August 29, 2010

EDITOR: Is this as good as it gets?

Please do not believe that David Grossamn is the thing itself, as far as activism in Israel is concerned. Grossman is, at bottom (and top) an Israeli, Zionist nationalist. He has even backed the war against Lebanon in 2006, in which his own son, one of the murderous troops, was killed. Only after some time he started thinking that maybe this war was not such an excellent idea. Of course, the death of his sone has given him a saint’s hallow, and one cannot say anything against him in some circles, not just in Israel.

The interview below has all the hallmarks of a naive groupie – Rachel Cook is so loving, admiring, protective, that she manages to get quite a few details wrong, even the name of Grossman’s wife, which she calls “Machal” (her name is Michal). She obviously does not read and speak Hebrew, knows little of the conflict, and is too admiring to ever question Grossman’s positions, not to mention criticising them. She does a good job of selling his new book as the Tolstoy of our time, which makes me doubt that she has actually read Tolstoy… If Grossman is the best there is, then Palestinians can only hope for God’s help…

David Grossman: ‘I cannot afford the luxury of despair': The Observer

The Israeli writer discusses his novel To the End of the Land, a memorial to his son who was killed while serving in the army, and why he remains an opponent of his country’s policy towards the Palestinians
Rachel Cooke
Israeli author David Grossman photographed for the Observer in Jerusalem. Photograph: Ahikam Seri/Panos Pictures
In May 2003, David Grossman, one of Israel’s most celebrated novelists, began writing a new book. It was to be about what the Israelis euphemistically call “the Situation”, which was a little odd because, for the past decade, he’d carefully avoided writing about politics, in his stories, if not his journalism. It was not just that he’d long felt that almost anything he could say had already been said by one side or the other. There was the danger that such a story, even in his deft hands, would be creaky and polemical. Now, though, he felt suddenly that he couldn’t not write about it. Grossman’s eldest son, Yonatan, was six months from completing his military service and his younger son, Uri, was 18 months from beginning it. His feelings about this – in Israel, men serve three years – were so acute, it seemed they would push the pen over the paper for him.

The story came quickly. It would be about a middle-aged woman, Ora, whose son, Ofer, only just released from army service, has voluntarily returned to the frontline for an offensive against one of Israel’s many enemies. Ora, having moved from celebration to renewed fearfulness in a matter of hours, is in danger of losing her mind. She has no idea how she will get through the next weeks or months. Then, in a fit of magical thinking, it comes to her. She will mount a pre-emptive strike of her own. She will simply go away, absent herself from her home and her life. That way, she reasons, she will not be there when the army “notifiers” come to tell her of her son’s death. And if she is not there, perhaps he will not die. After all, how can a person be dead if his mother isn’t at home to receive the news of it?

Grossman started writing and as he did, he, too, indulged in a little magical thinking. He had the feeling – or perhaps it was just a fervent hope – that the novel would keep Uri safe. Every time Uri came home on leave, they would discuss the story, what was new in the characters’ lives. “What did you do to them this week?” Uri used to ask. He also fed his father useful military details. This went on for a long time and it seemed for a while as if the charm was working. But on 12 July 2006, following Hezbollah attacks on Israeli soldiers on patrol near the Lebanese border, war broke out. Over the course of the next 34 days, 165 Israelis (121 of them soldiers), an estimated 500 Hezbollah fighters and 1,191 Lebanese civilians were killed.

Grossman was terrified for his son, a tank commander, but he was not, at first, opposed to the war. Though a determined lefty as far as Palestine goes – he is against the occupation of Palestinian territories – he believed that Israel had a right to defend itself against Hezbollah which, unlike the majority of Palestinians, is committed solely to destroying Israel. As the weeks went on, however, he began to think that Israel should show more restraint. At the beginning of August, together with two other great Israeli writers, Amos Oz and AB Yehoshua, Grossman appeared at a press conference in Tel Aviv, demanding that the government negotiate a ceasefire. “We had a right to go to war,” he said. “But things got complicated… I believe that there is more than one course of action available.” He did not mention that his own son was on the frontline. It was not relevant. He would have felt exactly the same had Uri been safely at home.

The Israeli government eventually accepted a UN-brokered ceasefire which came into effect on 14 August. But this was too late for Grossman and his family. On 12 August, in the dying hours of the war, Uri, who was just 20 years old, was killed when his tank was hit by a rocket; he and his crew, who were killed with him, were trying to rescue soldiers from another tank. The notifiers came to Grossman’s house at 2.40am. He heard the voice over the intercom, and he knew what was coming. Between his bedroom and the front door, he decided: “That’s it – life’s over.” But the strange thing is, it was not. The Grossmans buried Uri; his father’s simple but piercing eulogy was reprinted in newspapers around the world, including the Observer; and then the family sat shiva (a period of mourning during which time a Jewish family receives visitors).

The day after the shiva ended, Grossman returned to his book. “I went back to it for an hour,” he says, surprise registering on his face even now. “Then I had to come back home. But the next day, I added 10 minutes, and the day after that, another ten. Yes, it was hard. I was going straight to the place that frightened me most. On the other hand, it was the only possible place for me.” The result – To the End of the Land – was published in Israel in 2008 and arrives here, in the most beautiful translation, this week. What can I tell you about this book? I’m not sure. Only that I loved it. And that it tears at your heart. And that when I heard someone comparing Grossman with Tolstoy, and his novel with War and Peace, I did not scoff.

