January 2013

January 23, 2013

EDITOR: After the most anodyne and hapless election, what now?

Israelis have spent the last few months avoiding reality in the most unreal election campaign, avoiding the issues and avoiding the future. Now it seems, that the winner of the day is the greatest avoider of all, Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, which in Hebrew means “There is a Future”…. indeed. He, who spoke about a future ona different planet, may hold the keys for the next government. As he has no politics, he could sit with Netanyahu and Bennett as easily as he could with Yachimovich and Livni. On paper, the ‘left’ and ‘right’ are equal, but this is only true in cloudcukooland.  In Israel reality, no government is ever built with the Arab parties, of course. So there is hardly a way for the ‘centre left’ to build a government, while it is also difficult, but not impossible, for Netanyahu to build a wide government. Israel being what it is, that is what is likely to take place, with Lapid to give it a shade of mock respectability. Woe to us all.

When an apolitical candidate is the big winner of an apolitical election: Haaretz

Israel made a decisive statement regarding what it wants: it wants only to be left alone, a quiet, good life, peaceful and bourgeois, and to hell with all those pesky nagging issues; Lapid epitomizes this attitude.

By  | Jan.23, 2013 | 4:13 AM

Yair Lapid May 2, 2012 (Alon Ron)

Yair Lapid Photo by Alon Ron

A patently apolitical candidate has become the big winner of the most patently apolitical elections ever held in Israel. A former columnist and TV presenter, who rarely wrote or spoke of political issues, not in his political columns nor in his TV weekly magazine, made an instant switch to politics, even then not uttering much in the way of political statements. On Tuesday, Israel gave him a resounding “yes!” Yes to the young, yes to the new, yes to the apolitical. He was anointed as crown prince, second in importance only to King Bibi, who turned out to be almost naked. Had it not been for the union with Yisrael Beiteinu, it is doubtful if Likud would have been the largest party in the coming Knesset. A hollow election campaign has resulted in an equally empty result – a bit of everything and a lot of nothing.

Israeli elections yet again ended in a draw – a tie between left and right, if those are the correct terms in Israel. The elections deflated the Bennett legend, with Habayit Hayehudi turning out to be another Shas in the number of seats it won, no less and no more. Not what we thought and not what we feared. Israel on Tuesay voiced a very hesitant “yes”, which was almost a “no”, to the aspirations of Shelly Yacimovich to become a real alternative to Netanyahu. The party she heads will not even be the second largest in the Knesset, to its shame. This signals the end to her pretensions to reconstruct the Labor party, counting on drawing strength from the social protests two summers ago and from masses of young-old voters, obedient and conformist, who ended up not delivering the goods. Her dreadful sleight of hand, attempting to hide the occupation under the carpet, did not help her much.

In contrast, Israel said “yes” to a straight shooting party such as Meretz, which doubled its strength in a dignified showing. Israel also said “no” to the fragments of tiny parties that did not pass the electoral threshold. The good news: the racist Otzma Leyisrael as of this writing is out. The bad news: as of this writing, the subversive “Eretz Hadasha” (new country) didn’t make it either.

Above all, Israel made a decisive statement regarding what it wants: it wants nothing, only to be left alone. Voters want a quiet, good life, peaceful and bourgeois, and to hell with all those pesky nagging issues. Lapid epitomizes this attitude, being the role model for the all-Israeli dream. He looks good and dresses well, he’s well-spoken and well-married, lives in the right neighborhood and drives the right kind of Jeep.

With that, he doesn’t say much. He’s not extreme, heaven forbid, that’s not who we are, nor does he stick his hand in the fire, that’s not us either. He stays away from any divisive issues, just as Israelis prefer. Even when they took to the streets in that magical summer of 2011, remnants of which event were still evident yesterday, their protests turned out in retrospect to be encapsulated only in songs by popular singers Shlomo Artzi and Eyal Golan, without real substance. Lapid fits this mold perfectly, as characterized by protest singing in the city square, with no clear agenda and angry protest. “Let us Live in Peace” was the slogan of the General Zionist party in the 1951 elections. Let us live in this land was the slogan of many Israelis yesterday. Let us live without Arabs and Haredi Jews, without wars and terror attacks, without the world and its preaching. Now, as it was then, this represents pure escapism. Yesterday, Israel affirmed escapism.

On Tuesday, Lapid acquired power that he most likely did not anticipate, and that he may not know what to do with. It is difficult to know if he can put some content behind the power given to him, but perhaps there is room for hope. For someone who managed to change his conduct and mannerisms in the course of the preceding campaign, shedding some of those that characterized his columns and TV appearances, growing and maturing in the process, it is possible that he will grow into the role thrust upon him yesterday. Perhaps with the power will also come some meaningful utterances and a willingness to fight.

A new day is dawning upon us, a dawn of a day in which Israel only wants to be left alone with all its comforts. Only grant it Lapid and quiet, the terrible quiet at the brink of the abyss.

EDITOR: And while the pundits are punditting, apartheid strikes in total immunity!

PHOTOS: Jordan Valley demolitions leave Palestinian families homeless in winter: 972mag

Photos by Mareike Lauken and Keren Manor

On January 17, the Israeli army destroyed 55 homes and animal shelters in the Al Maleh area. This large scale military operation happened simultaneously in two separate locations: Hamamat al-Maleh, and further up the valley in Al-Mayta. Al-Maleh and Al-Mayta are two marginalized villages located in the north of the Jordan Valley, near the Tayasir checkpoint.

