May 10, 2009

Ask your sons: Ha’aretz

By Gideon Levy

It is behavior well known to every police investigator: First the suspect denies everything, then attacks his interrogators, then admits to a small portion of the accusations (saying he merely did what everyone does), and finally breaks down and confesses. The Israel Defense Forces returned from Operation Cast Lead and, of course, denied everything. The people applauded it for its bogus victory and no one paid much attention to the awful price paid by the Palestinians. But after the smoke (in this case, white phosphorus) cleared a bit, the blood began crying out from the ground. Foreign journalists and human rights groups investigated and reported their findings. The United Nations said the IDF intentionally targeted its facilities, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused the army of illegally using phosphorous bombs, the International Red Cross reported on the injured being denied medical attention and strikes on medical crews, officers at a premilitary course spoke of civilians killed, and Amira Hass wrote for Haaretz about the killing of people flying white flags, the use of flechette shells and the annihilation of entire families. The ground began trembling beneath Israel’s feet when it started attacking the emissaries of these organizations. The country’s gates were closed to the UN fact-finding mission headed by Jewish South African Richard Goldstone, as if it were Zimbabwe or North Korea, as if it had much to hide. The president brusquely rebuked the UN’s Ban Ki-moon and suggested he visits Auschwitz, until eventually the secretary general was forced to shrink from supporting his organization’s damning report. Anyone who dared investigate and report was branded anti-Semitic. Little has changed since the early-1970s report by a group of American lawyers on the Shin Bet security service’s alleged torture methods. These attorneys were immediately labeled anti-Semites. We deny, repress, lie, attack and compare ourselves to others, and our conscience remains clear. Even when the IDF admits to killing 300 civilians – 90 of them children, 50 women and 160 whose identities the army says is unclear – our story remains the same: the most moral army in the world. Not the third most, not the second – the most. After all, Yedioth Ahronoth gave that view its seal of approval in a special propaganda supplement entitled “The most moral in the world.” But let’s assume Amnesty is lying, Human Rights Watch is fabricating, B’Tselem is embellishing, the UN is anti-Israel and the media is full of hatred against us – isn’t there enough in the IDF’s own figures to shake us to the core? Three hundred civilians killed, including 90 children – isn’t that enough to expose the propagandistic lie of “the most moral” army? How many innocent people must be killed for that to happen? The IDF conducted five “investigations” (in which, naturally, only soldiers’ actions were examined), lamented one family’s tragedy, and the military correspondents applauded again. The IDF Spokesman’s Office sent battalion commanders to recite declarations on their own lofty battle ethics – with faces concealed, of course, as suspects often are – and the media didn’t burden them with questions. No one believes this war should be subjected to a serious investigation because in this war, unlike its predecessors, not enough soldiers were killed to justify that. But the truth cries out even from the collapsed and perforated rubble of what was once a home: The soldiers who were in Gaza know, as do their friends, that something terrible happened there – just as those who served in the West Bank know. Ask your sons; they know the truth – the truth is sitting in your own home. And ask the friends of your sons, and the sons of your friends – they know. Many of them are brainwashed, and for now are keeping mum. Israel is holding back the tide of reports and investigations, and putting its head in the sand of propaganda and victimization, but in the end the truth will emerge. Even the excuse “everyone does it” will not do any good, as it does no good for a driver caught speeding. The Americans kill more? The French slaughtered more? That may do for the Foreign Ministry’s automatic statements. We deserve more, we deserve the full truth – what exactly our soldiers did in our name, each of our names, on the streets of Gaza, imprisoned and bleeding for the 22 days of a useless war.