It is blazing hot in Jerusalem and, as usual, the city is a knot: tight with anger, cinched with frustration. The traffic is so heavy, it takes a taxi 20 minutes or more to move a single kilometre, but walk to your destination, as I’ve just done, and your dress will be sopping wet, the straps of your sandals will have flayed your feet like whips. Forget the holy sites, the bearded priests and the shawled rabbis. On a day like today, the visitor seeks the blessing only air conditioning can bestow: cool, crisp and calming.

I meet Grossman in a coffee shop in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a venerable Jewish neighbourhood just outside the Old City walls. The view from the window is of a pomegranate tree, the Hagia Maria Sion, formerly known as the Abbey of the Dormition, where the Virgin Mary is said to have fallen into eternal sleep and, following the curve of the next hill, the sombre grey line of the barrier that separates the citizens of Jerusalem from those of the West Bank.

The room is deliciously cold, (goosebumps are already rising on my shins), but the calm I feel, the sense of benediction, is all to do with Grossman. He once said that the effect of regular wars and prolonged uncertainty can be seen in the way Israelis drive (people are prone to honking their horns and yelling out of their windows). But you can no more imagine him going mad at an intersection than you can picture him inviting Binyamin Netanyahu out for beer and pizza.

Grossman radiates wisdom, modesty, kindness and, above all, a sort of stillness: contemplative and tender, but steely, too. This is not to say that the darkness is all behind him. He warns me that there are some things he cannot talk about, will perhaps never be able to talk about, and I cannot look at his heart-shaped face, his big, marsupial eyes, without worrying about manhandling him. Grief, inasmuch as I’m acquainted with it, makes a person feel, among many other things, like an over-ripe peach, prone to bruises and watery leaks.

For his own part, he likens it to exile. “The first feeling you have is one of exile,” he says. “You are being exiled from everything you know. You can take nothing for granted. You don’t recognise yourself. So, going back to the book, it was a solid point in my life. I felt like someone who had experienced an earthquake, whose house had been crushed, and who goes out and takes one brick and puts it on top of another brick. Writing a precise sentence, imagining, infusing life into characters and situations, I felt I was building my home again. It was a way of fighting against the gravity of grief.” The merest flicker of a flinch. “This used to be so hard to express… but now, when I talk about it, I feel able to say that it was a way of choosing life. It was so good that I was in the middle of this novel, rather than any other. A different book might suddenly have seemed irrelevant to me. But this one did not.”

Grossman’s heroine, Ora, whom the American novelist Paul Auster has already likened both to Tolstoy’s Emma, and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, decides to hike in Galilee for the duration of her country’s latest war. She takes with her an old love, Avram, a veteran of the Yom Kippur war and a former PoW. While they walk, they talk. She tells him about Ofer, describing her boy at every stage in his life, carefully bringing him to life (Avram has never met him). Slowly, an absence becomes a presence. The novel, then, works as kind of memorial: not only to Uri, to whom it is dedicated, but to Ofer, who may, or may not, be dead. After Grossman had finished writing it, he handed it to Yonatan, and to his wife, Machal (he also has a daughter, Ruti, but she was too young for this book at the time). “It wasn’t easy for them to read it,” he says. “I think it was only the second time they read it that they understood that it could be a source of comfort to us all. I’m not describing our family, but there are always moments [when the two collide]. And yes, when someone dies, they’re gone and yet they are still so present.”

Four months after Uri’s death, Grossman addressed a crowd of 100,000 Israelis who had gathered to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. His speech was beautifully controlled, but quietly furious. He denounced Ehud Olmert’s government for a failure of leadership, a failure which would ultimately damage the Jewish state, and he again argued that reaching out to the Palestinians was the only hope. “Of course I am grieving,” he said, anxious that Olmert and his cronies might dismiss his speech as the outpourings only of a bereft father. “But my pain is greater than my anger. I am in pain for this country and for what you and your friends are doing to it.”

I understand that he wants to separate his grief and his politics, but does he think, now, that his loss has changed some people’s opinions of him all the same? “Yes. There were people who stereotyped me, who considered me this naive leftist who would never send his own children into the army, who didn’t know what life was made of. I think those people were forced to realise that you can be very critical of Israel and yet still be an integral part of it; I speak as a reservist in the Israeli army myself.”

His novel provoked a strong reaction in Israel. “Some of my books in the past have aroused hatred [notably his collection of reportage, The Yellow Wind, a sympathetic account of life in the occupied territories]. Not this one. I think this one allowed people to give up on the need to be a fist, to remember the nuances, to ask themselves: what does it mean to be a human being in this situation? Our curse is that all of us become representatives; we congeal. But we need to feel our inner doubts, our contradictions.”

Was it horrible having to grieve in public? He must have feared that his son would be adopted as yet another symbol of the Situation. “I’m not sure it was horrible. One burden is at least taken away [when you are a public figure]: you don’t have to tell people what happened, because they know. We found our way. We’re very private people. We are a close family and we have a wonderful, devoted group of friends. What happens outside that… well, it depends how people approach me. Most approach me with tenderness and sensitivity. There has been a lot of warmth. But I made it clear from the beginning that I don’t ask for special privileges. I don’t want people to say: ah, because he suffered this, his opinions are this. My opinions are not my emotions. I spoke in Rabin Square, but I only do [public] things that I would have done before.

