So here I am, back again. Unfortunately, I can’t say that anything has improved here during my absence, and therefore, I can almost certainly promise you more of the same as before. The situation continues to exist, though some details might be different.
Of the 10 items below, I included the first only to comment on it, an editorial that infuriated me. If all that the military learns from a CO is to “refuse to accept someone who does not want to be a member” it has learned nothing. People after all have a right to conscience. But then the IOF does not wish to learn anything. The Jewish Israeli uterus is a mechanism for producing soldiers. And Israeli education takes over once the baby is born. I agree with the final statement that the military should not force COs (whatever their reason) to enlist. But the attitude that takes for granted that the military is an integral part of Israeli society is so typical of militaristic societies, which Israel is of course. What is especially distressing is that few Israelis bother to ask what has the military done to contribute to improving life in Israel, and if there is no other way to exist than by the use of force.
In item 2 Ethan Bronner relates (quite accurately, I believe) that Israelis—the average Israeli—are unconcerned with peace. They simply don’t believe in it anymore, and in any event life goes on pleasantly enough (if one has money).
Item 3 informs us that racism in Israel is endemic.
In item 4 Gideon Levy draws a bloody picture of what a Palestinian family can expect in the middle of the night. Years and years ago I was phoned at about 1 AM by someone from a West Bank village asking for help. The person informed me that the army had come and had forced all the residents of the small village to go outside and stand in the pouring rain while the soldiers entered the houses to check them. When I phoned the so-called Civil Administration the woman at the other end listened to my depiction of infants, elderly, the ill and the healthy, in short all being forced in the middle of a cold wet night to stand in the pouring rain, the voice at the other end calmly informed me that ‘this was perfectly normal.’ Normal? I’m quite sure that she would not have found it normal had her family or community been subjected to like treatment.
In item 5 Amira Hass reports on how Israel plans to legalize the West Bank colony of Eli.
In item 6 Sami Michael argues against Israel’s treatment of refugees seeking asylum.
In item 7 Shlomo Sand in responding to Carl Strenger argues that Israel cannot be both a democracy and at the same time belong to world Jewry. I agree 100%. In fact, it cannot be a democracy so long as it insists on being a Jewish state.
Item 8 reports that stars have urged Alice Keys to cancel her gig in Israel. She apparently has not yet responded. Let’s hope that she will observe the bds and cancel.
In item 9 we learn that FIFA has decided to hold games here not withstanding the pressure to cancel. Win some, lose some!
The final item is of course ‘Today in Palestine.’ This collection of reports and commentaries is for May 31, 2013. Not enjoyable but is informative.
That’s it for today.
All the best,
1 Haaretz Sunday, June 2, 2013
Lessons learned from Blanc
The military club can, and should, be sure enough of itself to refuse to accept someone who does not want to be a member.
After six months in Military Prison No. 6, conscientious objector Natan Blanc is to be released from incarceration and service in the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF has given up trying to wear him down, persuade him to retract his refusal to serve, or to use his punishment to deter other draftees from following in his footsteps. The IDF has found, somewhat tardily, that this objector is incompatible with the military organization.
The IDF’s opposition in principle to offering an exemption to any objector who does not lay claim to complete pacifism − an aversion to carrying a weapon anywhere, under any circumstances, at any time − is understandable. Opening a crack to recognize political positions as a reason for release from service will give draftees the right to set conditions for their willingness to wear a uniform and report for any duty dictated by government policy.
Some people, like Blanc, will refuse to serve as long as Israel holds on to the occupied territories; others will condition their services on a pledge that more territory will be occupied, or that they be relieved of the duty to evacuate settlements. That will not be democracy; it will be anarchy. Policy must be changed from above, through elections.
That is in principle. The reality, though, shows that entire groups avoid serving. If Blanc had grown up in Bnei Brak or Kalansua, he would not have become the object of public debate; if he had wanted to get out of serving for his own convenience only, he would not have burdened himself with a lengthy prison term.
In fact, Blanc paid a high price precisely because he remained faithful to his own truth, and was not willing to change or distort it so as to get around the system that filters the draft. The IDF has no real problem with Blanc the individual. On the contrary, soldiers like him are needed in the security forces, intelligence and cyber warfare − knowledgeable, opinionated, determined people who stick to their goal. The concern is over a binding precedent and the masses that could follow him.
That concern is groundless. There are many people who are eager to serve in the IDF in general, and in combat and elite units in particular; the demand is greater than the supply of such postings. Thanks to the large oversupply of draftees in the next two years, compulsory service is to be shortened by four months. After all, those who refuse to serve are, ultimately, found unsuitable to serve. Few of them are like Blanc, willing to pay the heavy price of such a long incarceration.
