March 8, 2011

In the land of King David: JNews

As the Israeli government endorses school trips to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israelis protest against the arrest of four hikers who killed a Palestinian during a similar tour.

By Lia Tarachansky for JNews Blog
Tuesday, 8 March, 2011 – 10:33
London, UK

lia Tarachansky

Last week Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced a new programme – taking Israeli school children on tours to the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. It is scheduled to begin in September. This announcement follows closely on an investigation into the death of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed by Israeli hikers on a tour in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the past, such tours were permitted by the Israeli Civil Administration authorities but this announcement signals the first open government endorsement.

On 28 January 2011, the David and Ahikam Tours Company (link to Hebrew website) took a group of Jewish-Israeli hikers over the lands of the Palestinian village of Beit Ummar in the Hebron governorate. Youths from the village saw the group and threw stones. The hikers shot back, using live ammunition, wounding 23-year-old Bila Mohammad Abed Al-Qador and killing 17-year-old Yousef Fakhri Ikhlayl.

It never occurred to the Israeli media to ask why the youths had thrown stones. Here are some thoughts. It could have been that they mistook the group for settler scouts looking for a place to start a new outpost. Maybe they were frustrated at the military raids in their village two days before. Maybe they were angry that settlers had killed19-year-old Oday Maher Hamza Qadous near Nablus the day before. Or maybe they understood the group to be exactly what it was and wanted them off Palestinian land. In all likelihood they threw stones because throwing stones at any facet of the occupation is a boy’s rite of passage in the occupied territories. The Israeli press didn’t attempt to find out and only reported the hikers’ experience, in heroic and terrifying language:

“[Shimi] Prazot, 32, added, “our group included 12-year-olds, women over the age of 60, and no one had planned for a situation like that. We didn’t even know where to run to … I asked anyone in our group who had a weapon to cover the seniors’ and children’s escape. I cocked my personal weapon and hid behind a boulder”.

I wonder why no one in the group predicted such a possibility considering that the tour took place on occupied land in the heart of the West Bank. I also wonder how the media would have portrayed a group of Palestinian hikers touring the hills of Haifa being attacked by Israeli teenagers throwing stones.

The next day Israeli forces opened fireon Ikhlayl’s funeral, wounding 40.

Apart from Jerusalem, Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank inside which settlers have set up outposts. Shortly after the occupation began, religious Israelis went ‘on tour’ there. They never left. Their presence meant the displacement over time of tens of thousands of Palestinian residents from the Old City and decades of violent conflict, escalating in a 1994 massacre where settler Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Palestinians were in the Ibrahimi mosque; a further 125 were wounded. Known to the Palestinians as the Sanctuary of Abraham (or the Ibrahimi Mosque, al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) and to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs (or Me’arat ha-Machpela), it is holy to both faiths as the place where Abraham is believed to be buried.

Ha’aretz columnist, Gideon Levy, writes about the Minister’s programme and the effect it will have on school children, saying, “They will return from Hebron excited at having touched the ancient stones and even more blinded from not having touched the people who lived alongside those stones. They will see nothing and learn nothing.” If the Minister insists on taking the school children to Hebron, says Levy, he should show them a full picture, of “the Jewish tradition and the Jewish injustice.”

Years after moving out of the settlements where I grew up, I took such a trip. It was organized by Breaking the Silence,an Israeli organization of veterans who had served in the occupation army, and now work with Palestinians to expose Israelis and internationals to a different view of Hebron. Had the students taken such a tour, they would have seen a ceiling of wire mesh above the streets of the Old City to stop the Israeli settlers who live above the marketplace throwing garbage and bricks on the Palestinians below. (Now they dump sewage and water.) The schoolchildren would also have seen the occupation at work with its administrative classifications, its checkpoints, soldiers, permits, walls and army jeeps. Of course it’s only a matter of time before they participate in it themselves when they reach conscription age.

Why take the students to Hebron? After all, it’s hard not to trip over religious and historically important sites throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Minister’s explanation was that he thinks it’s “very important for them to know the historic roots of the people of Israel in the Land of Israel.”

David and Ahikam Tours are more forthright. Unlike the Minister, they don’t speak in code. For years they have organized Israeli nature and historic hiking tours throughout the occupied West Bank under the motto, “Where the Jewish traveler passes, the Jewish border shall pass”. And it is thanks to the tireless work of settlers that today’s schoolchildren can walk around their autonomous Jewish enclaves inside Hebron, carved out by displacing the former Palestinian residents.

That, in essence, is why Minister Sa’ar can talk about taking schoolchildren to Hebron, and not, say, to Nablus, which is equally significant from a historic point of view.

In their publicity, the organizers ask anyone traveling to the assembly points (at various settlements) to notify them if they have extra spaces for fellow hikers, to pack water and snacks, and to let them know if they intend to bring guns. Right now the tour company is advertising a hike through the hills where I grew up, near the settlement of Ariel (built on the lands of the Palestinian villages of Yasouf, Iskaka, Marda, Hares and Kifl Hares and the town of Salfit). At the bottom of the page the organizers kindly notify travelers that they “take no responsibility for their safety and security.” Like me growing up and the schoolchildren in Minister Sa’ar’s plan, the hikers will be shown a selective picture, far removed from the wall and the checkpoints. And they will believe, as I did, that they are on the frontlines of a fight to restore some glorious and distant ancient time.