“I’m not a rational, cold person. On the contrary, so much of the politics is emotional here, and the two peoples involved are very emotional, so you must be attuned to emotions very precisely. But the bottom line must be logical. You must not surrender to the primal urges of revenge. I just do not see a better solution than the two-state solution. I’m more sad, and maybe desperate, but not in a way that paralyses me.” He pauses. “Maybe I cannot afford the luxury of despair. Maybe. Or maybe it’s a question of personality: I cannot collaborate with despair because it humiliates me to do so.”

All the same, he cannot feel hopeful at the prospect of more (American-brokered) talks. “I think our prime minister is the only person who can change our destiny for the better. He has a lot of credibility here. The question is: does he really believe in peace with the Palestinians? And I’m afraid that the answer is no. Even if he taught himself to utter the words ‘two-state solution’, he deeply mistrusts the Palestinians.”

To read the rest of the interview, use the link above

Salt of This Sea (2008): NYTimes

Suheir Hammad in “Salt of This Sea.”

Annemarie Jacir’s drama “Salt of This Sea,” about a Brooklyn woman who travels to the West Bank and Israel to recover her roots — not to mention her Palestinian grandfather’s house and bank account, lost in the 1948 war — is a sad and engrossing look at a haunted landscape. Soraya (Suheir Hammad) and the two Palestinian men she befriends, Emad (Saleh Bakri) and Marwan (Riyad Ideis), spend much of the film negotiating both physical barriers — walls, fences, checkpoints, holding cells — and ritual humiliations to move about the rocky, scrubby country in which Emad and Marwan are trapped.

Ms. Jacir, who was born in the West Bank (in Bethlehem), effectively conveys an atmosphere compounded of frustration, anger, gallows humor and sun-baked lassitude. The film, her feature debut, is best when it’s in observational mode; at other times it’s marred by a didactic approach to the questions it raises about history and human rights, and a plot that seems increasingly far-fetched. Would an apparently sophisticated 21st-century Palestinian-American really be surprised to learn that the money and property her family owned before 1948 is no longer hers to claim?

Ms. Hammad works diligently to fill in the blanks of her somewhat sketchy character, carrying 60 years of anger and pride in her arched back and clouded eyes. She lightens up along with the film, as it moves into the relative freedom and luxury of Israel and takes on a picaresque Bonnie-and-Clyde feeling. There is tension, but not much violence; the most vexing of Soraya’s challenges, as it turns out, is coming face to face with a liberal Jewish peacenik.

Written and directed by Annemarie Jacir; director of photography, Benoit Chamaillard; edited by Michèle Hubinon; music by Kamran Rastegar; produced by Jacques Bidou and Marianne Dumoulin; released by Lorber Films. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. In English and Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Suheir Hammad (Soraya), Saleh Bakri (Emad) and Riyad Ideis (Marwan).

EDITOR: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil…

The saga of the nice Israeli soldier, who has never done anything wrong, loves Israel, is prepared to “kill the Arabs”, and has no idea what the fuss was about, is indeed an iconic saga – the cypher in a society in which nothing that one does (to Palestinians) cannot, by definition, be wrong!

Why Americans should oppose Zionism: The Electronic Intifada

Steven Salaita, 26 August 2010

Eden Abergil's now infamous photos do not represent anomalous, excess behavior. (Facebook)

Israel has been subject to some bad publicity recently. In 2008-09, it launched a brutal military campaign in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 400 Palestinian children. In May 2010, bumbling Israeli commandos murdered nine nonviolence activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara. It only got worse for Israel when it was revealed that soldiers stole and sold personal items such as laptops from the ship. Last week, former Israeli soldier Eden Abergil posted photos onto Facebook showing her preening in front of blindfolded and despondent Palestinian prisoners, in some instances mocking those prisoners with sexual undertones. The photos were part of an album entitled “IDF [Israeli army] — the best time of my life.”

While Abergil’s pictures may not seem as abhorrent as the Gaza and Mavi Marmara brutality — Abergil, for her part, described her behavior as nonviolent and free of contempt — all three actions are intimately connected. First of all, we must dispel the notion that Abergil’s photos are nonviolent. As with the Abu Ghraib debacle, a sexualized and coercive humiliation is being visited on the bodies of powerless, colonized and incarcerated subjects, which by any reasonable principle is a basal form of violence. There is also the obvious physical violence of Palestinians being bound and blindfolded, presumably in or on their way to prisons nobody will confuse with the Ritz Carlton.

More important, these recent episodes merely extend an age-old list of Israeli crimes and indignities that illuminate a depravity in the Zionist enterprise itself. What is noteworthy about Israel’s three recent escapades is that more and more people are starting to pay attention to its crimes and indignities. In so doing, more and more people are questioning the origin and meaning of Zionism — that is, the very idea of a legally ethnocentric Israel.

I would like to address this piece to those who have undertaken such questioning or to those who are prepared to initiate it. I would urge you not to limit your critique of Israel only to its errors of judgment or its perceived excesses; it is more productive to challenge the ideology and practice of Zionism itself. There is no noble origin or beautiful ideal to which the wayward Jewish state must return; such yearnings are often duplicitous mythmaking or romanticized nostalgia. Zionists always intended to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, a strategy they carried out and continue to pursue with horrifying efficiency.

Likewise, Zionism was always a colonialist movement, one that relied on the notions of divine entitlement and civilizational superiority that justified previous settlement projects in South Africa, Algeria and North America. Zionism, by virtue of its exclusionary outlook and ethnocentric model of citizenship, is on its own a purveyor of fundamental violence. The bad PR to which Israel sometimes is subject today is a reflection of changed media dynamics, not a worsening of Israel’s behavior.