Of the 55 buildings demolished, 23 were family homes: five in Hamamat Al-Maleh (leaving 37 people homeless) and 18 in Al-Mayta (leaving 150 people homeless). In addition, 33 other buildings used to shelter the communities’ animals were destroyed, as well as some water tanks. Two days later, on January 19, the entire village had been declared a Closed Military Zone and the Israeli army confiscated the community’s possessions, including food, bedding and tents that had been provided to the families by the Red Cross after the demolitions. However, the residents stayed and slept out in the fields with no shelter.

Both Al-Maleh and Al-Mayta, like many villages in Area C, have suffered a continuous pattern of harassment by the Israeli army. They have been subject to repeated demolition orders and only two weeks ago were forced to leave their homes for one night, purportedly due to Israeli military training.




 To see the rest of the photos, use the link above


Yair Lapid: The rise of the tofu man: 972mag


Despite an astonishing surge to second place in the polls, chances of Yair Lapid making  an actual premiership bid are slim. He is risk-averse, lacks a political program, and his projected coalition is too fanciful to work. Lapid is much likelier to join Netanyahu’s next government, and the only question is: Will Lapid be Bibi’s pretty face in Washington as Foreign Minister, or will he be the Finance Minister, and therefore fall guy, for Israel’s upcoming austerity drive? 

LIKUD VICTORY RALLY, TEL AVIV – After months of predictions for a comfortable right-wing win, Israel reeled tonight at a surprising near-gridlock between the “Right” and “Left” parliamentary blocs, with the Netanyahu-Liberman union barely scrambling past 30 seats, instead of the 45 42 they held between them in the departing parliament. But Netanyahu’s ratings were in steady decline ever since the union pact in late November and not least thanks his petty and paranoid attacks on settler leader Naftali Bennett.  The true surprise of the landslide vote was ultra-centrist candidate Yair Lapid. Lapid, a TV personality who avoided taking any remotely controversial stand on almost any issue, careened past rivals right and left to end up with 17 to 19 seats, rendering him the kingmaker of these elections. Bennett himself, the other golden boy of the 2013 elections, is currently forecasted to win 12 seats, a solid achievement but a far cry from the utopian poll projections of 15-19. Kadima, the centrist party that led Israel to wars in Lebanon and Gaza during its first term in the Knesset, and imploded in a series of ill-judged political manoeuvres at the end of its second term, has not made it to a third term at all, evaporating from Israeli politics with zero seats in the exit polls.

On the Left, Shelly Yacimovich doubled Labor’s seats but fell far, far behind her promise to oust Netanyahu or even to restore Labor as a significant force in Israeli politics. To add insult to injury, after making every possible effort to depoliticise and centralise Labor’s toxic brand, she was overtaken by an ad-hoc party led by a man who lacks any of the political structures, networks and traditional strongholds of Labor, but whose neutral and consensual public image made him more apolitical than she could ever hope to be. The great winner on the left side of the map is Meretz, raised from the dead by new leader Zehava Galon to go from three to seven seats; unlike Labor, Meretz never harboured illusions about premiership, so it can be content with its significant victory. Hadash, the only Jewish-Arab party running, is left with four seats, having failed to rejuvenate its front ranks and thus also failed to capitalise on the social justice movement in which its activists played a significant part (stay tuned for separate stories on social justice and Hadash tomorrow).

Theoretically (or rather, purely arithmetically), Lapid is now in a position to make a bold bid for premiership. Although earlier attempts to herd the centre-leftist cats into a unified bloc ahead of the elections failed miserably, the tantalisingly small gap between the Left and Right in the exit polls could give Lapid enough of a momentum – to hammer together a centre-left government of small parties, to persuade Shas to switch sides (by reminding them they’d hold much more sway in such a fractured coalition than in a strong right-wing one), and to solicit the external support of Arab parties (among which Hadash is usually lumped), eventually creating something akin to Rabin’s government in 1992. But, to the tune of “you are no Jack Kennedy,” Lapid is no Rabin, and 2013 is not 1993. Lapid is risk-averse and lacks a political program or vision; while the negotiated two-state process, a novel idea in Rabin’s time, has been tested and failed in the 21 years since. What’s more, hostility towards the Arab parties is immeasurably greater than it was in the 1990s. Any party overpowering the Right with these parties’ support will be seen as an usurper. Lapid may well launch a bid for premiership – but this is likely to be a negotiation ploy designed to mark him as not just a coalition member, but a partner in a “national unity” government, a title with considerably more clout and gravitas.

Poison, sir?

The more likely outcome, then, is a strong right-wing government with Lapid’s party as its safety belt and fig leaf. In such a scenario, Lapid can look forward to appointment as foreign minister, which would reward him with prestige and the limelight he is long accustomed to, and would reward Netanyahu with a telegenic, charismatic and unoriginal moderate face in the world arena. If Netanyahu sees Lapid more as a rival than a partner, however, he might offer him the Finance Ministry instead – a poisoned chalice if there ever was one. While a highly prestigious position and well in tune with (upper class) Lapid’s self-appointed role as emissary of the middle class, the Treasury is the least enviable fiefdom Netanyahu can offer anyone. Israel is facing an NIS 40 billion deficit and is poised on the brink of an austerity drive set to affect primarily Lapid’s own electorate; getting him to deliver the blow to his own crowd will neutralise him even more effectively than leaving him out of government. The same, with slight amendments, applies to Naftali Bennett and several other candidates; the Finance Minister appointment will tell us where Netanyahu sees the greater threat – from the Centre or from within the Right – and who he considers his most dangerous rival.