The tour company itself is named after two soldiers who were killed while hiking through the occupied West Bank. “Ahikam and David followed the words of the scriptures,” say the organizers, “to ensure that each place where our foot shall pass will be our inheritance. They went to feel the spirit of the zealots and warriors of Bar Kokhba…where they fell as zealous warriors for the name of God and the name of the land of Israel which they loved so.”

This passage communicates the ideology behind these tours. It builds on the Zionist selectivity we were taught in our schools, claiming a Jewish right over the land and erasing that of the Palestinians who have lived there for centuries. It prepares us for army service and it underlines the legal designation of Palestinians as ‘foreigners’ making them outsiders, as the Romans once were. Referencing Bar Kokhba demonstrates that the organizers see themselves as revolutionaries, fighting as he did, in 132 AD, against the Roman emperor Hadrian in the Third Jewish Revolt.

The comparison is really quite ironic because Hadrian, in his frustration at the renewed Jewish rebellion against foreign rule, prevented Jews from traveling to Jerusalem, burned their religious texts on Temple Mount, and attempted to erase their memory and titles from maps. We may no longer be living in Roman times, but the colonial spirit has not been lost.

When four of the participants in the tour of Beit Ummar were arrested as part of an investigation into the death of Ikhlayl, protesters assembled outside the Jerusalem Magistrates Court holding signs that read “It’s our right to tour Eretz Israel”, “To the arrested – thanks to you we are alive today – the hikers”, and most ironically, “Where is the right to self-defense?”

Perhaps it is precisely because the balance of power here is so lopsided that this logic doesn’t even seem strange; that going into a militarily occupied area (recognized even by Israel as under Palestinian rule) and packing sandwiches with M16 rifles still makes teenagers with stones the aggressors. When Minister Sa’ar’s program begins and schoolchildren start traveling to occupied Hebron in armored cars surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of soldiers and police officers, the military show of force will also be justified as self-defense. And if any clashes do occur, the dehumanization of the Palestinians Gideon Levy refers to as at the heart of the occupation, will only strengthen the nationalistic narrative that brought these children there in the first place.

Lia Tarachansky (lia@therealnews.com) is an Israeli-Canadian journalist and the director of the upcoming documentary, Seven Deadly Myths. Most recently she worked as a Middle East correspondent with The Real News Network. Her writings and videos are available at www.liatarachansky.com

Images:
Ibrahimi Mosque/ Tomb of the Patriarchs is an Open Source image.
Hebron by Lia Tarachansky

Palestinians dismiss Netanyahu’s talk of interim peace plan: Haaretz

Direct peace talks have been frozen since September 2010 after Israel refused to extend a partial moratorium on settlement construction; Netanyahu said to be working on proposal to break the deadlock.

Palestinians on Tuesday dismissed any attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take interim steps towards peace now that the U.S.-sponsored statehood negotiations were frozen.

“Netanyahu is trying to escape from his obligations towards the peace process by talking about new proposals,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

An Israeli official on Monday said Netanyahu was crafting a proposal for a “phased approach” to break the deadlock. Netanyahu has not commented publicly on the issue.

In an interview in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying Netanyahu might propose a Palestinian state with temporary borders, an idea Abbas has long rejected.

“If he is serious, let him stop settlements and immediately start negotiations,” Abu Rdainah said.

Direct peace talks that began in Washington in September froze within weeks after Netanyahu refused to extend a partial moratorium on construction in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of setting preconditions for negotiations. Palestinians say the settlements, deemed illegal by the World Court, will deny them a viable state.

Abu Rdainah said any talks must focus on establishing a Palestinian state “on the 1967 border”, a reference to the lines that existed between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip before it captured those territories in a war 44 years ago.

“Any other plan is aimed at … wasting time,” he said.

In a further sign of the wide Israeli-Palestinian divide, Netanyahu reaffirmed in a visit to the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, that Israel intended in any peace deal to keep its forces along the Jordan River, the likely eastern border of a Palestinian state.”Our security border is here, on the Jordan,” he told reporters.

Noting the turmoil in the Arab world and what he described as the “political and security earthquake” it had caused, he said Israel more than ever had to make sure “solid security foundations” would remain in place.

Palestinian leaders have rejected Netanyahu’s demand that a peace deal include a long-term Israeli military presence on the eastern frontier of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said “terrorists, missiles and rockets” would enter the West Bank and threaten Israel if the Jordan River security line was breached .

 

Bill to punish anti-Israel boycotters passes first Knesset hurdle: Haaretz

According to proposal, Israelis would face harsh punitive measures for such actions; controversial bill also calls for imposing sanctions on foreign nationals and groups and on states that give boycotts force of law.

