranteed full equality and religious freedom?
Three, it’s not wise. Passage of this amendment to the Citizenship Law is a gratuitous and blatant provocation. And one with no positive practical implications. Any idea of how many non-Jews actually become naturalized citizens each year? A maximum of 200 to 250, primarily after marrying into the families of Arab citizens. Clearly our prime minister and foreign minister don’t really fear that their disloyalty would topple the Jewish state. The animosity and sense of estrangement that their initiative will breed at home, and the legitimacy it will lend to our detractors abroad, constitute a far greater danger to our survival.
BUT PERHAPS I am being overly sensitive, a bleedingheart liberal concerned about defending everyone else’s rights but not his own. So I decided to investigate the matter to gain a little perspective and accessed the oaths required of naturalized citizens in a dozen countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Jamaica, the Philippines, Singapore, Norway and Romania. Turns out they have a number of things in common.
None of them require fidelity to a Jewish state. That’s not the surprising part. What I didn’t expect to discover, however, is that neither do any of them require faithfulness to any other religious, ethnic or social group.
Nor do any of them define their countries in such terms.
What naturalized citizens in these places are required to do is declare their commitment to the state and its laws, and – in some cases – the monarchy. Some also require an undertaking to fulfill one’s duties and obligations, or to abide by the constitution and uphold the values embodied therein – though those values are never defined more specifically than by the terms “democracy” and “human rights.”
Furthermore, none of these countries include in their process of naturalization any phrase that in any way would distinguish between, cause discomfort to or create dissonance for applicants of different ethnic, religious or national origins.
Of course, another thing these countries have in common is that no one is challenging their legitimacy. While not a minor point, and certainly not one to be dismissed cavalierly, the way to counter this vile campaign against our very right to exist is not by providing our adversaries with fuel for their fires. There is a large discerning and undecided public out there – including many thousands of our own youngsters – whose opinions matter to us and who just might be swayed against us by our adoption of a law easily interpreted as racist or undemocratic.
I am also concerned about losing even some of our loyal sponsors with the direction in which things are moving. As one problematic episode after another airs, they are becoming increasingly hesitant about backing our product, and finding it progressively more difficult to stand up for our cause.
For all these reasons, it is urgent that we rally against the passage of this legislation. Though approved by the cabinet it has yet to be approved by the Knesset.
It is not too late to remind Binyamin Netanyahu that if over the last six decades we had invested more in assuring the equality of our minorities and the development of a society that engendered the allegiance of all its citizens, we would have a far more authentically Jewish state than we do at present, and one in which we would not have to worry about legislating loyalty. As he found a way to hold off one impending crisis last spring, perhaps our prime minister can still be persuaded to find a way to hold off the one that is now looming.
In the meantime, please stay tuned in. Anything could happen in the next episode of “As the Jewish World Turns,” and rumors have it that there might even be a role opening up for you.
The writer is the vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed here are his own.
Israel yesterday cast a new shadow over prospects for a resumption of direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians when it disclosed fresh plans for 230 housing units in Arab East Jerusalem.
The move in effect ends an undeclared freeze on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. The plans are the most significant of their kind in the city since the diplomatic row that blew up in March over approval of a major planned expansion of the Jewish Ramat Shlomo settlement during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.
It comes as Washington is trying to persuade the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend his moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank in order to bring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas back into direct talks. The moratorium officially ended last month.
East Jerusalem was never officially included in that moratorium because Israel regards it as its own territory since it occupied it in the 1967 Six Day War. The international community, by contrast, has never accepted Israel’s subsequent unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.
But Mr Netanyahu had restrained settlement building in East Jerusalem since the larger plan for 1,200 units in Ramat Shlomo infuriated the Obama administration and seriously embarrassed Mr Biden on his goodwill mission to Israel. The latest plan for new units in the Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot settlements was among others announced across Israel itself by the Housing Ministry.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said: “This decision shows the position of the Israeli prime minister has not changed. He continues to take every possible step to prevent the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. By tendering in the occupied Palestinian territory, Netanyahu has again demonstrated why there are no negotiations today.”
The new construction tenders came to light after a week in which Mr Netanyahu has already been seen as tacking to the right, for example by throwing his weight behind the highly contentious proposal of his hard-line nationalist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to require newly naturalised non-Jewish Israelis to pledge their loyalty to the country as “a Jewish state”.
Western diplomats have expressed uncertainty over whether this was for his own ideological reasons or as a means of securing support from his coalition’s right-wing flank before a possible agreement with the US to resume the West Bank settlement moratorium. Mr Abbas has insisted he will not re-enter direct talks without the moratorium being restored.
The US is widely believed to have made a substantial offer to Mr Netanyahu in return for a resumption of the moratorium – in effect a partial freeze. This is thought to include extra military hardware and possibly a measure of backing for Israel’s determination to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley after the formation of any Palestinian state.
There have been unconfirmed Israeli media reports that Israel discussed the latest housing plans with Washington and had reduced the numbers of planned units in an effort to meet US sensitivities.
Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the US embassy in Tel Aviv, said yesterday: “We are trying to discourage both sides from actions which appear to, or do, prejudge final status issues.”
Mr Hoyer said such issues included the future of East Jerusalem and added: “We have been very clear about this.”
Mr Netanyahu said this week he would be prepared to seek an extension of the moratorium if the Palestinians agreed to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”.
But Mr Abbas was quoted by Haaretz yesterday as telling Knesset members from the leftist Arab-Jewish party Hadash that would not happen.
