May 13, 2012

EDITOR: The more it changes, the more it stays the same…

The second year of summer protest in Israel, and the picture is just as confusing as before. If ‘social justice’ was not vague enough, then this shortcoming seems to have been resolved… now the ‘people wants all things’ and now… it seems that the May Day tradition of political rallies has been replaced by a new kind of public festival – the public airing of unformed, or malformed, personal misgivings about everything under the sun, but mainly, not about the issues which have shaped Israel and Palestine for almost a century. One could call this the ‘Eid of Denial’, I reckon. After all, denial is a national sport in Israel  – in a country in which the law forbids the indoigenous population to commemorate the Nakba, a Denial Holiday will come in handy.

No doubts, the fruits of this diffused, confused and colourful ‘protest’ will be like those of last summer – much a do about something, but without knowing about what, and with no political results whatsoever. In the meantime, Netanyahu is becoming stronger, and prepares his next war with Iran.

The new face of Israel’s social protest: Haaretz

If the slogan of the 2011 protest was ‘the people demand social justice,’ the slogan this year is ‘the people demand all kinds of things.’

A protester carrying a sign proclaiming the start of the "Hebrew Spring," during a rally in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night. Photo by Moti Milrod

Gideon Levy
Israelis protest in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv, May 12, 2012. Photo by Moti Milrod
Social protest showed a new face last night: What began in the summer of 2011 as a small tent protest, aimed at bringing down housing prices, is in the summer of 2012 a strange and endless coalition of interests and agendas that have yet to find common ground. If the slogan of the 2011 protest was “the people demand social justice,” the slogan this year is “the people demand all kinds of things.”

Rabin Squarelooked more like Woodstock, without the drugs, than the Bastille, on Saturday night. The music was loud and contemporary, no more Eyal Golan or Shlomo Artzi, and the average age has gone down. The language is completely different and the burning anger that was so missing last summer, was, unfortunately, absent last night as well.

The founding fathers and mothers were walking around in the square, among them Daphni Leef and Regev Kuntas, but they were like strangers, interviewed on TV in an appearance that seemed more nostalgic than political. The protest, generation 2, has not produced new leaders like Leef. The organizers took care to put unknown faces on the dais, who read from prepared texts passing the microphone on as if this were a Shavuot play at a kibbutz.

“Ask yourselves why you know more about the Iranian nuclear reactor than the Jesse Cohen neighborhood in Holon,” one said, referring to a poor neighborhood. “Why is there such a broad government with such narrow interests?” another asked.

The texts were interrupted repeatedly by the call, for those present to put down political protest signs. “This is a demonstration of being together. This is not a political demonstration.” Not political? If that’s the case, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can continue to rest through another summer of settlements, bombings and social injustice.

Since last summer the government coalition has broadened and public support of it has not decreased at all, according to the polls. Perhaps that is last summer’s failure. Since then, taking to the street in protest has become almost a matter of course. That may be a good sign. But it is doubtful that a coalition consisting of the Social Guard; the Social Darma movement; the First Cooperative for Social Change; New Peace – Come Learn and Create; and the Suckers Encampment; My People – the Future of Israel; the Venus Project; a group organizing fun days for Palestinian children; and a group supporting the legalization of cannabis, are more threatening to the government and the existing order than the cries of the homeless that echoed last summer.

The good news is that (very ) young people took over the square, the bad news is that they were much too diffused. Someone counted no less than 30 groups, and not one major group was there. TV monitors showed live broadcasts of protests elsewhere in the world, in Madrid, Barcelona and London, May having been declared the month of international protest and “we are not alone.”

But the globalization of the protest is unlikely to help the residents of the Jesse Cohen neighborhood in Holon. They were (once again ) missing from last night’s rally, although it had begun with the march of the few from south Tel Aviv, it was (once again ) a rally of young, secular, Ashkenazi Tel Avivians from Facebook. It’s good to see them disconnect from their computers, going out into the streets, worrying not only about themselves, and at least imagining that they are protesting.

About an hour before the protest started, a big circle of dancers covered the square to “hold hands” against the sunset. Two women invited me for a hug; two others for two minutes of silence together. Only a man collecting tin cans asked a traffic policewoman, “what’s the protest about,” and she did not know the answer.