Israel has secret plan to thwart division of Jerusalem: Ha’aretz

The government and settler organizations are working to surround the Old City of Jerusalem with nine national parks, pathways and sites, drastically altering the status quo in the city. The secret plan was assigned to the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA). In a report presented to former prime minister Ehud Olmert on September 11 last year, the JDA described the purpose of the project as “to create a sequence of parks surrounding the Old City,” all in the aspiration “to strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.” The program, sponsored by the Prime Minister’s Office and the mayor of Jerusalem, is secret and did not engage in any form of public discussion. According to an analysis by Ir Amim, a non-profit organization dedicated to Jerusalem issues that impact on Israeli and Palestinians which exposed this detailed, confidential government plan, the motivation is to create Israeli hegemony over the area around the Old City, “inspired by extreme right-wing ideology.” “This program integrates with statutory program 11555, approved by the Jerusalem municipality in November 2007, designed to accelerate development [to six housing units per dunam, or some 24 units per acre] in one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel. The array of escalators, cable cars and tunnels included in the plan portend blatant signs of a biblical playground populated by settler organizations,” which the organization says will be carried out by ousting Palestinian residents. Ir Amim charges that by exposing the existence of the program the public is granted, “for the first time, a comprehensive view of how the government and settlers, working as one body, are creating a “biblical” territorial reign which connects Armon Hanatziv and Silwan in the south, Ras al-Amud and the Mount of Olives in the east, and Sheikh Jarra in the north, by connecting all of the land east of E-1.” In a letter sent in the fall of 2006 by David Barry, founder and director of the Elad organization, to state officials and bodies involved in the project such as the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority, he explains that he cannot detail the project because “we still cannot talk about them,” but hopes that the results will be evident in the near future. In the letter Barry also writes that “… the widespread tourist activity, at whose center is the creation of the “Ancient Jerusalem” campus connecting the three sites – the City of David, Mount of Olives and Armon Hanatziv – in each of the three sites we are holding tourist activity on a daily basis.” The map of Elad’s “Ancient Jerusalem” is, as Ir Amim explains, very similar to the map of the current historic basin project of the Old City. Attorney Danny Seidemann of Ir Amim says that if the historic basin surrounding the Old City is transformed in the spirit of extreme rightist organizations, “there is a dangerous interface between the program and settler projects whose goal is the prevention of a future political solution in the heart of the conflict.”

Ban Ki-moon’s moral failure

Hasan Abu Nimah, The Electronic Intifada, 6 May 2009

Late last week, according to the BBC Arabic news website, a report was submitted to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the scale of destruction Israel inflicted on UN installations in Gaza. This was also mentioned on a BBC news bulletin on 1 May, but I could find little trace of this story anywhere else. The brief news item stated that the UN report contained secret information supplied by Israel about an incident in which more than 40 Palestinian civilians were massacred when Israeli shells fell “outside” a UN school where many Palestinians were taking shelter. The secretary-general is reportedly considering how much of the information he can release without revealing the information supplied by Israel, the news item said, adding that the UN report concluded that Hamas fighters were not inside UN buildings but close to them. Commenting on the report, the BBC said that it was informed by a diplomatic source, that the United States has informed Ban’s office that the report should not be published in full due to the damage that that could cause to the Middle East peace talks; in other words (mine, in fact) to Israel. The point here is neither to pass any premature judgment on an unpublished report — despite obvious inconsistencies regarding shelling “outside” a UN installation that was somehow severely damaged — nor to predict how much of the report the secretary-general will finally decide to publish. (As this article was being prepared for publication, details about the UN inquiry team report were published. The inquiry, led by Ian Martin, former director of Amnesty International, accused Israel of failing to protect UN facilities and civilians, dismissed as “untrue” Israeli claims that Hamas fighters had been firing from UN facilities, held Israel responsible for all deaths and injuries in six out of nine incidents, and called for further investigation into possible war crimes. Ban has rejected calls to pursue the probe, but called on Israel to pay $11 million in reparations for the damage it caused to the UN.) But nor can we forget the dark days just past when Israel was slaughtering the innocent people of Gaza and the world stood by, even blaming Hamas — which had scrupulously observed a negotiated ceasefire until Israel broke it — for bringing on the apocalypse. As the dust from the Israeli bombing began to settle, Ban decided to visit Gaza. That raised hopes that the UN was finally determined to act with courage and responsibility. Gaza had been off limits to international figures because supposedly a politically contagious terrorist organization had taken control of the place and no one was supposed to risk contact with it, even if compelling humanitarian considerations required that.