The military club can, and should, be sure enough of itself to refuse to accept someone who does not want to be a member. Human-resource planning is flexible enough to absorb a few cases like Blanc’s every year without trying them again and again for the same offense and locking them up for such a long time.
2 NY Times Saturday, May 25, 2013
What Mideast Crisis? Israelis Have Moved On
By ETHAN BRONNER
FOR years, conventional wisdom has held that as long as Israel faces the external challenge of Arab — especially Palestinian — hostility it will never come to terms with its internal divisions. The left has sometimes used it as an argument: we must make peace with the Palestinians so that we can set our house in order — write a constitution, figure out the public role of religion. Others have viewed the threat as almost a silver lining keeping the place together: differences among Israeli Jews (religious or secular, Ashkenazic or Sephardic) are so profound, the argument goes, that if the society ever manages to turn its attention inward, it might tear itself apart.
Back in Tel Aviv for a recent visit a year after ending my tour as Jerusalem bureau chief, I was struck by how antiquated that wisdom felt. At a fascinating and raucous wedding I attended and from numerous conversations with a range of Israelis, I came away with a very different impression. Few even talk about the Palestinians or the Arab world on their borders, despite the tumult and the renewed peace efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been visiting the region in recent days. Instead of focusing on what has long been seen as their central challenge — how to share this land with another nation — Israelis are largely ignoring it, insisting that the problem is both insoluble for now and less significant than the world thinks. We cannot fix it, many say, but we can manage it.
The wedding took place near Ben-Gurion airport, where a set of event halls has gone up in the past seven years, including elaborate structures with a distinct Oriental décor of glistening chandeliers, mirrored place mats and sky-high ceilings with shifting digital displays. The groom’s grandparents emigrated from Yemen; the bride’s came from Eastern Europe, an example of continuing and increasing intermarriage between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.
The music was almost entirely Middle Eastern in beat, some of it in Arabic, some of it religious. The hundreds on the dance floor, many staying until dawn singing along with arms gesticulating, came from across a range of political, geographic and religious spectra — from miniskirted to ultra-Orthodox modesty. Frumpy settlers in oversize skullcaps mingled with Tel Aviv metrosexuals in severe eyewear. Some women hugged you; others declined to shake your hand. Everyone was celebrating. No one, especially the Orthodox rabbi who presided over the ceremony, mentioned that the young couple had been living together for more than three years. Some talked politics with me. No one mentioned the Palestinians.
ISRAEL today offers a set of paradoxes: Jewish Israelis seem in some ways happier and more united than in the past, as if choosing not to solve their most difficult challenge has opened up a space for shalom bayit — peace at home. Yes, all those internal tensions still exist, but the shared belief that there is no solution to their biggest problem has forged an odd kind of solidarity.
Indeed, Israel has never been richer, safer, more culturally productive or more dynamic. Terrorism is on the wane. Yet the occupation grinds on next door with little attention to its consequences. Moreover, as the power balance has shifted from the European elite, Israel has never felt more Middle Eastern in its popular culture, music and public displays of religion. Yet it is increasingly cut off from its region, which despises it perhaps more than ever. Finally, while the secular bourgeoisie, represented by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, has forged an unexpected alliance with West Bank settlers, represented by Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi Party, aimed at reducing the political power of the ultra-Orthodox, alarm over the failure to address the Palestinian problem has grown in a surprising place — among some of the former princes of the Zionist right wing.
At a Jerusalem cafe one noon, Dan Meridor, the former Likud minister and son of right-wing Zionist aristocracy, could not stop talking about the Palestinians.
“It is a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads,” he said. “We are living on illusions. We must do everything we can on the ground to increase the separation between us and the Palestinians so that the idea of one state will go away. But we are doing nothing.”
Mr. Meridor, nursing an American coffee at the cafe near the house his parents bought many decades ago in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood, sounded like two other public figures from famous right-wing families — Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, and Tzipi Livni, the justice minister and chief peace negotiator. Both have made a series of emotional speeches begging Israelis to take the Palestinian issue seriously. They are getting little traction.
The Israeli left is still there, of course, but in increasingly insignificant knots. Two Israeli friends in Jaffa, from which tens of thousands of Palestinians left or were driven out in 1948, have beautifully renovated a house, even preserving a pre-state lemon tree in the courtyard. They are friendly with the Arabs who live nearby. Their children refused military service in protest over the West Bank occupation. And on the outside of their house they have put up a plaque noting that until 1948 the structure was the home of the Khader family, a tiny homage to a destroyed world.