Yes, the police were there last night, as at every Israeli protest, far too many. But last night at least they were not violent, for a change. The emcee spoke of the “amazing voice” in the square as if we were in an ashram in Pune or an evangelical church in the southern United States.

Of all people, it was the promising leader of this summer’s protest, the veteran and devoted social activist Shaul Mofaz, who was absent. Only one or two MKs dared appear, with hatred for politics and political parties having grown with the expansion of the coalition. “All the parties have failed,” one speaker said. And that is not necessarily a good sign.

EDITOR: Fascist environmentalism

In normal countries, the principles of environmentalism are usually held and supported by progressive parties of and on the left. In Israel, this position is held by Gilad Erdan; read below to learn of the fascist and racist positioning argued under the cover of ‘environmental issues’.

Hunger strikers expose an inhuman system: Observer Editorial

Israel cannot claim the moral high ground while it is holding Palestinians without charge
The disclosure that six of almost 1,600 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike to protest against the Israeli policy of “administrative detention” are close to death has profound implications for Israel and for the stalled Middle East peace process. The rule of law and fair and proper judicial processes, where those accused of a crime may be charged and are guaranteed an opportunity to speak in their own defence in open court, is a key human right that a properly functioning democracy should guarantee even in a troubled period of peacetime.

Internment for prolonged periods without charge on the suspicion of secretive and unaccountable intelligence agencies, whose claims cannot be adequately tested – in Guantánamo Bay, the UK or in Israel – must always be opposed. And in Israel, in particular, administrative detention, first introduced by the UK during the British Mandate, has long been a stain on Israel’s democracy, a process by which that detention can be renewed every six months without formal charges in a system administered by the military including, on the West Bank, relatively junior officers.

Last December, it was estimated that more than 300 prisoners were held in this way.

The office of UN high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, is clear on the legality of administrative detention: it “should only be used in exceptional cases and only for imperative reasons of security”.

Yet far from being exceptional, it is commonplace. Indeed, according to the UN’s special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, over the past year the number of administrative detentions has almost doubled despite the period of relative peace in Israel.

The claim by the Red Cross that the six hunger strikers who have been refusing nourishment the longest are now in danger of dying comes as the secretary-general of the UN, Ban ki-Moon, last week raised the stakes by calling for those being held to be tried or released.

There is an evident risk of violence for both Israelis and Palestinians should any of the hunger strikers die (as officials on both sides have warned). But the success or failure of this protest has further far-reaching implications. The deaths of Bobby Sands and fellow IRA and INLA hunger strikers in 1981 become a focus for both IRA political and paramilitary activity, Sands’s funeral alone attracting tens of thousands of mourners.

And for Israel, the new Palestinian tactic should serve as a warning. At a time when more and more observers are increasingly convinced that the two-state solution is failing, the nonviolence of this hunger strike is already deeply suggestive of what a Palestinian civil rights movement might look like – should Palestinians abandon the demand for their own self-determination and, instead, insist on full equality within a binational state.

While Israel, confronted by the spectre of violence, has found it easy to put forward the argument of necessity, the grim spectacle of uncharged prisoners dying in its jails deprived of the most basic rights will be difficult to justify.

The UN secretary-general is right. Israel must either put on trial or release those that it holds within this inhuman system. In doing so it will help to affirm that it is a free and open society.

Environment Minister: Israel should cut power supply to Gaza in case of shortage: Haaretz

Environmental Protection Ministry study shows 4.5% of Israeli electricity exported to Gaza; Minister Erdan says ‘our poor come first.’
By Ophir Bar-Zohar

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan Photo by Daniel Bar-On

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan on Sunday sought support from other government ministers to add a stipulation to any policy decision regarding the expected electricity shortages this summer.

Erdan said that he wishes to add a clause to the agreement stipulating that if any electricity service needs to be temporarily stopped, such temporary outages should be implemented in Hamas-controlled Gaza, before affecting the power supply to residents of Israel.

Erdan made it clear that the stipulation is not meant to be a sanction against Gaza, nor its residents, but simply a logical step toward the philosophy of putting “the poor of your own city first.”

Erdan said that it is not reasonable to reduce the power supply to residents of Israel in the event of a shortage, while continuing to supply power to Gaza, from which Israel disengaged roughly seven years ago, and is no longer responsible for what goes on within its borders.