The 2008-09 Gaza invasion, the attack on the Mavi Marmara and Abergil’s Facebook photos aren’t anomalous or extraordinary. They are the invariable result of a Zionist ideology that cannot help but view Palestinian Muslims and Christians as subhuman, no matter how ardently its liberal champions assert that Zionism is a liberation movement. Zionism has the unfortunate effect of proclaiming that one group of people should have access to certain rights from which another group of people is excluded. There is nothing defensible in this proposition.

Here, then, are four reasons why Americans (and all other humans regardless of race or religion) should oppose Zionism:

1. Zionism is unethical and immoral: Because Zionists claim access to land and legal rights that directly obviate the same access to an indigenous community, it operates from within an idea of belonging that is cruel and archaic. Israel bases its primary criterion for citizenship on religious identity. Imagine having your religion on your driver’s license. And imagine having limited access to freeways, farmland, family, education, employment and foreign travel because the religion by which the state has chosen to identify you is legally marginalized. Such is the daily reality of the Palestinian people.

2. Zionism is racist: This claim isn’t the same as saying that all Zionists are racist. I would make a distinction between the categories of “Zionist” and “Zionism.” However, inherent in the practice of Zionism is a reliance on racialist judgments about who can fully participate in the benefits and practices of a national community. Many Zionists view themselves merely as supporting freedom and safety for Jewish people. I would suggest that people who identify themselves as Zionist look more closely at the ideology they support. Such freedom and safety, both of which are in fact mythologies, come at the direct expense of people confined to Bantustans and refugee camps.

3. Zionism contravenes the geopolitical interests of the United States: Many Americans have heard former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boast that he once pulled George W. Bush off the dais while Bush was giving a speech, or more recently current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing that “America is something that can be easily moved.” Israel costs the United States billions of dollars in direct aid and in bribe money to Jordan and Egypt for their docility. Israel also is the main reason for disgruntlement about American foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds. I raise this point with some hesitation because I believe all citizens of the United States should challenge and not celebrate American geopolitical interests. I would also point out that Zionism’s narrative of salvation and redemption resonates deeply among Americans because of the US’ origin and continued presence as a nation of settler colonists. In the end, America itself needs to be decolonized and the vast sums of money that support the imperial projects Israel so brazenly exemplifies need to be directed toward the well-being of those who pay the government its taxes.

4. Zionism is fundamentally incompatible with democracy: Israel, as a result, is undemocratic and will be as long as it uses religious identity as the operating criterion of citizenship. We hear much in the US about Islam being incompatible with democracy, a belief that is historically untrue and that elides the massive military and monetary support the US provides to the assortment of dictators and plutocrats that rule much of the Arab World. Neoconservative and mainstream commentators both evoke Israel in opposition to Islam as a symbol of democratic achievement. In reality Israel performs one of the most barbaric forms of oppression today in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while simultaneously discriminating against the Palestinian citizens of Israel who constitute approximately twenty percent of the citizenry.

The alternative media engendered by new technology have allowed more people to witness the unremitting violence that has been Israel’s stock in trade for decades. Many consumers of this information and these images believe that Israel is guilty of excess when a simpler explanation exists: Israel is acting out the requisites of an exclusionary and inherently violent ideology.

These days all it takes is a little braggadocio from an ex-soldier such as Eden Abergil to so perfectly symbolize the callousness of Zionist colonization. Ten years ago, the Israeli government’s lies about the killings aboard the Mavi Marmara would have been unchallenged by gruesome footage distributed through alternative news networks and social media. Nobody these days could have stopped the images of white phosphorous exploding and spreading over the Gaza Strip from being aired; Israelis themselves were foolish enough to capture Jewish children writing messages on soon-to-be-launched missiles.

Americans now have all the evidence they need for a reasonable and morally-sound conclusion, that Zionism produces a cruelty and truculence that they bankroll with their taxes and legitimize with either silence or consent. As a result, I am not arguing that Americans should reassess their level of support for Israel. I am arguing that Americans should oppose Zionism altogether. Perhaps in this way we might begin the long and difficult process of redeeming our own nation of its imperial sins.

Steven Salaita is author, most recently, of The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought. A version of this essay was originally published by Foreign Policy Journal and is republished with the author’s permission.

Puppet theater: Haaretz

The decision by our theater establishment to stage dramas in the new culture auditorium in the settlement of Ariel presents the performing public with a real test, the likes of which it has probably never seen.
By Gideon Levy

We will know the answer in the coming weeks: Is there genuine theater in Israel, or is it just puppet theater? Are our theater artists really actors, playwrights and directors, or are they marionettes? Israeli theater presents “Moral Blindness” – a play with infinite acts.

The decision by our theater establishment to stage dramas in the new culture auditorium in the settlement of Ariel presents the performing public with a real test, the likes of which it has probably never seen. The challenge now facing our theater world has huge importance. The decision of the weeks ahead will refashion all our theater professionals. After years of theater that staged prudent commercial dramas alongside quite a few courageous political plays confronting deep moral questions, our actors now face the drama of their lives.

Actually, what is at stake is not a play, but rather life itself. Should they stage their productions at the Ariel facility, we will know that the actors standing there are mere recitation automatons, and their entire theatrical enterprise will be a living prison. Should Israel’s actors, directors and playwrights decide to take part in the most appalling drama of all, they will deserve at the end of their productions jeers of derision, the likes of which they have never heard.