But the family is rare. Mr. Lapid, the rising star of Israeli politics, is a former television host who agrees that something must be done about the Palestinians. But in an interview he offers no specifics other than hoping Mr. Kerry will pressure them to return to the negotiating table under conditions they have long rejected. Mr. Lapid, who spoke in the outdoor section of his neighborhood cafe in north Tel Aviv on a fragrant spring afternoon, was relaxed and buff in his long-sleeved black T-shirt and black jeans. Well-off Tel Avivians at nearby tables argued into their iPhones. Mr. Lapid said Israel should not change its settlement policy to lure the Palestinians to negotiations, nor should any part of Jerusalem become the capital of the Palestinian state he says he longs for. He has not reached out to any Palestinian politicians nor spoken publicly on the issue. As finance minister, he is focused on closing the government’s deficit.
Mr. Lapid may be a political novice but he knows the public mood. A former senior aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed, over a Jerusalem lunch of toasted bagels and salad, that most Israelis considered the peace process irrelevant because they believed that the Palestinians had no interest in a deal, especially in the current Middle Eastern context of rising Islamism. “Debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing on Mars,” he said.
An afternoon in Ramallah revealed no stronger sense of urgency among Palestinians. But, unlike Israeli Jews, they are increasingly depressed and despondent over their quandary and dysfunctional leadership. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who showed real competence in his job but is resigning, says Palestinian leaders must acknowledge their failure to deliver on their promises and call new elections. That is not happening. He tells friends that if he believed Mr. Kerry’s efforts had any chance of yielding results, he would not be quitting.
All of which suggests that, as has long been argued, there can be no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal so long as outsiders want it more than the parties themselves. Some have likened Israel to the deck of the Titanic. That may not be right, but you can’t help wondering about that next iceberg.
Ethan Bronner is the national legal affairs correspondent for The New York Times.
A version of this news analysis appeared in print on May 26, 2013, on page SR5 of the New York edition with the headline: What Mideast Crisis? Israelis Have Moved On..
3 ‘Superland’ and the normalization of segregation in Israel
An Israeli amusement park found itself in hot water after being caught segregating Jewish and Arab school groups. But instead of being an aberration, the incident is reflective of the dominant culture of segregation and discrimination that permeates Israeli society from the bottom up.
|Published May 31, 2013
Israeli children on a ride at ‘Superland’ (Photo: Superland website)
“Superland” – the Israeli amusement park exposed for segregating Arab and Jewish citizens this week – is the most fittingly tragic and ironic title for how I see the current Israelizeitgeist. No screenwriter or playwright could have come up with a better concept for a tragic comedy about this place.
It captures the two most dominant concepts of politics and life here: that land is the most precious, contested and painful commodity around which the conflict revolves, and that there is nothing “amusing” about the situation we find ourselves in. It’s not all that “super,” despite the most earnest attempts to sell it as such by Israeli government and PR professionals.
While the Israeli government continues to try and “super-size” the land of Greater Israel beyond the pre-1967 borders, the story of segregation at Superland is a perfect indicator that no matter what your politics are, no matter your position on settlements, your notion of security, how you judge Palestinian resistance or any other issue, the political reality remains undeniably the same. Everyone living on this tiny piece of land — Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis — is in a perennial situation of state-sponsored division, segregation and separation that trickles down — not just in Hebron’s Shuhada Street, or in East Jerusalem, but everywhere.
After the Jaffa school teacher was unable to make a reservation for a class trip to Superland because they are Arab, management explained that many schools – both Arab and Jewish – request to visit the park on days when only other schools of the same ethnic group will be there. According to a statement by the park’s management, this makes sense for them considering they are interested in ensuring the safety of all visitors:
This is an amusement park and there is special importance to preserving order and preventing violent incidents in the park. As a result, Superland’s management took the requests it received into consideration, and during June 2013, set aside a few separate days for schools from different sectors.
This is the same argument that was made in pre-civil rights America about the utility of separating blacks and whites. It is the same argument that Ivy League university deans in the U.S. used to try and justify the quotas that up until the 1960s, limited the number of Jews accepted to a school; they explained that it is better for the Jews if there aren’t too many of them in any given department, since then they would surely experience greater incidents of anti-Semitism.
Instead of combatting anti-Semitism and racism at its core, this kind of backwards logic gives in to the unjust system, trying simply to manage a racist and discriminatory status quo. This is exactly the case of Superland.
It is a weird coincidence that on the same day this story broke, American author and BDS activist Alice Walker wrote an open letter to singer Alicia Keys, urging her to cancel her July concert in Israel because of the country’s segregation policies. In the letter, she specifically refers to the struggle she waged to bring an end to “apartheid America,” which she calls “less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people.”
You can argue all you want that there are differences between America and Israel as far as racism goes, just as there are differences between Israel and South Africa when it comes to Apartheid. But the reality remains the same in all places: Palestinians living on the same land as Jewish Israelis are denied the dignity and equal rights they deserve because of the dominant ethnic group.
“Superland” perfectly expresses the “super segregation” we live in. Its policy isn’t a law that was handed down from above, or a specific manager who hates Arabs. It has simply become the norm.