Erdan noted in his letter to government ministers that experts in the field predict that a power shortage this summer is unavoidable, and a schedule of regulated, intentional power outages will need to be implemented.

Erdan pointed out that according to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, Israel exports roughly 4.5% of electricity it generates to the Palestinian Authority. Thus Erdan suggests that if even after all countermeasures are in place, periodic stoppages of electricity need to be implemented, such outages should be felt in Gaza before in Israel.

“As the Environmental Protection Ministry is warning against a possible ‘electricity drought,’ steps are being made to counter it, including possible stops of service – there is no question, rather a clear decision in that case – Gaza first,” said Erdan.

Egyptian presidential candidates in first television debate: Guardian

Egypt's presidential candidates Amr Moussa (right) and Abdel Moneim Abu Futuh during the televised presidential debate in Cairo. Photograph: Ahmed Hayman/EPA Millions of Egyptians tuned into the first ever presidential debate in the country's history on Thursday night between frontrunners Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futoh.

Egypt's presidential candidates Amr Moussa (right) and Abdel Moneim Abu Futuh during the televised presidential debate in Cairo. Photograph: Ahmed Hayman/EPA

Millions of Egyptians tune into two private satellite channels to watch Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futoh debate
Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Cairo, Friday 11 May 2012

With former president Hosni Mubarak languishing in hospital as he awaits sentencing next month, Egyptians watched two private satellite channels to witness an event held within its borders for the first time: a bona fide presidential debate.

There are 13 candidates in the campaign, which begins on 23 May, but the two who showed up for the TV bout were the established frontrunners in the polls, former foreign minister Moussa and former Muslim Brotherhood member Abul-Futoh.

Taking away the leftist revolutionary candidates, Moussa and Abul-Futoh exemplified perfectly the fault-lines of the upcoming election. Moussa was affiliated to the previous regime while Abul-Futoh was a prominent supporter of the revolution. Also, Moussa is a secular liberal while Abul-Futoh is a moderate Islamist.

Each candidate set out to accentuate his credentials to the detriment of the other. Abul-Futoh alluded to Moussa’s ties to the Mubarak regime many times, while Moussa reciprocated by attacking Abul-Futoh’s affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Candidates were asked a broad selection of questions over the four and half hours of the debate, ranging from the relationship with the ruling military junta, minority rights and the implementation of Sharia law.

Moussa brought up Sharia law many times in order to attack Abul-Futoh, which led the latter to admit he did intend to implement the rulings of Sharia law, though he argued it would not contravene civil liberties nor the rights of non-Muslims.

“There is no duality between religion and citizenship, the state or the constitution. The nature of Islam is that it looks for the interest of people. When we look for their interests, this is congruous with Sharia law,” Abul-Futoh said.

For his part ,Moussa distanced himself from Mubarak and his regime, stating, “When the regime fell, it fell with its men and I wasn’t one of them. I left 10 years ago and when it fell I wasn’t part of it.”

The candidates were also asked about the ruling military junta and the litany of abuses conducted by them, including the infamous virginity tests against female protesters. They both responded by saying that if it did happen, a full investigation must take place and those responsible held accountable.

The candidates were also asked about Israel, the US and Iran. Ever the diplomat, Moussa said relations with Israel must be reconfigured until a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital was created.

Abul-Futoh was more scathing, labelling Israel a threat to Egypt with its 200 nuclear warheads and continued broaching of Egyptian sovereignty on its borders. Both were rather more blasé about the US. Regarding Iran, Moussa urged that there should be no attack, while Abul-Futoh said Iran was welcome to have relations with Egypt as long as it did not attempt to spread Shia beliefs.

The London riots also made its way into the debate, when Abul-Futoh pointed out that police protected looters even as they rioted, in way of explanation that it was the job of police to avoid deaths even if protests turn violent.

The debate was aired concurrently on two satellite channels belonging to prominent Egyptian businessmen Naguib Sawiris and Ahmed Bahgat. It was not aired on national television and was full of ad breaks, giving it a Superbowl-type atmosphere and leading to criticism that it was a money-making endeavour as much as it was a historic occasion.

It was also not without its surreal moments. Beforehand, the presenters discussed debates in the US and Europe, and while talking about the debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin of 2008, footage was aired of Tina Fey impersonating Palin on the satirical television show Saturday Night Live.

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