The drama at Ariel will be the worst theatrical show ever performed here; nobody will need the verdict of theater critics to draw this conclusion. Seeing that a Cameri production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” may be staged as one of the premier plays at Ariel’s hall of shame, Bertolt Brecht, no doubt, will be rolling in his grave.

Not much has remained of the Green Line. At a time when the Tate Modern in London is presenting the impressive video work of Francis Alys, an artist who walked with a bucket of paint to draw the Green Line anew, Israel is doing its utmost to blur it. Now theater has mobilized on behalf of this campaign of obfuscation and darkness. Yes, there is a difference between legitimate, sovereign Israel and the areas of its occupation. Yes, there is a moral difference between appearing here and appearing there, in the heart of an illegal settlement (illegal, like all of its settlement siblings ) built on a plot of stolen land, in a performance designed to help settlers pass their time pleasantly, while surrounded by people who have been deprived of all their rights.

Is there really a need to mention all this, especially to artists and creators? It turns out there is. Theater managers have raced to escape culpability. “Settlers also deserve culture,” said Tzipi Pines, a Beit Lessin director, in pathetic futility. Others talk about state budget allocations upon which their theaters depend. Does money buy everything?

That is the question. It’s a question that needs to be put to all our new Faustians. Does state financing provide a warrant for any theatrical abomination? Of course, the settlers’ board, the Yesha Council, quickly designated the new patrons of the Ariel theater “the state’s finest sons, who defend the state while actors stage their works.” The state’s finest sons? Defenders of the state? They are our worst sons, and they endanger the state’s future more than any other group in society.

Theater is not an army, actors are not soldiers, and artists who boycott performances are not draft dodgers. The few dozen theater figures who have signed the statement saying they will boycott Ariel are people of conscience who deserve praise. Should more be added to this list, the show won’t go on at Ariel. It’s not easy to rebel against the one who gives you bread; it’s not easy to disobey in your workplace.

But this is a real test. After the Habima and Cameri theaters perform at Ariel, they shouldn’t be surprised to find performance halls around the world locking their doors to them. In contrast to theater managements here, the world knows how to distinguish between Israel and Ariel. The world knows that a boycott is a just weapon in a struggle against immoral theater. Thus, before the curtain goes up at Ariel, the call must go out to Israel’s artists: Don’t lend a hand to this theater of the absurd. Be actors (and real people ), not puppets.

53 theater figures vow not to perform in settlements: Haaretz

In a petition, the performers said they would not perform in Ariel or any other settlement.

Fifty-three Israeli theater professionals, including performers, playwrights and directors, have signed a petition stating they would not appear in the West Bank settlement Ariel.

The issue surfaced following a report last week in Haaretz that several of Israel’s leading theater companies, including the Habima National Theater, the Cameri Theater, the Be’er Sheva Theater and Jerusalem’s Khan Theater, were planning to perform at the new cultural center in Ariel.

Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said Saturday that the actors’ protest was a serious matter, and was causing a rift in Israeli society. She called upon the theater managements to address the problem immediately.

“Culture is a bridge in society, and political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art,” she said. “I call for the scheduled performances to be carried out as scheduled in Ariel and all over the country, as each citizen has the right to consume culture anywhere he chooses.”

In the petition, the performers said they would not perform in Ariel or any other West Bank settlement and called on Israeli theater managers to limit their activity to within the Green Line.

Signatories include prominent members of the Israeli theater community, including Yehoshua Sobol, Yossi Pollak, Yousef Sweid, Anat Gov and Savyon Liebrecht.

The Habima, Cameri, Beit Lessin and Be’er Sheva theaters issued a collective response Saturday, stating: “The management of the repertory theaters will perform anywhere there are Israeli citizens who are lovers of Israeli theater, including the new culture center in Ariel. We will respect the political opinions of our actors. However, we will bring the best of Israeli theater to Ariel.”

Signatory Shir Idelson, who is performing in productions at the Haifa Theater, told Haaretz: “I decided that I cannot go to peace demonstrations, and I am not involved in this on a day-to-day basis. I signed [the petition] personally and represent myself.”

She added: “I grew up on the myth that culture could get things moving, and I’m sorry that it turned out that that’s not how things are.”

Idelson said she was moved that actors got up and took a stand.

“I won’t perform [in settlements] even if it costs me my job,” she said.

Veteran Israeli actress and Israel Prize winner Gila Almagor did not sign the petition, but said she would oppose performing in Ariel.

“I always opposed the occupation, and opposed appearing in areas beyond the Green Line. I won’t go to places that are contrary to my worldview. But at the same time, I am an actress with the Habima National Theater. If the theater says ‘you are required to perform,’ then I have a contract with the theater and I will go and perform under protest.”

With regard to her theater colleagues, she said: “We actors have discussed [this] among ourselves for several days. Behind every name [on the petition], there is a worldview and this needs to be respected. I wouldn’t ask a religious actor to act on Shabbat. The theater needs to be considerate. Because everyone has an understudy, we have to speak with the management of the theaters to excuse actors who don’t want [to participate].”

The Yesha Council of settlements issued a statement saying: “Our response to the letter signed by the army evaders and anti-Zionist left-wing activists will be very harsh,” and called upon the theater managements to act decisively.

Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman told Haaretz Saturday: “I received a phone call from a donor in America who got so angry that he told me he had to do something on the matter. The problem is already not my problem. The problem belongs to the Israeli government and the Culture Ministry. Yehoshua Sobol can’t say, ‘I receive a salary from the state, but I have my conscience and do what I want.’ You can’t enjoy the benefits of both.”