The Knesset plenum on Monday approved in its first reading a “boycott law,” which would levy harsh punitive fines on Israelis who call for academic or economic boycotts against Israeli institutions.

The controversial bill was put forth by 24 Knesset members, including Kadima party whip Dalia Itzik, coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ).

The bill was supported by 32 members of Knesset, while 12 MKs opposed.

The draft law also calls for imposing sanctions against foreign nationals and organizations that call for anti-Israel boycotts, as well as against states that pass legislation giving such boycotts the force of law.

Elkin said prior to the vote that while in the United States it is considered illegal to boycott Israel – punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $1 million – the Israeli legal system cannot punish an Israeli who urges an American company to boycott his own country.

“This is an important and reasonable bill that will enable us to continue to ask the U.S. to take legal action against its citizens who boycott Israel,” Elkin said.

Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik voted against the bill, and said that “it has nothing to do with the left or the right, for or against Arabs. MK Elkin, this is not what the poet intended. As a private civilian, do you want to put me in jail? You have taken the bill too far.”

The Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs and Industry, Trade and Labor are fiercely opposed to the bill, on the grounds that it will not achieve its stated purpose of curbing boycotts and will only hamper efforts to cope with boycotts and the delegitimization of Israel on an international level.

Representatives of these ministries told the committee that the law would violate the right to freedom of expression and could damage Israel’s relations with the European Union and the Foreign Ministry’s freedom of action.

The preamble to the bill states that its aim is “to protect the State of Israel in general and its citizens in particular from academic, economic and other boycotts targeting the state, its citizens and its corporations because of their connection to the state.

The draft law distinguishes among boycotts by Israeli residents or citizens; by foreign residents or nationals; and by foreign states, through legislation. It explicitly includes boycotts that affect the West Bank, such as boycotts of goods and services originating in the Jewish settlements there.

Under the provisions of the bill, the court could levy a fine of up to NIS 30,000 on Israeli citizens calling for or taking party in boycotts against Israel. Foreign citizens who violate the law could be prohibited from entering Israel for 10 years or more.

Foreign states that pass laws leading to a boycott of Israel or of Israeli products could be barred from carrying out transactions in Israeli bank accounts and from trading in Israeli stocks, land or real estate. In addition, the state could suspend the transfer of payments owed to the states. Israeli citizens who have suffered damage as a result of the boycott could sue for compensation, to be paid out of the frozen funds.

MAD ISRAELIS section

Read it in the Guardian – new barrier are put up, now that it is in fashion, this time between Jewish children and… Jewish children. There are no barriers in the way of Israeli innovations, and one can think of many other walls and barriers which will soon be erected by this interesting regime!

The new Israeli barrier: a fence that splits Jewish nursery in two: The Guardian

Ultra-orthodox parents win battle to stop their children mixing with secular pupils and ‘immodest’ teachers

Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox Jewish population has grown in recent years. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
The Jerusalem city authority has erected a fence in a nursery school playground to separate ultra-orthodox Jewish children from a secular Jewish kindergarten that shares the same building and garden.

The wire fence is to be covered with sheeting to block visibility from one part of the playground to the other.

The nursery schools are in the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood of Jerusalem, an area that has seen a growing ultra-orthodox population in recent years, to the dismay of many local secular Jews.

The secular kindergarten, Pashosh, opened in September with the aim of attracting more secular families to the area. But ultra-orthodox parents have complained that the female staff of Pashosh are immodestly dressed and that they do not want their children mixing with children from a non-religious background.

“They don’t want to see us because of the way we dress,” said Mika Lavi, a teacher at Pashosh, who was wearing trousers and a close-fitting, long-sleeved jumper. In warm weather, she said, her arms were usually exposed.

“I cried when I saw the fence. These children are very small. I had hoped that we could live in peace together. If we separate the children at such an early age how will they learn to live together?”

Pashosh has about 10 children aged under two. The ultra-orthodox nursery school has about 20 boys and 20 girls, in separate rooms with separate entrances, aged three to four. Staff at the ultra-orthodox kindergarten declined to speak to the Guardian.

One ultra-orthodox parent, picking up her daughter, said she was saddened by the fence but reluctantly accepted its necessity. “I don’t want my children to see immodest women,” said the mother, who did not want to give her name.

“I spoke to one of the teachers at the other school and asked her to think about how she dressed for the sake of good relations. She wasn’t interested in seeing our point of view – she said: ‘Don’t tell me how to dress; I am free to dress how I please.'”

The mother said parents who had lobbied the Jerusalem officials to erect the fence were mostly recent immigrants to Israel from Europe who were uncompromising in their religious beliefs. “This is now the face of Israel, the way we are, even Jewish communities are divided,” she said.

The Jerusalem city authority declined to answer questions about the fence but issued a statement saying that “with the aim of meeting the needs of all of the neighbourhood’s pupils, both secular and ultra-orthodox, the [municipality] decided to divide the existing building … The fence will be built as part of a wider perspective that provides for the quite different needs of the community as a whole.”


 

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