Sailing on a wave of racism: A nautical tale
A year in review: Anti-African racism and asylum seekers in Israel
4 Haaretz Sunday, June 2, 2013
The cherry on top of the IDF
There isn’t a single Israeli who can imagine what it must be like to wake up in the middle of the night to see dozens of armed, violent soldiers as well as dogs and grenades in his home.
By Gideon Levy
The Israel Defense Forces’ Duvdevan unit is just about the very best, albeit with slightly less luster than the Shayetet, the Tayeset and “The Unit” − the IDF’s elite naval commando unit; its elite air force commando unit; and Sayeret Matkal, the general staff’s elite special-operations force, respectively.
Duvdevan veterans are well thought-of in Israeli society. Its soldiers are carefully selected − elite unit or not. And, and as long as we’re speaking of “equality,” then we can say they carry the heaviest “burden” of national service.
On the night of May 25, these soldiers set out on yet another cross-border operation, in the West Bank Palestinian village of Budrus. Their commanders must have gathered them together for a final pre-mission briefing before sunset. Surely they were told about the dangerous terrorist whom they must capture; doubtful they heard that his teenage brother had been killed just four months earlier in a reprehensible manner − shot from close range while trying to escape, after throwing rocks at the separation barrier.
At 2 A.M. the raid began. Someone heard the commander tell his soldiers, “There’s to be no mercy in this house.”
In this house of mourning, unworthy of Duvdevan’s mercy, slept eight teenage girls and young women, their parents and their youngest brother − members of the Awad family. On the roof slept the dangerous wanted man − a waiter in the nearby village of Na’alin suspected of throwing rocks and of disorderly conduct. Such serious offenses.
What happened after that was no less than a mini-pogrom. There were dozens of soldiers and dogs. The front door was sawn, windows smashed, innumerable stun grenades thrown into the home at its occupants. The wanted man thrown down the stairs and injured badly enough to pass out. Kicks and blows to the women and girls.
The IDF Spokesperson claimed the next day that “family members violently resisted arrest.” Initially the office said no soldiers were injured, but then changed its mind: “In the course of the incident two soldiers were slightly injured and treated on the scene.”
I related the details of the incident in Haaretz on Friday (“Battered House, Shattered Family”). This weekend the IDF Spokesperson took the trouble to send me a video clip as evidence of the family violent resistance: 50 seconds, carefully edited and without sound, in which the women of the house cry out desperately, facing innumerable armed soldiers in the tiny house; the wanted man, Abed, hiding behind them, terrified, moaning in pain.
On the clip the IDF Spokesperson’s Office has circled a tiny fruit knife in the hand of one of the women and a miniature sickle held by another, which they wave in the air. I have never seen such a ridiculous video in my life. Any slightest doubt I might have still harbored about what went down in Budrus that night was wiped out by that clip, which proved to me unequivocally that this was a criminally depraved operation.
Let’s start with the fact that it took place in the home of a bereaved family, a teenage member of which was killed by soldiers in circumstances that even the IDF admits were “bad.” One might have expected different treatment of such a family − a family that has, by the way, many Israeli friends.
Then there’s the target: He was wanted for throwing rocks. And the means: a nighttime raid with a preposterous number of soldiers equipped with no less preposterous amounts of weapons. And the result: Four women injured, one of whom needed eight stitches in the head, and a suspect taken into custody bleeding and unconscious. No one, of course, bothered telling the family the next day where he was taken and what had happened to him.
What happened in the Awad home was routine. There isn’t a single Israeli who can imagine what it must be like to wake up in the middle of the night to see dozens of armed, violent soldiers as well as dogs and grenades in his home. This happened by order of the GOC Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, whom the settlers have marked out as a “leftist” and a “moderate,” in yet another disgusting campaign to change the instructions for opening fire, a campaign that is nothing less than a thirst for even more Palestinian blood.
And all of this is carried out by our best young men − not (this time) the Border Police or the Kfir Brigade, which are known for their brutality, but rather the cherry on top of the creme de la creme (duvdevan is Hebrew for cherry) of the violent control of the territories. And in a relatively calm period there.
The Israelis want to share this burden equally − so that everyone does it, not only the secular and religious-Zionist Jews. That’s the Israeli measure for ethical standards, for volunteerism, for contributing to the state and carrying the burden. And it’s also what the IDF wants the conscientious objector Natan Blanc to do. And it’s what Duvdevan soldiers do, nearly every night, while we watch “Big Brother.” [‘Big Brother’ is a favorite Israeli TV program. I can’t describe it, as I don’t watch it. D]
5 Haaretz Saturday, June 01, 2013
Plan to legalize West Bank settlement of Eli paves way for its expansion
The approval of the urban plan for Eli, submitted thirty years after the settlement was founded, will legalize hundreds of illegal houses. Legalization of further outposts will soon follow.