Army and art as the same: Haaretz

Artists can’t be dragged to Ariel in blunt contradiction of their political beliefs; they can’t be driven on our Jewish-only apartheid roads.

By Yossi Sarid

Israeli theater directors made a big mistake by committing to stage their plays at the cultural center in the settlement of Ariel. They made this commitment without speaking first to the playwrights and artists, creating a fact on the ground. This fact needs to be overturned. The directors will pay dearly for the almighty row about to erupt.

The row started Saturday, in fact, with the publication of statements by the culture minister and Ariel’s mayor. The directors never imagined what a hole they’ve dug up for themselves with their hasty decision.

The campaign waged recently against the universities will pale compared to what will be done to the theaters. The artists can’t be dragged to Ariel in blunt contradiction of their political beliefs; they can’t be driven on our Jewish-only apartheid roads.

For if plays are staged in Ariel, why not Hebron? A curfew will fall on the Palestinian residents as the curtain goes up. The checkpoints will be removed for the honored guests; only collaborators travel through checkpoints without hassle.
Do you need to be paranoid to hear a threat in Culture Minister Limor Livnat’s demand yesterday for an immediate “enlistment to take care of the emerging crisis,” as if the directors were being called up to the army and were being tested by the authorities?

The “crisis” has only just begun and already the signatories are being accused of “dividing Israeli society.” But artists and actors are not soldiers marching in formation. No one can force them to perform, unless his name is Zhdanov.

It’s not the artists who are divisive, but those who decided to build the settlements, including the culture minister. Her most laughable argument was the need to “leave the political debate outside cultural and artistic life.” This may sound familiar because the sacrosanct, virtuous IDF too is supposed to remain outside politics. The minister sees army and art as the same.

The settlers have proved they have a good sense of drama. The have lived for decades without stage plays coming from Israel proper, and they might wait a little longer until an agreement determining their fate is signed and stick to their own productions. After all, the prime minister says an agreement will be signed “within a year.” Bibi is well known for keeping his promises, and who but the settlers should know that?

EDITOR: Listen to the Voice of Israel…

The venerable rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ‘spiritual leader’ of Shas, speaks clearly, in the manner he is used to, and does not mince his words. After all, he does not need to meet with Obama in Washington, and pretend he wants peace… He certainly speaks for the Israeli Jewish majority. Rabbi Yosef is the proverbial bull in the Israeli China shop; few years ago he has told the beleiving followers that European Jewry has desreved the Holocaust, due to their many transgressions against god…

Shas spiritual leader: Abbas and Palestinians should perish: Haaretz

Army Radio reports Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounces Palestinians as bitter enemies of Israel ahead of upcoming direct peace talks.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced upcoming peace talks with the Palestinians, which are set to start September 2 in Washington, and called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “perish from this world,” Army Radio reported overnight Saturday.

Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef Photo by: Daniel Bar-On

“Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world,” Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home. “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”

The Shas spiritual leader also called the Palestinians “evil, bitter enemies of Israel” during his speech, which is not the rabbi’s first sermon to spark controversy.

In 2001, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox faction gave a speech in which he also called for Arabs’ annihilation.

“It is forbidden to be merciful to them,” he was quoted as saying. “You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”

The Palestinian Authority had condemned the speech as racist and inciteful.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, also from Shas, earlier this week also remarked on the forthcoming peace talks with the Palestinians, saying that Shas would oppose extending the West Bank settlement building freeze due to expire in late September.

Yishai has suggested that Israel would continue construction in the main settlement blocs likely to remain part of Israel in the framework of a peace deal, but freeze construction in outposts or more remote settlements.

Ran Greenstein: Israel/Palestine and the apartheid analogy – critics, apologists and strategic lessons: IOA