If she holds by her vow never to enter Netanyahu’s government (even if he offers her, say, the Finance Ministry), Yacimovich now has the opportunity to forge a combative and determined opposition. Such a move, if played patiently and committedly, will pay off with interest over the long term, especially in the wake of the anticipated austerity drive. This move can be impeded not only by tempting offers from Netanyahu, but primarily from within Labor – the most patricidal (or matricidal) party in Israeli politics. The knives will be out for the leader whose campaign was characterised by self-promotion and by a neglect, to put it mildly, of some of the strongest potential Labor candidates who came into the party of their own accord (Stav Shaffir and Merav Michaeli being the lead examples,) in favour of loyal but utterly lacklustre apparatchiks.

Tomorrow morning Israel will wake up to the real results fairly similar to the exit polls (despite the latter’s margin of error), and while a complete tie between Right and Left or a slight advantage to the Left can generate a modest momentum for an attempted leftist government, the right-by-centre-right coalition is the likeliest outcome. The only question is how tough a negotiator Lapid will prove to be – he could condition his entry into government on, say, complete exclusion of all ultra-Orthodox parties – and how protracted negotiations will be as a result. This might be more significant than a mere inconvenience: Israel is currently without a budget (Netanyahu threw down the cards on budget negotiations in the spring as pretext for gambling on elections) and is weighed down by a 40-billion-shekel deficit. Delay in putting together the team that will cover up that black hole will make the fabled Israeli stock exchange very antsy and drive a pin into Israel’s financial stability balloon – setting the stage for a much more heated contestation over economy, far from the Right’s familiar playing field.

The success of Israel’s social protest failure: Haaretz

While Tuesday’s election was in many ways about the social protests in Israel in 2011, it did not address the most pressing social ills and only perpetuated the false dichotomy between right and left.
By Lev Grinberg     | Jan.23, 2013 | 2:12 AM

Tuesday’s election in Israel revolved around the success of the social protests of the summer of 2011 — and also their failure. If we cannot comprehend this paradox then we cannot easily comprehend the bizarre and surprising campaign we just witnessed — and what it is expected to bring.

There is nothing extraordinary about this paradox. It is the nature of protest movements to succeed only in part because they are not political parties, and the existing parties always try to gain political capital on Election Day from the protests.

The Israeli Black Panther movement, for example, erupted, like all social protests, during a period of military calm (1971-73), and it shook up the political system. The Panthers protested against anti-Mizrahi discrimination and voiced their anger at an establishment that absorbed them as immigrants and then relegated them to the social, economic, geographic and cultural periphery. “The second Israel,” they were called, or edot hamizrah (communities of the east), to underscore their inferiority.

Even though it comprised only a few thousand young and inexperienced demonstrators, the Panthers’ protest made enormous gains in changing the public discourse about Mizrahim. It also succeeded in changing economic policy and in transforming Israel from a hand-out state into a welfare state.

But the Panthers’ success helped Likud to mobilize Mizrahi anger without having to represent Mizrahi interests. The peripheral Mizrahim voted for Likud in order to bring down the Labor Alignment, which had discriminated against them. But they got stuck on the “right” and the Mizrahi voice was suppressed repeatedly, by both the right and the left. The economic situation of some Mizrahim has improved since the 1970s, thanks both to the welfare policies introduced by Labor Party precursor Mapai and Likud’s rise to power. But others remained stuck in the periphery and in difficult economic circumstances. At the same time, the legitimacy for speaking in the name of anti-Mizrahi discrimination was lost: For proof, look at Shas.

The reference to the Black Panthers was not accidental. This election revolved around the discourse that was created in that era, a discourse of left and right and the Ashkenazi hegemony that silences any voice that lays it bare. Hatred of Shas was a common denominator of this election, in parties from Habayit Hayehudi on the right to Meretz on the left — a wall-to-wall coalition.

This points up one of the most glaring failures of the recent social protest movement: its inability to combine the discourse of equality and social justice with the need for affirmative action for groups within society that the regime oppresses: Mizrahim on the periphery, the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, Ethiopians, some Russian-speakers and above all, Palestinians in the territories.

The reign of the business tycoons would not be possible without dividing and sowing strife among these various groups. A universalist discourse on behalf of justice and equality is insufficient, because justice and equality only for some immediately become injustice and inequality.

To my mind, the most serious failure has been the preservation of the left-right discourse, which silences any substantive debate on all the issues on the agenda, including those relating to the Palestinians. But above all, the “left-right” discourse silences issues of economic and social policy, because the poor can be found on both sides of this divide and they have not succeeded in uniting against the rule of the wealthy. Ever since 1977 Likud and Labor have imposed this left-right dichotomy in order to preserve their power and prevent rivals from entering the arena.

And that is what happened in the recent election season: Even though the socioeconomic agenda was in the background throughout the campaign (from the joint slate formed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to the resignation from the cabinet of Moshe Kahlon and his appointment to a different post at the last moment), there was no new political language. We went back to talking about left-wing and right-wing blocs even as both are crumbling, divided and strife-ridden, and the public feels that every word uttered by the politicians is empty: symbols that stand for nothing. Peace, security justice, equality — everything is included, and it’s all hollow.