By Amira Hass
Some thirty years after the settlement of Eli was established to the north of Ramallah, the Civil Administration has published for objections a detailed master plan for Eli. The plan’s approval would legitimize hundreds of illegal structures – houses, commercial and public buildings – built over the years by the Housing Ministry and Amana, the settling and construction organ of Gush Emunim – illegally, without planning or permits.
The plan (no. 237) would not only legalize construction on the lands of Palestinian villages As-Sawiye and Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya, already declared as state lands; by using unorthodox planning procedures and verbal acrobatics, the plan would also legalize houses and roads built illegally on private Palestinian lands, in the heart of Eli or on its borders – the “blue line.”
The plan does not stop at legitimizing illegal structures within the settlement’s borders, but further signals that it intends to legitimize structures in Eli’s four illegal outposts, two of which are built on the land of the village of Quaryut. The present plan includes 1,000 dunams, but it contains planning elements that would allow the settlement to include, in the future, the outposts and other illegal constructions, thus expanding to 6,000 dunams, including both privately owned Palestinian as well as state lands.
Approving settlements’ master plans years after they were built is not a new procedure. As with other settlements, advancing Eli’s urban plan was dependent on Israeli authorities’ success in declaring the Palestinian land in question as “state land.”
This is no simple bureaucratic move; based on an old Ottoman law, Israeli authorities manage to treat collective property of Palestinian villages as ownerless, which can then be declared “state property,” to be allotted to Jews alone.
As in other settlements, here too, the plan was initiated by the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization. As in other settlements, the borders of the urban plan were not determined according to regular planning considerations, but rather according to ownership of the lands. The “blue line” is a property line, separating between land already declared as state property and land over which the Civil Administration did not succeed in denying Palestinian private ownership.
This does not include only private lands beyond the plan’s limits. In the midst of the area there are seven enclaves, which are not destined for construction, since they are recognized as private Palestinian property. (In principle, the Civil Administration believes that Palestinians have the right to use the areas for agriculture, but not for construction.) These enclaves are not an invention of Eli’s urban planner, Yehoshua Shachar of Tel Aviv. Similar enclaves appear in the maps of other settlements as well.
Still, Eli’s plan differs from its predecessors in one way. In other settlements, the condition for the urban plan’s approval was the demolition of all illegal construction in the private enclaves, and their rehabilitation as lots suitable for agriculture. This was the Civil Administration’s way of demonstrating that they respect the sanctity of Palestinian private property.
In Eli, a new category was invented: “construction lots to be completed.” There is no explanation for the new term in the list of plan definitions, but the aim is clear; these are fifty lots with existing houses. Each of these houses is at least partially built on private Palestinian property, (in an inner enclave, or on the border of the plan), and part of it is built on areas within the plan.
There is no intention of demolishing these building constructed illegally on private Palestinian land: on the contrary, the plan offers to legitimize them, and, in fact, adapt the plan and its boundaries to fit reality. As opposed to past master plans, in this case the authorities are signaling that they know that in the future the houses will all be completed on the map as well. One possibility is that the Palestinian landowners will give up on ever receiving their land back and will agree to sell it, or simply, the whole affair will be forgotten.
In the table specifying the size of the plots to be “completed” one can also find plot number 92. Its size: zero dunams. This house is built entirely on an enclave of private Palestinian land, without bulging beyond it by even one square meter.
The same is true of several roads passing through the enclaves or beyond the surrounding borders of the plan: on paper, only the parts within the “blue line” are marked as planned roads that after approval will become legal. All the parts that pass through enclaves or beyond the borders are marked, but not as legal roads. On the other hand, they are not slated for demolition.
The verbal acrobatics of “construction lots to be completed,” together with ignoring the roads in the enclaves, are no more than lip service to the declaration that “private property is not infringed upon.”
“The said plan creates the illusion that it respects private property and refrains from building on private Palestinian property, when in fact, the plan intends to widen the blue line, whose limits were based on the question of ownership, and take over private Palestinian lands,” said Nir Shalev and Architect Alon Cohen Lifshitz of “Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights,” who wrote objections to the urban plan.
In communal settlements such as Eli, the public buildings and commerce centers are usually found in the middle of the settlement, in order to make them accessible for all residents. As opposed to this planning logic, almost all of the land allotted to public and commerce activity is not in the center of Eli, but rather on its northern and north-eastern borders. The plan doesn’t make do with the existing road leading to the settlement (part of which passes through private property). Architect Yehoshua Shachar planned another road, 20 meters wide, in the eastern part, leading to the northeastern end. An even wider road is planned within the settlement, also leading northeastern.