“There is no doubt that the occupation is the biggest festering sore in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Futile negotiations over the last two decades have led to its intensification rather than mitigation. The only way forward is an ongoing campaign to put an end to it, without having anything to do with the diplomatic process or with the one-state, two-states, debate.”
Is Israel an apartheid state? The notion of apartheid may be applicable in different ways to different components of the system. While Israel clearly is different from South African historical apartheid, in crucial respects it has affinities with apartheid in its generic sense.
This article is the second part of a two-part essay. Read Part I HERE.
Apartheid of a Special Type
In the previous section I made a distinction between historical apartheid (unique to South Africa) and apartheid in its generic form – a structured system of political exclusion and social marginalization on the basis of origins (including but not restricted to race). I concluded that Israel is different from historical apartheid, but it displays characteristics that allow us to define it as a form of generic apartheid. There is a family resemblance between the two regimes. This applies to Israel in an extended sense, covering ‘Israel proper’ in its pre-1967 boundaries, ‘Greater Israel’ with the occupied Palestinian territories, and ‘Greater Palestine’ with the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
By de-linking historical apartheid from its generic form we no longer need to retain a focus on South African racial policies and practices. And yet, I argue in this section, it would be useful to keep a focus on comparing apartheid South Africa and Israel, in order to highlight crucial features of the Israeli system. The comparison would allow us to analyze Israeli-Palestinian relations, evaluate possible alternatives to the status quo, and devise strategies of political struggle and transformation based (among other things) on South African experiences. We must keep in mind here that the point of a comparative analysis is not to provide a list of similarities and differences for its own sake, but to use one case in order to reflect critically on the other and thus learn more about both.
Back in the early 1960s, the South African Communist Party coined the term ‘colonialism of a special type’ to refer to a system that combined the colonial legacies of racial discrimination, political exclusion and socio-economic inequalities, with political independence from the British Empire. It used this novel concept to devise a strategy for political change that treated local whites as potential allies rather than as colonial invaders to be removed from the territory. Making analytical sense of apartheid in South Africa was relatively straightforward since it was an integrated system of legal-political control. Although different laws applied to different groups of people, the source of authority was clear. Making sense of generic apartheid in the case of Israel is more complicated. The degree of legal-political differentiation is greater, as it includes an array of formal and informal military regulations in the occupied territories, and policies delegating powers and resources to non-state institutions (The Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund, and so on), who act on behalf of the state but in a more opaque manner, not open to public scrutiny. That much of the relevant legal apparatus applies beyond Israeli boundaries (to Jews, all of whom are regarded as potential citizens, and to Palestinians, all of whom are regarded as prohibited persons), adds another dimension to the analysis. For this reason, we may talk about ‘apartheid of a special type’ – a unique system that combines democratic norms, military occupation, and exclusion/inclusion of extra-territorial populations. There is no easy way of capturing this diversity with a single overarching concept.
What are the some of the characteristics of this special system?
It is based on an ethno-national distinction between Jewish insiders and Palestinian Arab outsiders. This distinction has a religious dimension – the only way to join the Jewish group is through conversion – but is not affected by degree of religious adherence.
It uses this distinction to expand citizenship beyond its territory (potentially to all Jews) and to contract citizenship within it (Palestinian residents of the occupied territories have no citizenship, and cannot become citizens). Thus, it is open to all non-resident members of one ethno-national group, wherever they are and regardless of their personal history and actual links to the territory. It is closed to all non-resident members of the other ethno-national group, wherever they are and regardless of their personal history and actual links to the territory.
It is based on the permanent blurring of physical boundaries. At no point in its 62 years of existence have its boundaries been fixed by law, nor are they likely to become fixed in the foreseeable future. Its boundaries are permanently temporary, as evidenced by continued talk of the 1967 occupation as temporary, even though it has already outlived historical apartheid (which effectively lasted 42 years). At the same time, its boundaries are asymmetrical: porous in one direction (expansion of military forces and settlers into neighbouring territories) and impermeable in another direction (severe restrictions or total prohibition on entry of Palestinians – from the occupied territories and the Diaspora – into its territories).
It combines different modes of rule: civilian authority with all the institutions of a formal democracy within the Green Line, and military authority without democratic pretensions beyond the Line. In times of crisis, the military mode of rule tends to spill over into the Green Line to apply to Palestinian citizens. At all times, the civilian mode of rule spills over beyond the Green Line to apply to Jewish citizens residing there. The distinction between the two sides of the Green Line is constantly eroding as a result, and norms and practices developed under the occupation filter back into Israel: as the phrase goes, the ‘Jewish democratic state’ is ‘democratic’ for Jews and ‘Jewish’ for Arabs.
It is in fact a ‘Jewish demographic state’. Demography – the fear that Jews may become a minority – is the prime concern behind the policies of all mainstream forces. All state structures, policies and proposed solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are geared, in consequence, to meet the concern for a permanent Jewish majority exercising political domination in the State of Israel (in whichever boundaries).
How do these features compare with historical apartheid?
The foundation of apartheid was a racial distinction between whites and blacks (further divided into coloureds, Indians and Africans, with the latter sub-divided into ethnic groups), rather than an ethno-national distinction. Racial groups were internally divided on the basis of language, religion and ethnic origins, and externally linked in various ways across the colour line. This can be contrasted with Israel/Palestine in which lines of division usually overlap. All potential bases for cross-cutting affiliations that existed early on – anti-Zionist orthodox Jews, Arabic-speaking Jews, indigenous Palestinian Jewish communities – were undermined by the simultaneous rise of the Zionist movement and Arab nationalism to a dominant position in the course of the 20th century. This left no space for those straddling multiple identities.
In South Africa then, there was a contradiction between the organization of the state around the single axis of race, and social reality which allowed more diversity in practice and multiple lines of division as well as cooperation. This opened up opportunities for change. The apartheid state endeavoured to eliminate this contradiction by entrenching residential, educational, religious and cultural segregation, and by seeking to shift its basis of legitimacy from race to national identity, but to no avail. Its capacity was limited and it was further eroded over time. In Israel/Palestine there is tighter fit between the organization of the state and social reality, with one crucial exception: Palestinian citizens are positioned in between Jewish citizens and Palestinian non-citizens. They are the only segment of the population of Greater Israel/Palestine that is fully bilingual, familiar with all political and cultural realities, with enough freedom to organize but not enough rights to align themselves with the oppressive status quo. As a minority group (15-20% of Israeli citizens and of Palestinian Arabs) they cannot drive change on their own but may act as crucial catalysts for change.
Under historical apartheid a key goal of the state was to ensure that black people performed their role as providers of labour, without making difficult social and political demands. The strategy used for that focused on externalizing them. Although they were physically present in white homes, factories, farms and service industries, they were absent (politically and legally) as rights-bearing citizens. They were expected to exercise their rights elsewhere. Those who were no longer or not yet functional for the white-dominated economy were prevented from moving into the urban areas or forcibly removed to the ‘reserves’ (also known as Bantustans or homelands): children, women – especially mothers – and old people. Able-bodied blacks who worked in the cities were supposed to commute – daily or monthly and even annually, depending on the distance – between the places where they had jobs (but no political rights) and the places where they had political rights (but no jobs).
This system of migrant labour opened up a contradiction between political and economic imperatives. To fulfil apartheid ideology, it broke down families and the social order, hampered efforts to create a skilled labour force, reduced productivity, and gave rise to crime and social protest. To control people’s movements, it created a bloated and expensive repressive apparatus, which put a constant burden on state resources and capacities. Domestic and industrial employers faced increasing difficulties in meeting their labour needs. From an economic asset (for whites) it became an economic liability. It simply had to go.
The economic imperative of the Israeli system, in contrast, has been to create employment for Jewish immigrants. Palestinian labour power was used by certain groups at certain times because it was available and convenient, but it was never central to Jewish prosperity in Israel. After the outbreak of the first Intifada in the late 1980s, and under conditions of globalization, it could easily be replaced by politically unproblematic Chinese, Turkish, Thai and Romanian workers. In addition, a massive wave of Russian Jewish immigration in the 1990s helped this process. The externalization of Palestinians, through denial of rights, ethnic cleansing and ‘disengagement’, has presented few economic problems for Israeli Jews. There is little evidence of the contradiction between economic and political imperatives that undermined apartheid South Africa.
Apartheid was the latest in a long list of regimes in which white settlers dominated indigenous black people in South Africa. For most of the colonial period, people of European origins were in the minority, relying on military power, technological superiority, and ‘divide and rule’ strategies, to entrench their rule. Demography was never an overriding concern. As long as security of person, property and investment could be guaranteed, there was no need for numerical dominance. When repression proved increasingly counter-productive, a deal exchanging political power for ongoing prosperity became an option acceptable to the majority of whites. Can such a deal be offered to – and adopted by – Israeli Jews, for whom a demographic majority is the key to domination and the guarantee of political survival on their own terms? Most likely, not.
In summary then, apartheid of a special type in Israel is different from historical apartheid in South Africa in three major respects:
At its foundation are consolidated and relatively impermeable ethno-national identities, with few cross-cutting affiliations across the principal ethnic divide in society.