They talk about natural partners, about one’s political home. But politics is the opposite of nature: It’s about changing reality: about interests, positions, disagreements, building coalitions to deal with the state’s major problems, formulating policy and implementing it. All these were absent from this election. And therefore, the day after the election, when the results are already known, all the questions will still be before us, but the public won’t be involved in how they are decided. It’s a facade of democracy.

This, too, is an expression of the social protest’s failure: its inability to create a new political language that links the question of social justice to the regime that discriminates against various groups because of their identity, its inability to overcome the regime of division, of intimidate and conquer. This is the regime that Mapai built and Likud perfected, while in the process building the reign of capital and the tycoons.

The language of the left-right cartel is still with us. The Ashkenazi elites have many parties — all except those of the very poorest, who are set apart out and marked as inferior, the lazy and the exploiters who don’t fulfill their obligations: “the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs.”

When Shas co-leader Aryeh Deri pointed out the whiteness of the right he was attacked from all sides, and he retreated. But this election revolved around whiteness.

That was precisely the criticism leveled at the leadership of the Rothschild Boulevard protesters in the summer of 2011: its whiteness, its dominance, its failure to represent the periphery and its desire to preserve the power of the middle class — that is, the secular Ashkenazim.

Their supporters will indeed enter the Knesset. But all the others won’t. And I don’t believe they’ll quietly go home. My prediction is that they will yet return to the streets, and someday they will succeed in translating the protest into a political language. There will be other elections.

Israel election setback for Binyamin Netanyahu as centrists gain ground: Guardian

Results give narrowest of victories to the prime minister’s rightwing-religious block

Link to video: Israel takes to the polling booths as Palestinians look onBinyamin Netanyahu suffered a major setback in Israel‘s general election as results gave the narrowest of victories for the rightwing-religious block and a surprisingly strong showing for a new centrist party formed last year, forcing the prime minister to say he will seek a broad coalition to govern Israel.Right wing and allied Orthodox religious parties won half the seats in the Israeli parliament, presenting Netanyahu with a tough political challenge to put together a stable coalition.Netanyahu remains on course to continue as prime minister, as his rightwing electoral alliance, Likud-Beiteinu, is the biggest party after winning 31 of 120 seats in the next parliament. But it was a sharp drop from the present combined total of 42 for the two parties.Yesh Atid, a new centrist party led by the former television personality Yair Lapid, won 19 seats. It concentrated its election campaign on socio-economic issues and removing the exemption for military service for ultra-orthodox Jews.

Netanyahu called Lapid, whose unexpected success hands him a pivotal role in coalition negotiations, as the final results came in to discuss a potential government.

Likud officials quoted the Israeli prime minister as telling Lapid: “We have the opportunity to do great things together”.

But Netanyahu was also putting out feelers to ultra-Orthodox parties which could prove vital in putting together a government, saying he would open coalition talks with them on Thursday.

Final results could shift, although not dramatically, later in the week after votes from serving members of the military are counted.

Two out of three Israelis voted in Tuesday’s election, a slightly higher proportion than in the previous two elections, surprising observers who had predicted a fall in turnout.

In a speech at his election headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said: “I believe the election results are an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel are hoping for and that will serve all of Israel’s citizens. I intend on leading these changes, and to this end we must form as wide a coalition as possible, and I have already begun talks to that end this evening.”

Lapid told campaign workers in Tel Aviv: “We must now … find the way to work together to find real solutions for real people. I call on the leaders of the political establishment to work with me together, to the best they can, to form as broad a government as possible that will contain in it the moderate forces from the left and right, the right and left, so that we will truly be able to bring about real change.”

Dov Lipman, who won a seat for Yesh Atid, said: “This is a very clear statement that the people of Israel want to see a different direction. We will get the country back on track.”

Labour was the third largest party, with 15 seats. Party leader Shelly Yachimovich said in a statement: “There is no doubt we are watching a political drama unfold before our eyes … There is a high chance of a dramatic change, and of the end of the Netanyahu coalition.” She said she intended to attempt to “form a coalition on an economic-social basis that will also push the peace process forward.” It seems unlikely Yachimovich could present a credible alternative to Netanyahu’s claim to the premiership.

Erel Margalit of Labour said the results indicated “a protest vote against Netanyahu” and that the huge social justice protests that swept Israel 18 months ago “were not a fringe phenomena. Perhaps some of it is moving from the streets into the political arena”.

The ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, which showed strongly in opinion polls during the campaign, was at 11 seats, the same as the ultra-orthodox party Shas. The leftist party Meretz made an unexpectedly strong showing, with six seats, more than doubling its current presence.

Speculation about the composition of the next coalition government intensified as the results came in. Israel’s electoral system of proportional representation has ensured no single party has gained an absolute majority since the creation of the state almost 65 years ago. Negotiations are expected to last several weeks.

As the leader of the biggest party, Netanyahu will be first in line to assemble a coalition. Although Netanyahu’s natural partners are the smaller rightwing and religious parties, he is likely to be keen to include Yesh Atid and possibly Hatnua, which is led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and won seven seats. However, Livni’s insistence on a return to meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians could deter Netanyahu from inviting her join him.

Three parties mostly supported by Israeli Arabs had 12 seats between them. Although they are regarded as part of the left bloc in the Knesset, it is unlikely they would be part of any coalition government.

