Saturday, May 16, 2015

A circus in Jerusalem and cinema among the Gaza ruins


"If you can’t ride two horses at once, you better get out of the circus," wrote John le Carré in one of his books. In his context, of course, the term "circus" referred to the ironic nickname by which British intelligence agents call their service.
 


Cinema festival in Gaza - photos: Masmerim quarterly
"No decent political leader would join the Netanyahu Circus, this last-minute cabinet hanging on the most slim of parliamentary majorities which you formed for the sole purpose of perpetuating your rule” stated opposition leader Yitzchak Herzog during the tense debate when the new government was sworn in. "You did not appoint a Foreign Minister, you keep that portfolio vacant “as a deposit” - in the hope of still getting myself and my party to join in a government hanging by a thread, a government struggling on a tightrope like an acrobat in the circus. No use. Foreign affairs are too important to leave untended, you should tonight appoint a Foreign Minister from your own party, to hold that ministry for as long as your cabinet lasts. It would be best for the future of Israel when this circus cabinet which you narrowly formed not be sworn in at all – and if sworn in today, that its days be short. For the future of Israel, the opposition which I head will strive to have a new cabinet formed in Israel, a cabinet not headed by you."

Netanyahu insists on keeping the Foreign Affairs portfolio in his own hands, even at the cost of a bitter confrontation with Gilad Erdan, hitherto his closest confidant, who had expected to get the Foreign Ministry as a reward for years of dedicated service to Netanyahu in both inter-party and intra-party struggles. Evidently Netanyahu still entertains the hope that sooner or later Herzog would relent, take up the position of Foreign Minister and present to the world a "sane" and “moderate” image behind which extreme right-wing policies could be carried on - as did  Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni in the previous Netanyahu cabinets.


"If you lay a hand on the Supreme Court, you will find me confronting you – with an enormous following at my back" continued Herzog. "If you lay a hand on minorities in the Israeli society, as you did in the last election campaign, if you talk to them and about them as you spoke on elections day, you will find me confronting you – with an enormous following at my back. The Prime Minister of the State of the Jews must not discriminate against citizens on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or skin color". If Herzog does keep his word and leads the opposition along the lines laid down in this maiden speech, he will be entitled to the apologies of many observers and commentators who had expressed a cynical doubt of his commitment to maintain the struggle.


Netanyahu has appointed three women to ministerial positions in his cabinet. Gila Gamliel got the longest title ever bestowed on an Israeli cabinet minister: Minister for Senior Citizens, Gender Equality, Equality of Minorities, and the  Advancement of Young People and Pensioners". Personally, her appointment  did not arouse public opposition. Opposition Knesset Members – especially the women among them - expressed even sympathy for her and the hope that she would have at least a measure of success in realizing at least some of the goals expressed in the long name of her new Ministry. In contrast, the announced  appointment of two other new women ministers - Miri Regev as Minister of Culture and Ayelet Shaked as Minister of Justice – did provoke widespread public uproar, and not without reason.

Miri Regev had had a successful military career, holding the position of Chief Military Censor, and then of IDF Spokesperson, at the rank of Brigadier-General - achievements which at the time gained her the reputation of a strong assertive woman. As a Knesset Member she became known mainly for repeated bouts of crude racist demagoguery - against Arab citizens of Israel (in particular, against the Arab woman Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi) and most particularly against refugees from Africa who maintain themselves with in the slums of south Tel Aviv. "The Sudanese are a cancer in our body, they should be sent back where they came from. The situation in south Tel Aviv is unbearable, I want to see the Saharonim Detention Center brim-full of 7000 infiltrators and illegal immigrants en route to deportation” declared Regev in a speech to an unruly crowd in south Tel Aviv. Immediately afterwards, Regev’s listeners started rampaging through the streets, beating up any black-skinned person they encountered. Of course, Regev announced immediately that that had not been her intention at all.

On Uri Weiss’ blog I found the following comment: "There are some who view positively the successful military and political career of Miri Regev - on Feminist grounds. They should be reminded that Regev was instrumental in  formulating the procedure of “Hot Return”, under which soldiers in the border area were instructed to immediately return to the Egyptian side any African refugees trying to enter Israel. Often, women refugees who were returned to the Egyptian side immediately fell victim to gang rape by Egyptian soldiers waiting on the other side”.

This practice of "Hot Return" was disliked by some of the soldiers who were charged with enforcing it. In the last recorded case, the Israeli troops did  return eighteen male black "infiltrators" to the Egyptian side of the border, but refused to deport the three women who had been with them - especially since the Egyptian soldiers waiting on the other side of the border have shown with unmistakable hand gestures their intentions regarding the women.

Ultimately, the entire "Hot Return" procedure was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Thereupon, an alternative procedure was formulated, whereby the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees were detained without trial and sent to the "open prison" of Holot deep in the Negev desert, with government officials coming and pressuring them to sign their consent to "voluntary deportation”. Three Christian refugees from Eritrea agreed to sign such a form and were put on a plane to Rwanda. From the airport there, they were deported again, eventually ending up in Libya - where they fell into the hands of ISIS militants who included them in a group of summarily executed Christians.