To read the whole artiocle, use link above

EDITOR: The Bolshevik Party is alive and well, and lives in Jerusalem…

In the latest twist of rewriting history, the Israeli government continues to airbrush trouble out of reality. If only you could apply Photoshop to the Middle East, life would be so much nicer…

Education ministry revising textbook for being too critical of Israel: Haaretz

Offending book was written in the late 1990s and is used in nearly 90 percent of high schools.

The Education Ministry is rewriting the country’s main civics textbook, and the chairman of the ministry’s pedagogical secretariat will begin publishing updates on the ministry’s Web site as early as the upcoming school year.

The main contention of the chairman – Zvi Zameret – is that the textbook dwells too much on criticism of the state, sources in the Education Ministry who took part with Zameret in discussions on the book told Haaretz.

Zameret has criticized a sentence in the book – “Being Citizens in Israel” – on Israel’s Arab citizens stating that “since its establishment, the State of Israel has engaged in a policy of discrimination against its Arab citizens.”

Zameret also admitted that he helped write a critical report on civics studies by the Institute for Zionist Strategies, the right-wing think tank that released a paper alleging post-Zionist bias in sociology courses in Israeli universities.

“Zameret is trying to move the emphasis in civics studies from citizenship and democracy to Judaism and Zionism,” said the chairwoman of the academic forum for civics instruction, Dr. Ricki Tessler of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “The message coming down from the top is sectoral and non-pluralist.”

According to a source on the civics studies committee, “What Zameret cares about today is strengthening Zionism and national patriotism. A lot of this pressure comes out in the subjects of history and civics.”

In his capacity as chairman of the pedagogical secretariat, Zameret is responsible for the curricula taught in the Israeli education system.

The textbook in question was written in the late 1990s and is used in nearly 90 percent of high schools. Ministry sources told Haaretz that Zameret has said the book was focused too much on conflicts and social divisions, and that greater emphasis must be put on the history of the state, such as its establishment in 1948.

One of the first chapters to be rewritten will probably be the one on Israel’s Druze community. Zameret has harshly criticized the chapter for what he called excessive attention to Druze who define themselves as Arabs.

The chapter describes two approaches on the Druze’s national identity. One is based on the view that the Druze are “an inseparable part of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation.” The other is that their identity is based on Israeli citizenship rather than Arab nationhood.

The book in its current form stresses that the second concept is the most popular in the Israeli Druze community.

About a year ago, the Institute for Zionist Strategies published a report criticizing civics studies in Israel. The report alleged that the current curriculum damages Zionist and patriotic education, amid flaws that have ideological, moral and social implications that might weaken Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state.

Some months after the report was released, Zameret took part in a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee in which he said that “democracy is based on the demos – the people comes first, the majority comes first, and one of our problems is that we don’t hear the majority.”

When the chairman of the committee recommended that Zameret read the Institute for Zionist Strategies’ report, Zameret replied that he “took part in it.”

“The civics studies committee, chaired by Prof. Yedidia Stern, decided to accept a proposal by the ministry’s inspector of civics studies to publish a new chapter on the Druze,” the Education Ministry said in a statement yesterday.

As for the report by the Institute for Zionist Strategies, the statement noted that the Education Committee meeting took place before Zameret took office as the chairman of the pedagogical secretariat.

“Zameret denies the claims in the media that he participated in the writing of the report by the Institute for Zionist Strategies,” the ministry said. However, the introduction to the report lists Zameret as one of the academics who had “read all or some of the position paper, and clarified and commented on various sections.”

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