Yehuda Ben Meir of the Institute of National Security Studies, said: “The story of this election is a slight move to the centre, and above all the possibility of Netanyahu forming a coalition only with his ‘natural partners’ does not exist. He is definitely going to work for a wider coalition.”

According to Ari Shavit of the liberal newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu had failed to consolidate or advance his party’s position. “While in the past he was given poor cards and played them well, this time he had the best cards and played them badly. This was a lesson in how not to run a campaign.”

Kadima, which was the biggest party in the last parliament with 28 seats, saw its support plummet and only just crossed the threshold of votes needed to win two seats, according to the partial results.

In Washington, the Obama administration said it is waiting to see the make up of the new government and its policies on peace with the Palestinians. But the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said there would be no change in US policy.

“The United States remains committed, as it has been for a long time, to working with the parties to press for the goal of a two-state solution. That has not changed and it will not change,” he said.

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January 20, 2013

Hate, by Khalil Bendib

How the media let Israel get away with murder: The Electronic Intifada

17 January 2013

Relatives of Samir Awad mourn after the 17-year-old died of gunshot wounds on 14 January.

(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

Israel spends a lot of time talking about secure borders and how the need for them drives its policies regarding the Palestinians. With few exceptions, the media act as willing promoters of this perversion of reality.

Between 11 and 15 January, four young Palestinians — aged 17 to 22 — were shot dead by Israeli occupation forces. The murders took place in the Gaza Strip and at different points along Israel’s wall in the West Bank. In all instances the Israeli army justified the use of lethal force by invoking its need to protect the integrity of the wall and Israel’s borders.

On 11 January, 22-year-old Anwar Mamlouk was reportedly just outside the Jabaliyarefugee camp in Gaza when Israeli soldiers gunned him down.

The next day, Odai al-Darawish, 21, was shot to death at three o’clock in the afternoon while crossing Israel’s wall in the West Bank to get to work in Israel. Initially, Israeli sources claimed the soldiers shot al-Darawish in his legs, in accordance with the “rules of engagement” (“Israeli troops kill Palestinian trying to cross barrier,” The Chicago Tribune, 12 January 2013).

But medical sources quickly revealed that he was hit in the back, indicating that he was likely shot while trying to run to safety (“Israeli forces shoot, kill worker south of Hebron,” Ma’an News Agency, 12 January 2013).

Al-Darawish was from the village of Dura, near Hebron, where in September last year a man attempted to immolate himself in a desperate protest of the dire economic conditions Palestinians face in the occupied West Bank (“Palestinian man attempts to set himself on fire in West Bank village of Dura,” Haaretz, 17 January 2013).

Mustafa Jarad was aged 21 and a farmer from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. He was shot in the forehead by an Israeli sniper on 14 January while working his land. But despite the Israeli gunman’s skillful marksmanship, Jarad was not killed immediately.

Doctors at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City tried to remove the bullet from his severely injured brain, but Jarad died after surgery (“Mustafa Abu Jarad, murdered in Gaza, by the Israeli army,” International Solidarity Movement, 15 January 2013).

Shooting a schoolboy

On 14 January, Samir Awad, a 17-year-old from Budrus, a West Bank village located near Ramallah, was shot from behind in the head, torso and leg while running away from soldiers.

Samir had just completed his last exam before school break and had joined a group of boys to protest the wall. Samir’s family has lost five acres of land with 3,000 olive trees due to the construction of Israel’s wall; Samir had also been jailed three times for his participation in demonstrations (“Israeli forces shot youth in the back as he ran away, say Palestinians,” Guardian, 15 January 2013).

English-language reports of these murders have been scant where they exist at all. For example, the press is in disagreement over the circumstances of Anwar Mamlouk’s death. Reuters reported that Anwar’s brother, Hani, stated that Anwar had been studying outdoors when he was shot (“Israeli forces kill Palestinian along border with Gaza: Hamas,” NBCNews, 11 January 2013).

The BBC, however, relayed only the Israeli military’s version of events and reported that Anwar had entered the “forbidden area” along Gaza’s boundary with dozens of other Palestinians (“Gaza: Palestinian farmer killed by Israeli gunfire,” 11 January 2013).

Shifting the blame

The New York Times took the murder of Samir Awad, the fourth in the spate of Israeli willful killing of unarmed Palestinians, as an opportunity to remark on the “growing unrest” in the West Bank, bizarrely shifting culpability for the deaths onto Palestinians (“Israeli forces kill Palestinian at barrier,” 15 January 2013).

It must be noted that when 17-year-old Muhammad al-Salaymeh was slain by a border police officer in Hebron on his birthday in December 2012, The New York Times remained silent.

Reading the New York Times’ coverage of the murder of Palestinians by Israelis is an apt lesson for any aspiring spin-doctor on the language of equivocation.

The paper’s reporter Isabel Kershner pivots the focus of Monday’s murder in Budrus away from Israel’s trigger-happy soldiers operating in a world of endless and unquestioned impunity and onto Palestinians’ “simmering restiveness”; their increased participation in “disturbances” of the “relative stability” that Israel has tried to maintain; and their “dire financial crisis that has prevented the Palestinian Authority … from paying … government workers.”

Notably there is no explanation provided as to why the PA has not been able to pay its tens of thousands of workers, namely that Israel has stolen the Palestinians’ tax and customs duty funds.

Omitting key facts

This is how The New York Times turns the cold-blooded murder of a teenage boy into a deliberately obfuscating story that describes an opaque haze of “tensions” and “growing unrest.”