Israel’s war on dissent

 Israeli policemen beat and arrest women at a demonstration held by the feminist movement New Profile in support of six activists from the group who were arrested from their homes by the police, 30 April 2009. (Shachaf Polakow/ActiveStills)

Israeli policemen beat and arrest women at a demonstration held by the feminist movement New Profile in support of six activists from the group who were arrested from their homes by the police, 30 April 2009. (Shachaf Polakow/ActiveStills)

Rela Mazali, The Electronic Intifada, 5 May 2009

About six months after Israel’s attorney general publicly announced an effort to criminalize dissent, state authorities have upped the ante in their “war” — as the Israeli daily Haaretz called it last September — against Israel’s youth; against the broad, grassroots movement slandered by officials as “draft shirkers.” On 26 April, a day before Israel’s Memorial Day, Israeli police produced a hyperbolic piece of political theater. As if facing down a dangerous organized crime “family,” they “raided” — to quote their press release — the homes of six activists in different parts of Israel, who were detained for interrogation. Exploiting the ritual emotions of a day of mourning for military dead, the police action singled out and branded anti-militarist activists as non-members of the legitimate community, implying that they (we) are fair game. As of this writing, police have summoned 10 additional activists for interrogation. The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a feminist movement working for over a decade to reverse the militarization of state and society in Israel, of which I have been a member since its inception. Our founding event, in October 1998, confronted us with the existence of an unorganized social movement borne then, as it is still, by young people in Israel. Recognizing the central importance of this nascent movement, New Profile upholds their right to open discourse on the crucial issues they face. We provide them with full and accurate information about their prospects — information with which the authorities are not forthcoming, to put it mildly. This effort is only one of many ways in which New Profile works to change the militarized thinking holding us, all the residents of Israel/Palestine, hostage to the prioritization of military force that has characterized all of Israel’s governments to date. While they may enrage some, our activities are totally legal. The reality today is that rising numbers of young Jewish Israelis (as well as members of the Druze minority also subject to conscription) find themselves unable or unwilling to accept the overused Israeli dictate: “There’s no other choice.” Four generations and more than six decades of “military solutions,” a cycle of violence failing miserably to reach a resolution, have engendered a broad based social movement of young men and women who experience and express severe internal struggles in face of the duty to serve in the military. While Israeli law offers virtually no legal provision for conscientious objection, Israel’s courts — both military and civil — have presumed to compartmentalize these personal processes, classifying them as purely “political,” or (very rarely) as “conscientious” or as exclusively “psychological.” Each young individual’s experience, however, is both ideological and emotional; involves a complex combination of views, feelings, ideas, beliefs, personality and sense of self. The internal fissures aroused by this process cause many young people dangerous personal distress. In sad testimony to this fact, in recent years, Israeli soldiers’ suicides have accounted for more deaths than all the other types of military casualties combined.

Gaza laborers injured in Israel left to dry: Electronic Intifada

Rami Almeghari writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 5 May 2009

More than 700 Palestinian workers in Gaza who suffered on-the-job accidents inside Israel used to receive monthly disability payments from Israeli employers. But in January 2009, workers stopped receiving these payments as the Israeli courts decided that Israeli insurance companies are no longer liable towards Palestinians living in what the state has declared a “hostile entity.” Masoud Raba is a 50-year-old laborer in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip who used to receive disability insurance, but his monthly insurance allowance was just withheld for the first time since 1979. In an almost empty living room in the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City, Raba angrily described his situation: “I support seven family members including myself and my wife; we could not afford [to pay our] electricity bills. Also, we could not afford [to pay for our groceries]. As you see I sold my TV set and refrigerator in order to sustain a living. What was our fault, so that our allowances were withheld? This allowance is a given right for us that we were handed to by Israeli courts.” Raba used to work for an Israeli factory that manufactures refrigerator parts. His left hand was amputated while he was on duty. Raba said, “It seems they are imposing sanctions on us. Why us; why? We are neither a government nor people with influence, we are merely helpless injured workers who spent most of their youth serving Israel. Instead of giving us our disability allowance, they deprive us of it!” Mohammad Hassouna, 62, of western Gaza City, also suffered a workplace accident while on a construction job in 1994. A father of 10, including a university student, Hassouna also reports that his monthly disability allowance was withheld in January 2009. “I suffered fractures in my back, my leg as well as my forehead. Besides, I am getting older. In this situation, I cannot afford to buy some salt for my children,” Hassouna explained, pointing out his injuries. “I used to rely on that [disability] allowance for feeding my children and paying my son’s university expenses. For the past four months, my situation has been desperate. This payment is our right, we have spent long years serving them, we have nothing to do with politics, so we should have this payment back sooner not later,” said Hassouna.