To the east and north of Eli, there are three outposts which even according to the Civil Administration were partially built on private Palestinian property, belonging to residents of Quaryut and As-Sawiye. The message is clear: public buildings, commercial centers and the roads are intended to serve a significantly larger population living on more land that, at present, is not marked in the plan.
Thus, the plan suits Eli’s long term plans, as described on Amana’s Web site: “In the future and in accordance with the initial vision of the settlement, it will reach beyond the adjacent hills and even beyond Road no. 60, closer to Ma’ale Levona. Thus there will be one long territorial contiguity of Jewish settlers between Eli, Shiloh and Ma’ale Levona.”
Shachar, the architect, refused to answer Haaretz’s questions about the plan. The Civil Administration responded by saying that the plan is in the phase of hearing the objections, and answers to Haaretz’s questions will be given as part of the process.
6 Haaretz Sunday, June 2, 2013
Jews must remember: We were refugees too
When I first heard that people among us who have lost their homes and their homelands are being sent to jail, I remembered the tales of our mothers and fathers as refugees, when they were viewed as hostile, suspicious and dangerous – and also deprived of their human rights.
By Sami Michael
Throughout history, we Jews have been forced into the terrifying position of having to seek asylum time and again. There were heartless nations that closed their gates to us, dogs in the form of men that tore at our flesh, raped our women, murdered our children. And there were compassionate people who opened their doors to us, and among whom we had the privilege of living in harmony.
We have always understood the pain of losing one’s home, and thus can greatly appreciate our redemption. And so, when I first heard that people among us who have lost their homes and their homelands are being sent to jail, I remembered the tales of our mothers and fathers as refugees, when they were viewed as hostile, suspicious and dangerous − and also deprived of their human rights.
When they reach Israel, asylum seekers are sent to administrative detention centers without trial, under the infiltration law. The great majority come from Eritrea and Sudan, after having suffered terrible hardships in Sinai. Of course the refugee problem is complex, but in order to deal with that problem we must create regulations that uphold basic human rights for people living in Israel. This must be done as part of the “temporary group protection” Israel grants asylum seekers − a status created by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that prohibits countries from returning asylum seekers to their home countries if their lives or freedom are in danger.
On the one hand, the State of Israel has not taken steps to deport asylum seekers precisely because their lives would be in danger if they returned to their homelands. This in and of itself is a good thing − but at the same time, Israel has been imprisoning them for indefinite amounts of time, and that is a severe violation of their human rights. Israel refuses to grant refugee status to asylum seekers, despite the fact that it signed and even helped to word the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It is a shame indeed to see Israel denying them that status now.
Recently we learned that compared to other industrialized OECD nations, Israel ranks last in terms of housing, education, job security, social welfare and various other criteria. So too can Israel’s treatment of asylum seekers be ranked among the worst-offending industrialized OECD nations. The Knesset Information and Research Center found that Israel is the only OECD member state that grants asylum seekers the lesser “temporary group protection” status, which is generally used by non-industrialized nations.
I understand that deliberation is required, but compassion is the ultimate value. Is imprisoning asylum seekers the correct approach to this situation? Refugees are not dangerous, infested animals. Refugees are hungry, thirsty, weak and desperate people, but they still have a sliver of hope in their hearts, they still pray to meet people who will greet them with outstretched arms. We are their last hope. We show them such insensitivity by funneling them into prisons.
As a human being and as a Jew, I identify with asylum seekers’ disappointment and pain. I am ashamed of the prison walls that hold these broken people, and I do not hide my shame.
To this day I am grateful to Iran for granting me refugee status in 1948 when I knocked on its gates. Not only did Iran save me from life-threatening danger, but it strengthened my faith in human solidarity, something that we are missing today.
7 Haaretz Saturday, June 1, 2013
Israeli identity, Jewish democracy and oxymorons – A response to Carlo Strenger
Israel clings to a dangerous oxymoron when it claims to be committed to democracy while belonging to ‘world Jewry;’ the consequences of this fallacy are severe.
By Shlomo Sand
Flags for sale ahead of Israel’s Independence Day. Photo by Flags for sale ahead of Israel’s Independence Day.
Author and professor Shlomo Sand. Photo by David Bachar
It is my desire to respond in this short article to the main claims made by Carlo Strenger about my new book, “Matai V’aikh Hadalti L’hiyot Yehudi” (“When and How I Stopped Being Jewish”). And I will begin by emphasizing that I never ventured to imagine, as claimed by Strenger, that “Zionism invented the concept of the Jewish People,” or that “secular Jewish identity doesn’t exist,” (“A letter to Shlomo Sand,” May 29).
The “Jewish people” or the “Chosen people” are theological concepts that existed before the birth of Zionism and, it appears, will survive after it exits the historical stage. Before the modern era, the concepts of “Christendom” or “People of God” were common within the Christian heritage, but today they are barely ever used.