This exonerating cloud of ambiguity is kept afloat by the newspaper’s methodical omission of facts: not only the facts of the recent murders of Odai al-Darawish, Muhammad al-Salaymeh and Anwar Mamlouk, but those of the countless incursions,demolitions and violence that Israel perpetrates against Palestinians every week (“Weekly report on Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory,” Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 10 January 2013).

These are the kind of facts that, if properly reported by the journal of record, would allow readers to know that it is Israel who is the violator of the terms of the country’s own precious “borders.” Proper reportage would give stark and unassailable lie to the notion that it in order to protect these borders, it must shoot and kill innocent men and boys, or women and girls.

Deferring to Israel

The awful truth of what happened this week lies outside stories in which gunned-down youths are identified by their intentions to trespass, and in which the wall is described as designed to keep out “terrorists.” Yet the BBC, The New York Times, Reuters and AP all deferred to Israeli military sources to report on the deaths of four young people. The result is that their readers are told that Israeli soldiers followed the proper protocol to protect Israel’s sovereignty and borders.

With the notable exception of British newspapers the Guardian and The Independent(see “Did Israeli troops deliberately provoke boy, only to shoot him in the back?” 16 January 2013), the media dutifully joined ranks with the State of Israel, grinding out the useful fiction that implicates these dead young Palestinians as menaces to the security and stability supposedly maintained by the chimera of separation.

As for borders, it’s exceedingly likely that the grief-stricken parents of the slain youths would love to see the existence of any kind of boundary on Israel that might protect their children from the presence of a threatening, violent and usurping entity.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in occupied Palestine and San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @CharESilver.


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Jauary 19, 2013

EDITOR: The Mock elections in the Mock Democracy are about to change nothing whatsoever

‘In order that nothing changes”, writes the great Sicilian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, ‘everything must change!’. So next Tuesday, many Israelis will go to the polls to make sure than nothing changes. They will vote mainly for ‘new’ parties, like Likud Beitenu, Hatnuah, Yesh Athid, Habatit Hayehudi – none of which existed before this election as such; together, these ‘new ‘parties’ will get the most votes, and will make sure that nothing changes in Israeli politics. So, despite the mock protest of hundreds of thousands in Summer 2011, when the tent protest joined the Arab Spring raging all around Israel, a clutch of old and tired faces, in the main, has put forwards new masks, much mascara and facelift, and nothing new. Most of the parties, including the largest, led by Netanyahu and Lieberman, and sure to win this round of mock democracy, have not seen fit to even publish a platform or manifesto before the election. That is not surprising.  Publishing such a document, would be dangerous, if it was to be truthful.

If published, it would have to say that Israel will continue to control the whole of Palestine, never allowing the setting up of the mini-state which was foreshadowed in the Oslo Agreements. It will have to say that the vision of the two-states is dead and buried, never to be revived again. It will state that the Palestinians will never have full human or civil and political rights under Israeli control, and that the Israeli state controlling them will now become a fully-fledged Apartheid society. It will also clarify that all the claims and demands of the protest movements would be disregarded, and that the poor will become much poorer. It will reveal that the Israeli deficit was miscalculated, and is more than twice of what was claimed by the government. Such a manifesto will also reveal that Israel is planning more wars, in Gaza, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, and that the cost of these wars will further improve the standing of the rich, and will further undermine the poor, who will pay for them. It will have to tell Israelis that most of them will pay for the 600,000 settlers, whose life is made especially easy and plentiful by government edicts and regulations, so that they will continue to terrorise the Palestinian population. This manifesto will also reveal that the next Knesset will continue in its attack on democracy, human rights and transparency, and make sure the government cannot be legally or publically challenged when it breaks the law, and that the courts will be emasculated to guarantee that result, especially the Supreme Court; It will have to also tell Israelis that the Palestinian citizens of Israel will loose more of their limited rights, and that the attack on them as the largest minority group in Israel will intensify.

And that is not all. The putative document will also have to reveal that the attack of the environment will continue unabated, with more damage to and, sea and air, and that developers, speculators and environmental criminals will have even an easier time in the future; It will also tell Israelis that the power of the Jewish religious minority will continue to distort Israeli society, and underwrite the unequal values of the Jewish democracy, making it a democracy for Jews only; It will reveal that Israel will continue to invest in death and destruction more than in education and health, and that new technology will be used not to improve life, but to endanger it. It will also tell the public that the dangerous and aggressive foreign policy of the last government will be further intensified by the next one.

In a word, this manifesto which was not published would tell Israelis that there is no hope, that fear and loathing will continue to rule their lives for the foreseeable future.

It is clear enough why such a manifesto cannot be printed and published, and won’t. Yet it is a mistake to think that Israelis do not know the contents of such a manifesto. That is the reason that large sections of the Israeli public plan to avoid voting. In the past, it was the malaise of the Palestinian minority – they have abstained in large numbers, on the understanding that in a democracy for Jews, Arabs can make no change.They were of course right about this. But this time, also many Jews will join them, believing that in a state of the powerful and corrupt, the poor can make no change.

This will of course guarantee that no change is possible. Because most Israeli Jews are supportive of the package of no change, though it deeply damages their interests. They support the status quo, because the idea of change – of a real democracy for all, of social justice, of just peace, of the end of the occupation and apartheid – frightens them beyond belief. Such an idea of change is always frightening to a colon. So it was in Algeria, or South Africa. So, they agree, somewhat begrudgingly, to continue the bad old ways, so the the good new ways would not threaten them.