The ISIS video depicting the killings was seen by people who had known the three in Israel, both other refugees and members of the Israeli refugee aid organizations. The aid organizations held a protest rally in central Tel Aviv, under the slogan “No more deporting of refugees to their deaths!”. For her part, Miri Regev convened a special meeting of the Knesset Interior Affairs Committee “to inquire into  the sources of funding of the refugee aid organizations",  since “these organizations are undermining the Jewish character of Israel”. Such are the main qualifications which Miri Regev brings to her new role as Minister of Culture of the State of Israel.

The refugee aid organizations have twice filed appeals with the Supreme Court against the law which authorizes the protracted detention without trial of  asylum seekers. Twice did the judges rule the law to be unconstitutional and in contravention of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, but the right-wing majority in the Knesset for the third time enacted the Refuge Detention Law, with minor changes. Now pending before the Supreme Court is another appeal by the refugee aid organizations, and within a few months the judges will have to decide whether or not to once again overturn that law.

This is where Netnayhau’s second new woman minister comes in - Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice (originally slated to be Minister of Culture, before managing to upgrade herself in the fierce cabinet-forming negotiations). Shaked's public profile of polite and civilized talk is very different from that of Miri Regev. Ahead of taking up her new appointment, the new Justice Minister went on record stating her “great esteem for the judges of Israel’s Supreme Court, whose high reputation is world-wide," but added in passing that she would act "to prevent the Court from interfering in the work of the Knesset." She also noted that in making new appointments to the Supreme Court she would give preference to “conservative judges who avoid undue intervention with the  actions of the Executive and Legislative Branches" rather than "over-activist  judges”.


This was more than a hint to the two legislative acts which Ayelet Shaked had been promoting long before she got a chance to penetrate into the nerve center of the Israeli legal system. The first is the "Overcoming Clause" which - in case of the Supreme Court ruling a law to be unconstitutional or in violation of Human and Civil Rights - would authorize the Knesset to nevertheless re-enact the offending law. A second Shaked initiative would be a change in the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which would give politicians in general - and right-wing politicians in particular – a far bigger role in the appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court.

Are the Supreme Court judges intimidated and frightened by all this? Maybe they are. First, the court dismissed the appeal against the "Boycott Law" which was passed by the Knesset four years ago. By majority vote, the justices ruled that voicing a call for a boycott of products made at a settlement in the Occupied Territories is “tantamount to calling for a boycott of the State of Israel itself" - and that therefore,  it is permissible to institute judicial proceedings against anyone making such a boycott call and  demand substantial sums for “damages caused by the call for boycott”. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein went further, quoting from the traditional Passover liturgy the words "in every generation, enemies rise up to annihilate us…

Justice Rubinstein, along with his colleague Neil Hendel, also took part in the decision to reject the appeal by residents of the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. The court ruling in effect enables state  authorities to completely destroy and raze the village, in order to make place for a Jewish community (specifically, a Jewish religious community) which  would also be called Hiran. It was no avail to the Hiran residents to point out that they have lived continuously on that location in that place since 1956, nor that on that year they had been transferred there by the authorities of the State of Israel when Kibbutz Shoval was established on their original lands. The judges ruled that the Bedouin residents are to be considered illegal squatters  who have no right in the land and whom the state may remove at its sole discretion. And within a single day, a virtually identical ruling was made by Justice Noam Solberg, who rejected an appeal by residents of Susya in the South Hebron Hill and authorized the state to demolish their homes and give over the land to the nearby Israeli settlement – which is also named Susya.

The difference - at least theoreticall:  Hiran is a village within the internationally recognized sovereign territory of the State of Israel, whose  residents are legally Israeli citizens for all intents and purposes, while Susya is in Occupied Territory under Israeli military rule. But as the veteran Amira Hass noted on the pages of Ha’aretz, the fact of an identical policy of dispossession being implemented on both sides of the Green Line (pre-’67 border), in both cases authorized by the Supreme Court with identical arguments, gives greater credence to those who regard the State of Israel - from foundation in 1948 until the present day – as a predatory entity bent on limitless oppression and dispossession. Hass expressed doubt on whether the Supreme Court can still be regarded as a bastion of Civil and Human Rights threatened by malevolent politicians, pointing out that Justice Solberg who rendered the ruling on Susya lives himself in a West Bank settlement.