Tony Blair and the full measure of justice

Joy Ellison writing from Hebron, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 30 April 2009

An elderly Palestinian woman grabbed my hand and held it over her chest. “Feel my heartbeat,” she said. “We are really afraid of the settlers.” Only half an hour before she took my hand, a group of 20 settlers from Maon settlement entered the village of Juwwiya and shot at her and her family as they grazed their sheep. As she clasped my hand and I looked into her face, the reality for Palestinians living in the south Hebron hills became starkly clear to me once again: a lasting peace is difficult to imagine as illegal settlements and outposts remain in the area. On 19 March, 17 days before Israeli settlers shot at the shepherds of Juwwiya, the south Hebron hills played host to Tony Blair. As the representative of the “Quartet” (comprised of the US, EU, UN, and Russia) for Middle East peace, Blair toured the village of al-Tuwani and focused his attention on the dire humanitarian situation in the area. “It is very hard for Palestinians to enjoy the standard of living that they should enjoy and be able to develop their land as they should be able to develop in freedom,” said Blair. When asked what he would do about this situation, Blair answered, “It’s got to be stopped, hasn’t it?” But Blair was vague about what exactly should be stopped. “The whole way this area is looked at and administered is changed to make it fair,” he said. At no point did Blair specifically mention the Maon settlement or any other of the settlements and outposts that make life in the south Hebron hills so difficult. He made no commitment to pressure the Israeli government to arrest settlers who destroy Palestinian property or attack Palestinian adults and children. He did not ask the Israeli government to follow through on the commitment it made three years ago to dismantle the Havot Maon outpost. Neither the words “military occupation” nor “international law” left his lips. Palestinians in the south Hebron hills are enduring much more than a poor “standard of living.” Since Blair’s visit, Israeli settlers have shot at Palestinian shepherds in the village of Juwwiya on two different occasions. On 5 April, soldiers abducted three Palestinian shepherds, ages 10, 11, and 14, took them to Maon settlement and handed them over to six masked settlers who beat them. It’s clear that for these children, changing the “way this area is looked at and administered is changed to make it fair” will not be enough to ensure their safety. When I look the eyes of a frightened elderly Palestinian woman, I can see that only the full measure of justice will be enough. Joy Ellison is an American activist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian nonviolent resistance. She lives in al-Tuwani, a small village in the south Hebron hills which is nonviolently resisting settlement expansion and violence. She writes about her experiences on her blog, “I Saw it in Palestine” at http://inpalestine.blogspot.com.

The pope and the Nakba: Ha’aretz

By Shlomo Avineri

At first glance there is nothing in common between Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and the Palestinian Nakba. But one thing links the two: relations with the Jewish people. For generations the Catholic Church advanced the idea that Jesus’ gospel had its roots in Jewish scripture, but that the New Testament annulled the original covenant between God and the Jewish people, which refused to recognize its messiah and thereby lost the legitimacy to exist. This traditional theological approach underwent a revolutionary change in the Second Vatican Council in the early-to-mid 1960s. It not only absolved the Jewish people of collective guilt for crucifying Jesus, but recognized the continuing covenant between God and the Jews, paving the way for recognizing the legitimacy of their existence. This transformation, in turn, enabled the Vatican’s recognition of the State of Israel. During his visit to Jerusalem, John Paul II demonstrated tremendous magnanimity when in the note he placed in the Western Wall he asked the Jewish people’s forgiveness for the injustice brought on them by the church for generations. The fact that Benedict chose Mount Nebo to emphasize the deep link between Christianity and Judaism testifies to his awareness of the Jewish people’s ties to the Land of Israel. Such soul-searching is entirely absent from the way the Palestinians treat every May 15, marking the pain of what befell them in 1948. As Jews and Israelis we cannot be indifferent to this pain, as it is clear the Nakba is directly tied to the founding of the State of Israel. But maybe it could be expected that the Palestinians recognize that their behavior – their refusal to accept the UN partition plan and the decision to respond to it with force – is part of the reason for what happened to them. None of this appears in the Palestinian narrative, which contains only the injustice committed against them. It could all have been different. Had in 1948 the Palestinians accepted the partition plan as did the Jews (albeit grudgingly), two states would have been born and hundreds of thousands of people would not have been uprooted from their homes and become refugees. Arab and Palestinian literature and public relations completely lack this self-criticism. Even today, when the idea is raised of matching Israeli recognition of a Palestinian nation state with Palestinian recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, the moderates in the Palestinian Authority respond with unqualified refusal. This is not a tactical rejection, it is deeply rooted in Palestinians’ unwillingness to recognize that in 1948 they made an enormous, tragic mistake; even today they are unable to accept the principle of partition.

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