October 16, 2010
Ministers unfazed by global condemnation
Senior government member says statements issued against Israeli decision to approve new homes in Jerusalem neighborhoods ‘not serious’
Government ministers on Saturday appeared unfazed by the global condemnation of an Israeli decision to approve building plans for 240 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Givat Ze’ev and Ramot, located beyond the Green Line.
“The issued statements of condemnation were not serious,” said a senior minister. “What counts is what the Americans say. Those who remember what happened with Joe Biden understand that what they said was not a condemnation. All they are saying is that they’re disappointed. The Olmert government sometimes faced condemnations which were much more serious.”
Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias told Ynet on Saturday evening that “all governments built in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods, both the right-wing and the left-wing ones, including the previous government which negotiated with Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas). Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, no timing is right.”
Atias clarified that the United States had been informed in advance about the plan to issue the east Jerusalem bids. According to the Shas minister, “We have a lot of respect for the American administration. The number of bids issued conveys the message that we are not looking to halt the process. We must remember that bids have not been issued in Jerusalem for 10 months, although Jerusalem was not included in the freeze.”
The housing minister said the Palestinian president was not interested in advancing the peace process. “Abu Mazen is hanging on to straw in order not to return to the talks,” Atias stated. “The negotiations are in the interest of both sides. In the meantime, the only one taking steps and not causing difficulties is Israel.
“It’s clear to everyone that the places in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods will remain, under any future agreement, in Israel’s hands. The Palestinians know it too. We must not get the Palestinians and the world used to having Jerusalem under a freeze, even in a passive acceptance. This is Israel’s capital and a matter of consensus to the Israeli public.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office said Saturday evening that Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Abbas, which was scheduled to take place in Paris on October 21, has been canceled following consultations.
European leaders are now trying to organize a summit between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the end of next month in Barcelona.
5. JUST ANOTHER FUTILE FRIDAY IN BIL’IN?
Business as usual? Weekly ritual? Sporting event? A bit of all three, but more than that.
Nobody injured, nobody killed, this week. Mercifully. No ground lost or gained, but nearly 100 people walking, talking, shouting singing in the sun, behind a Palestinian flag towards a boring line of metal fence – no Great Wall of Israel, just a stupid obstacle to little things like justice, peace and people’s land
What’s the message of this march? Get out, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Free our prisoners, and one in particular this week. Abdullah Abu Ramah was jailed for a year three days ago. His daughter is somewhere in the crowd, with a picture of her dad. Abdullah in prison, Bassem dead…
And me, from Wales, UK, What am I doing? And the other internationals who make up a third of this week’s ritual march. And the Israelis? They’re here too, on both sides of the fence. I can only speak for myself. In1956, in Lebanon, a few months before the Suez war, I met a young Palestinian refugee. We ate up a month’s meat ration in his family’s one-room refugee-camp house, and he gave me a book called ‘Palestine is our Business.’ True enough, I thought when I read it, then forgot it for nearly 50 years…
The last time I got a whiff of teargas was in Paris, 1968 and the formula seems to have stayed the same. That also goes for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, here, there and everywhere. Our old terrace house in Swansea looks over the sea. Too cold for me, but my wife, who still swims in it, says ‘Why dont you swim where it’s warm? Red Sea, the world is my oyster, Gaza perhaps.
From Bil’in, the sea is a mirage on pale dry earth and rock, a dusty track between the olive trees, that leads on and up to…a stupid metal fence, with a yellow gate. Presumed locked. A man with a Palestinian flag goes up to and shouts to the soldiers in Hebrew. What’s he saying, something about land and freedom or ‘Go home, enjoy yourself, do something useful’? Some boys come up to the wire, and an old photographer. I get my moment too. I try a bit of a song I remember, changed a bit “Free, free, free Abdullah..(as in Free, free Nelson Mandela,Youtube, Special AKA), and ‘Shame, shame Israel, jail your own war criminals.’
Not many soldiers to hear us, just a faceless foursome against the sun, and a few more in wait further up the hill. ‘They’re the ones to watch,’ says a tall Israeli in a red hat. When the first teargas shell is fired, it lands near us but the gas blows back towards the soldiers. Next the first stones, flying in the other direction like hungry sparrows. It takes the soldiers time to find their range while the kids – shebab – fan out among the olive trees. Big bouncy teargas shells, like fat black onions, set light to the weeds among the olive trees, and smaller ones rain down from high in the air, meteorites with give-away tails. The greywhite smoke drifts down across the track, so we can all get a taste. Some cameramen, or women, have masks, as has a man in a wheelchair. Another, on crutches, has no mask but a black Che Guevara beard.
Then the soldiers open the gate and four musketeers charge down the hill towards us. The tall Israeli says ‘We should have locked the gate from this side.’ The crowd and gas disperse, the shebab escape among the olive trees. A boy breaks off a branch to beat out flames. Scorched earth and big black tasteless onions.
Honour satisfied, soldiers and the crowd go their ways, to lunch perhaps. Another day, another no-win not-quite-waste of time. Soon this bit of fence will be removed, and a stretch of Bil’in land beyond will be released, become workable again. Not all their land but an area between today’s stupid fence and a solider, stupider new concrete wall. A small legal victory, except that the Supreme Court first ordered the fence to be moved back then legitimised the settlement behind it.
Win some, lose some. BUT, as one of the committee-members said, ‘We’ve shown that Palestinians, Israelis, internationals CAN work together. And when the soldiers open fire, everyone can see who are the terrorists.
‘This is the message our Popular Committees must get across. Bi’lin, Ni’ilin, Budrus, Ma’asara… It is difficult, but we can organise ourselves. We need the people, we need the parties, and we think that they need us.’
As I watched those Bil’in boys with their slingshots, how near-accurate they were, I could almost believe the story of David and Goliath. And it must help to practice every week.