The Democracy for Jews only is safe for now. It is in the good hands of Netanyahu and Lieberman. It is safe from change, and seemingly also safe from history. A mock election, in a mock democracy, will bring about a mock result. But the price to be paid will be real enough.

Below are some articles dealing with this odd political juncture.

MK Dov Khenin can putt from the political rough: Haaretz

The Hadash party member is an unabashed communist, a far-left radical, an outspoken anti-Zionist – and the best MK in the outgoing Knesset.

By Asher Schechter | Jan.19, 2013 | 9:35 AM

Khenin isn't so much resigned to the political fringe as he is cool with it.

Khenin isn’t so much resigned to the political fringe as he is cool with it. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

So let’s get this out of the way first: Dov Khenin is the best!

No, seriously. It’s really tough to find something bad to say about the Hadash party Knesset member, try as you might.

Just ask his detractors. Sure, they might point out that he’s a communist, which is true. They could claim he belongs to the radical left, which he does. They could snarl that he’s anti-Zionist, and he probably wouldn’t deny it.

But then they’d have to explain why he is the No.1 legislator in the 18th Knesset, proposing no less than 529 bills in the last four years, of which 27 were approved. They would also have to ignore the awards and honors he’s received, among them the Knight of Quality Government Award from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the Parliamentary Excellence award from the Israeli institute for Democracy. They’d also have to admit that he is the most socially and environmentally conscious Member of Knesset there is.

And then they’d have to explain why they cooperated with him on so many bills. Khenin is such an enigma that even his most ardent enemies have a hard time demonizing him. So they just leave him alone.

The point is you can say what you want about Khenin, but you can’t deny he’s probably the most committed, hard-working MK in Israel in recent memory. That’s why unlike his peers, such as Balad’s Hanin Zuabi, Meretz’s Zehava Gal-On or even Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich – it’s hard for the right wing to attack him.

Yes, he is unashamedly communist. He supports nationalizing the banks, the profits from the Tamar and Leviathan deep-water gas prospects and the mineral wealth of the Dead Sea. What of it?

Khenin is so open about his communistic world view that it’s hard to accuse him of being covert. And he speaks just as much about social and environmental issues as he does about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not more, so it is hard to stamp him with the “leftist” label that in Israel dooms you to the fringes of society.

Khenin is already in the fringiest fringe anyway. And he is destined to stay there. And he knows it. And that’s fine. He has learned to make the best of it. In July 2012, Kadima MK (and Hatnuah party candidate) Meir Sheetrit said in a televised interview: “Dov Khenin comes from a small party, but his influence is far greater than all of Kadima.”

Kadima, with 28 seats, was the biggest party within the 18th Knesset. Hadash, with three seats, was one of the smallest.

‘I think I can, I think I can’

It’s not so much that Khenin seems resigned to his marginal status, as that he seems cool with it.

A lot of politicians in Israel would despair of being stuck in third place on the list of a small far-left Arab-Jewish party that has never exceeded three seats in the Knesset and probably won’t this time either (according to recent polls). Many would give up. Many did. But like The Little Engine That Could, Khenin is always forging ahead. It is easy to imagine him telling himself in moments of self-doubt: “I think I can, I think I can.”

The tenacity with which Khenin, married with three children, has engaged the margins of the political debate, and his ability to make lemonade out of some really tart lemons, can be explained by his background. He was born into the political fringes in 1958, his father being David Khenin, a leader of Maki, the Israeli communist party. Khenin is a member of the Maki central committee himself.

His mother, also a communist activist, was a preschool teacher. Young Dov developed a keen interest in politics from an early age, earning his first stripes in Banki, Maki’s communist youth movement, and other left wing youth organizations. Being a communist in Israel, even in socialist Israel, was akin to being a social pariah. In some circles, it still is. Yet he hung on, and stuck to the family tradition. When it came time for him to enter the Israel Defense Forces, he did, but he refused to serve in the Occupied Territories, foreshadowing a lifelong support for conscientious objectors. “I have never tried to hide any detail of my past. I am at peace with everything I’ve ever done,” he told the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon in 2006.

In 1982, he completed an undergraduate law degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has described his university days as a time of intense social and political activity. One of his activities was pushing for combined Arab-Jewish political activities and agendas. In 1984, he began working as a lawyer at the firm of Amnon Zichroni, famous for being one of the first conscientious objectors in the history of Israel – declaring himself a pacifist in 1954 – and for being the lawyer of Israeli nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu.

During his first years as a lawyer, an occupation he continued practicing until 2004, Khenin led some influential human rights cases, including that of five left-wing conscientious objectors, known as Mishpat Hasarvanim (“The Trial of the Refuseniks”). During this period, he also received a PhD. in political science from Tel Aviv University, completed post-doctoral work at Oxford, writing about the relationship between environmentalism and social issues, taught at Tel Aviv University, wrote two books and edited various other books and articles and continued with his political and environmental activism. In 2002 he became the chairman of Haim VeSviva (“Life and Environment”), an umbrella organization comprised of more than 100 environmental organizations and causes in Israel.