Zionism took the religious and ambiguous concept of “people” and injected it with national meaning, much as it did with other terms and symbols from the Jewish heritage. Originality and deception were both concealed within this linguistic process. If today we frequently apply the term “people” to a human group that shares a secular public culture, such as language, music or food, it would indeed be strange to use this term to refer to world Jewry, especially while keeping in mind Ludwig Wittgenstein’s principle of family resemblance.
It appears odd to me that anyone who uses the terms the “French people” or the “Vietnamese people” – human groups that live under shared national sovereignty – would apply the same term to Jews. It’s impossible to call all cats cats, and all dogs dogs, but then to view a certain cat as a dog. Judaism always had an important and steadfast religious culture- but it never offered a cohesive national culture. Zionism thus failed to create a Jewish nation, but did succeed in sculpting an Israeli people- a people which, like Strenger, it isn’t willing to recognize to this day.
Secular Jewish identity exists due to the mere fact that there are people who define themselves as secular Jews. In the ’30s of the previous century, an Aryan culture existed because there were those who defined themselves as Aryans. At the same period, identities of the “descendants of the Gauls” and the “descendants of the Romans” and others flourished. What all these identities shared in common was that they were based on fictional ethnicities. What separates the first from the latter two is the fact it was born from persecution, while the latter cases were generated by the needs of nation-manufacturing. The secular Jewish identity was cast as a response to persecution and anti-Semitism, and it is still being preserved today thanks to the power of painful memories, among other reasons.
However, just as an Aryan culture didn’t exist in the past, so too a secular Jewish culture shared by “world Jewry” cannot be found; only fading, endangered remnants of a post-Jewish culture. Secular culture isn’t created only through the structuring of memory, but rather primarily through daily experience, struggles, shared problems, and of course linguistic codes, all diverse but related to each other. Every national culture always has a pre-modern background, religious or secular- however, just as we wouldn’t label today’s British culture as Protestant and the culture of France as Catholic, so too it would be ridiculous to call Israeli culture Jewish.
I understand Strenger’s desire to place himself culturally and in terms of identity somewhere between René Cassin and Hannah Arendt, between Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. This is a rather fashionable tendency among contemporary left-wing Israeli intellectuals. But whether we like it or not, in our day-to-day cultural and linguistic realities we both are actually located more in between authors A.B. Yehoshua and Sami Michael, between singers Eyal Golan and Arik Einstein (and of course, between Israeli Arab author and journalist Sayed Kashua and Israeli Arab politician Ahmed Tibi). While it is true that this may be an anthropological fact and not necessarily one of identification, that’s the way it is. Cultural globalization still hasn’t erased this lively and colorful local organism.
Moreover, as Strenger knows full well, neither Freud, nor Einstein, nor Arendt wished to live among “secular Jews” or under Jewish sovereignty. They would have preferred to continue to live within German culture were it not for the evil history that tore them away from it.
And now for the more important argument: Strenger suggests that Israel should be more Jewish, when, like all secular Israelis, he is incapable of even defining who is Jewish without resorting to religious criteria. As far as he is concerned, Jewish humanism is an open and generous cosmopolitan phenomenon. But he can’t explain to us how one can join this secular Jewish identity- as one can join into the French, American or Israeli identity- without being born to a Jewish mother.
How does Strenger, who is quite knowledgeable of the West’s political culture, not know that liberal democracy isn’t just a mechanism for regulating social power relations but also a focal point for collective identification and a vehicle for molding imagined political cohesiveness?
Israel, which insists on defining itself as a Jewish state and not as an Israeli republic, alienates and discriminates against 25 percent of its citizens who, to their misfortune, aren’t registered by the Interior Ministry as Jews. A normal democracy always sees itself as an expression of its citizenry and doesn’t make note of its residents’ ethnic origin or religion (imagine the uproar if in a Western country the population registry would mark the descendants of Jews as such, like is done in Israel, without asking or consulting with them).
In view of the 20th century’s history of persecution and suffering, Israel can continue to serve as a place of refuge for descendants of Jews persecuted due to their ethnic origin or religious faith; but it cannot be both a democracy and at the same time belong to “world Jewry.” This is an oxymoron that has severe consequences: it creates injustice; it leads to exclusion of native locals, and it may bring destruction upon us all.
Prof. Sand teaches at Tel Aviv University’s Department of History. His is the author of the book “The Invention of the Jewish People” and the recently published “Matai V’aikh Hadalti L’hiyot Yehudi” (“When and How I Stopped Being Jewish”).