Since 1990, Khenin has been a member of Maki’s leadership. In 2003, he made his first foray into parliamentary politics, running in the fourth spot on the Hadash-Taal party list. He had originally been in third place on the Hadash list, a slot held before him by the much-admired (and strikingly similar in gaining admiration from all ends of the political spectrum) Tamar Gozansky. But Hadash, a Jewish-Arab socialist party and the de facto political arm of Maki, banded with the Arab Taal party for the elections, winning just three seats and leaving Khenin less than 1,000 votes short of qualifying. It was the first time Hadash had not sent a Jewish party member to the Knesset.

The partnership between Hadash and Taal did not last long, and in the 2006 elections for the 17th Knesset Khenin was placed third on the Hadash list, finally making it to the Knesset and becoming a MK. He was quick to become one of the most active Members of Knesset, becoming the head of the social-environmental lobby, the biggest lobby group in the Knesset, together with the Rabbi Michael Melchior of Memad.

Darling of cats and the coolth of Tel Aviv

Khenin was especially active on social and environmental issues, writing dozens of bills relating to human rights, workers’ rights and women’s rights, as well as animal, environmental and child protection laws. Together with Labor MK Eitan Cabel, he was responsible among other things for the prohibition of declawing cats, which won him the support of, well, the entire freaking Internet.

Then, in 2008, he really made his mark with the Israeli public, going from an anonymous MK from a small party hardly anyone knew to the total darling of Tel Aviv leftists and hipster wannabe-leftists. The event that upgraded his status was his decision to run against Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai in the municipal elections. Khenin, who was not perceived as particularly charismatic then, ran as the mayoral candidate of Ir Lekulanu, a non-partisan Arab-Jewish-Green municipal party established in 2008 and composed of social and environmental, as well as Hadash, activists. Khenin did not have an easy time running against the incumbent Huldai, who was popular and established and enjoyed the endorsement of the Labor party. Plus, the voting rate in the municipal elections in Israel is patently low.

Still, Ir Lekulano gave one hell of a fight, running a viral Facebook (in the relatively early days of Facebook in Israel) and Youtube campaign, directed specifically at young people living in Tel Aviv, most of them in their 20s and early 30s, leaning to the left, riding bicycles and having a hard time dealing with the rise in rental prices that was effectively forcing them out of the city. The campaign recruited many celebrities and created a political, activist climate in Tel Aviv that would contribute to emergence of the social protest movement three years later.

But still, Khenin lost. He gained 34.3 percent of the vote, compared to Huldai’s 50.6 percent. Ir Lekulani, despite losing the mayoral race, still gained the most votes in the municipal elections and won five seats in the city council. To this day, it remains a viable political force in the Tel Aviv political scene, struggling for affordable housing and better public transportation.

After the mayoral elections, Khenin went back to the Knesset, having lost the race but won the affection and admiration of Tel Aviv’s young adults. In the elections for the 18th Knesset, he was placed again in the third place in Hadash. Upon entering the Knesset, he again headed the social-environmental lobby, this time alongside Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz. During his second term as MK Khenin sustained his energetic style, remaining highly involved in issues relating to social and environmental issues, winning the title of ‘most social MK’ twice in a row by the HaMishmar HaHevrati (“The Social Guard”), a nongovernmental organization established following the social protests of 2011 to keep track of the activity in the Knesset and report it to the public.

Singlehandedly, he elevated Hadash’s image with the Israeli left, projecting an agenda that could be mistaken for social democracy if it wasn’t for his candid, outspoken style.

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Palestinian activists set up another tent encampment near Jerusalem: Haaretz

The camp, erected in the village of Beit Iksa, was set up in protest of Israeli settlement and comes a week after a similar camp was erected in the E-1 corridor and later evacuated by Israel.

By  | Jan.18, 2013 | 10:00 PM |  22

Palestinians erecting a tent city in the E-1 corridor, January 11, 2013.

Palestinians erecting a tent city in the E-1 corridor, January 11, 2013. Photo by AFP

Palestinian activists have set up a protest camp in the West Bank to demonstrate against what they say is an Israeli land grab.

They say they set up a mosque and several tents Friday in the village of Beit Iksa near Jerusalem.

In a statement, activists said they were securing land from Israel.

The Israeli military said soldiers were monitoring the area to prevent disturbances.

On Sunday, hundreds of Israeli security forces evacuated some 100 Palestinians from a protest tent camp set up two days earlier in the E-1 corridor east of Jerusalem.

The evacuation – which involved about 500 Israel Police officers and Israel Defense Force soldiers – was carried out despite a temporary injunction issued by the High Court of Justice preventing the state from evacuating the encampment for six days, pending deliberations.

Protesters refusing to evacuated leave were carried down the hill by Israeli officials, but there were no reports of injuries. “Everyone was evacuated carefully and swiftly, without any injuries to officers or protesters,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the evacuation order on Saturday, and by late night the IDF had the area surrounded and were preventing supporters from entering. Activists said they would oppose any attempt to forcibly remove them.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he had ordered the area sealed off immediately after hearing of the tent encampment. “I immediately called for the area to be closed off so there would not be large gatherings there that could cause friction and breach the public order,” he said.

“We will not allow anyone to touch the corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim,” Netanyahu added.

Haaretz has determined that the tents were put up on private Palestinian land. In preparing the plans for area E-1 in the West Bank, the state in 2005 examined the records for the lands on which the settlement is to be built. The plan shows an area of 1,500 dunams (375 acres) out of the total 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres‏) allocated for construction that Civil Administration figures indicate is privately owned by Palestinians, although the land was not registered officially.

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