8 The Guardian Friday, May 31, 2013
Stars urge Alicia Keys to drop Israel gig
Roger Waters and Alice Walker pen open letters asking Keys to join cultural boycott of ‘unjust and unbelievably evil’ Israel
By Sean Michaels
Dear Alicia Keys … Roger Waters and Alice Walker entreat the singer to make a stand against the Israeli government. Photograph: Jeff Barclay/Music Pics/Rex
Roger Waters and Alice Walker have penned open letters asking Alicia Keys to call off a forthcoming concert in Tel Aviv. Walker, the author of The Color Purple, invited Keys to join a cultural boycott of Israel, visiting “the children in Gaza” instead of supporting “a system that is cruel, unjust and unbelievably evil”.
“Dear Alicia Keys,” Walker wrote on the website for the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. “I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists.”
In his own letter, Waters admitted that Keys may not know who he is. “I used to be in a band called Pink Floyd and, believe it or not, I still work,” he wrote. The English musician implored Keys to “join the rising tide of resistance” and refuse “to give legitimacy to the Israeli government policies of illegal, apartheid, occupation of the homelands of the indigenous people of Palestine.”
Keys is due to appear at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena on 4 July, as part of her ongoing Girl On Fire tour. It will be her first appearance in Israel. As the concert approaches, activists have begun ramping up their Facebook and Twitter campaign, asking the long-time HIV/Aids activist to consider dropping the gig in solidarity with the Palestinian rights movement.
“I have kept you in my awareness as someone of conscience and caring, especially about the children of the world,” Walker went on. “A cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major ‘crime’ is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own.”
Elvis Costello, Santana, the Pixies and Gil Scott-Heron are among the other artists to have boycotted Israel in recent years, while acts including Madonna and Paul McCartney have dismissed calls to cancel shows. Earlier this month, physicist Stephen Hawking announced he was joining the movement, adding his name to a list of supporters that includes dozens of Nobel laureates.
Keys has yet to respond to activists’ requests.
9 Haaretz Saturday, June 01, 2013
Israel staves off threat of soccer sanctions
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter to seek political solution to plight of Palestinian players.
By Moshe Boker and Reuters
Anyone in Israel concerned that FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, was about to acquiesce to the demands of the Palestinian soccer federation and impose sanctions against Israel, can rest easy.
On Friday afternoon, Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon managed to convince FIFA’s all-powerful president, Sepp Blatter, to seek a less aggressive solution to the long-running problem of limited freedom of movement for Palestinian players in Gaza and the West Bank.
Over the course of the past week, Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub, the former commander of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, has been lobbying for FIFA to impose sanctions against Israel for not allowing members of the various Palestinian national teams to move freely between Gaza and the West Bank, and preventing them from representing their country in international matches.
As a full member of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation, the Palestine FA has started to hold more regional tournaments and it has accused Israel of stopping athletes from others countries from entering.
Recently, two teenage players from Myanmar were held up in Jordan for a week awaiting clearance so they could play in an under-17 tournament before eventually being allowed in.
Both Rajoub and Luzon were at the AFC’s conference in Mauritius, although the two men did not meet during their time on the island. After a tense diplomatic battle, Luzon convinced the delegation heads he met with not to agree to the Palestinians’ demands.
When Rajoub realized that the political battle had been lost, he persuaded Blatter to add Israel to his itinerary for the upcoming Middle East tour, which will also take in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Instead, Blatter will meet with government officials in Jerusalem and members of the IFA to try and come up with a compromise arrangement, and will see for himself the difficulties facing Palestinian soccer players.
“I hope that next year, I come with no complaints,” Rajoub told the Congress. “I want to eat grapes rather than to quarrel with anyone. I don’t wish Palestine’s suffering on anyone else, including the Israeli footballers.”
He added, however, that FIFA should impose sanctions on Israeli soccer if the matter is not resolved. “If this issue is not settled, I don’t think those who do not comply with the statutes and standards and values should be rewarded. Sanctions should be taken. Nobody has the right to act as a bully in the neighborhood,” he said.
Blatter reiterated his pledge to intervene on the Palestinians’ behalf. “Football should not be a victim of such situations,” he said, adding, “We can and shall play a role in improving understanding between the communities in this region. I am committed to ensuring that football continues to develop and be developed in a difficult region.”
Luzon, for his part, said he would work to keep soccer separate from politics and, disagreeing with the Palestine FA, said a crisis had already been averted.
“We will continue to guard Israeli football and football in general from all political influence. I’m pleased that this problem is behind us and we will continue to strive for the advancement of football,” he said.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, continue to campaign to have Israel stripped of hosting the upcoming Under-21 European Championship, which gets under way on Wednesday night, when the host nation meets Norway in Netanya. Over the weekend, letters were sent to the heads of the seven other participating nations, urging them to boycott the tournament.
“What we have to do now,” Luzon told Haaretz Saturday, “is show the world that Israel is more than capable of hosting a major soccer tournament.”
10 Today in Palestine for Friday, May 31, 2013