In its latest ruling (so far) the Supreme Court has granted its approval to the “Dance of the Flags”, the traditional annual march held by young settlers and their sympathizers on “Jerusalem Day". That date marks the anniversary (according to the Jewish calendar) of the 1967 regarded by celebrants as “The Unification of the City of Jerusalem” (in the other narrative, as the time when  Palestinian East Jerusalem was occupied and annexed by Israel without asking or getting the consent of its inhabitants). To mark this happy day, the Religious Zionist youths tend to march in their thousands through the alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem, waving Blue-and-White flags, with many of them taking this opportunity to also chant "Death to the Arabs!", kick at the locked doors behind which Old City residents are hiding, and smash any Arab property in their path. Towards "Jerusalem Day" which will fall on 17 May this year, the "Ir Amim" (City of the Peoples) association appealed to the Supreme Court to change the route of the Dance of the Flags and divert it away from Arab populated areas. The judges ruled that although chants of "Death to the Arabs!" constitute a criminal act, that "in view of the police undertaking to prevent incitement and sedition, it would be possible to maintain the march’s traditional route."

The Israeli authorities’ intention to demolish and raze the village of Susya might be the first test case which the Palestinians would present to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The State of Palestine - recognized as a sovereign political entity by the Un General Assembly, though not yet established in practice on the ground – has gained membership of the International Court, but so far had not yet lodged specific complaints about particular Israeli acts. It might be that precisely the destruction and expulsion of a small impoverished rural community - which had never taken part in any violent activity and none of whose members engaged  even in stone-throwing at the height of the First or the Second Intifada - might prove a very difficult challenge for even the best legal counsel which the Government of Israel could muster.

Several reports from various sources indicate that Israel’s "Diplomatic Tsunami", of which commentators and politicians have long warned,  is indeed approaching. An official Vatican document made clear that from now on the  Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine - no longer  with the Palestine Liberation Organization, as was the case for many years. Thus, the  Catholic Church, headed by the popular Pope Francis, joins with the Swedish government which recognized the State of Palestine a few months ago and inaugurated a Palestinian Embassy in Stockholm.

At the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the strategic dialogue meeting held annually between the foreign ministries of France and Israel's became the scene of tense confrontation and conflict between opposing senior diplomats. The main bone of contention was the initiative of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to promote in the UN Security Council a new resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The French draft resolution is expected to include such principles as establishing the boundaries of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of two states, setting a timetable for ending the negotiations and the convening of an international peace conference. The inclusion in the French draft of a formula providing for some form of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state did not appease the Israeli diplomats, who leveled harsh words at their French counterparts, and were answered in kind.

The French foreign  minister recently accepted an American request to stall the process until after the completion of the nuclear agreement with Iran on June 30, but he is determined to bring the resolution to a vote a in the Security Council in September, when the UN Assembly General  is due in New York. According to rumors circulating in the corridors of power, the Americans would not block the French initiative - and might even openly support it. Officially, the US Administration announced its desire to "work with the new Netanyahu Government" and ask it to provide practical evidence of  its commitment to Two State Solution - but  Obama soon followed it with stating explicitly that he does not expect a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian deal in the coming year. The European Union reiterated the request, with its Foreign Affairs High Representative Federica Mogherini due to visit Jerusalem next week.

In fact, there is no real need to conduct any in-depth examination of Netanyahu’s intentions. Just before the elections, Netanyahu announced explicitly that "a Palestinian state will not be established on my watch." After the elections he issued a clarification which made little difference for the bottom line: "In principle I am still in favor of a Palestinian state, but in practice it is not feasible in the current situation in the Middle East." The term "Palestinian State" was conspicuously absent  from the new Netanyahu Government’s program. While paying some lip service to “promoting the negotiations process”, the program commits the Netanyahu government to "preserving Israeli national, security and historical interests." This formulation can imply the preservation of Israeli rule not only in every location defined by the IDF as 'needed for state security", but also in locations where Jews had lived in one historical period or another - which would leave very little, if anything, to the Palestinians.

In the absence of a fig leaf in the form of Herzog in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, international pressure is expected to rise, focusing on such demands  as the freezing of settlement construction and/or an end to Israeli army night raids and detentions in the A area of the West Bank, which is supposed to be under full Palestinian control. "If the Americans make such demands after the conclusion of their negotiations with Iran, it would be out of personal vindictiveness against Netanyahu and wanting to topple him" said an  unidentified senior Likud party official on the radio. Ofir Akunis, one of the new young ministers appointed by Netanyahu, expressed his concern that “a difficult situation on the international arena is in store for Israel," and expressed hope that due to this situation Herzog might yet be mollified and consent to join the government and save the situation... Outgoing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, once Netanyahu's close partner and now his foe, stated: "This new  government is living on borrowed time.  It can’t withstand the international pressure which already began and which will increase in September. You can already see the impact on the ground. The   Palestinians are not only turning to The Hague, but also asking FIFA to expel us."

Indeed, the most immediate Palestinian move is that led by Jibril Rajoub,  head of the Palestinian Soccer Federation, and a senior Palestinian politician, asking the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) to vote on a Palestinian proposal to  suspend Israel's membership and prevent Israeli soccer players from participating in international contests. The vote is due on May 29. According to FIFA rules, authorizing a suspension requires a 75% majority of the delegates present at the vote. The Palestinians would probably find it hard to mobilize such a large majority among the participating soccer associations. However, even a Palestinian majority falling short of that would cause great embarrassment to Israel.

Rajoub comes to the FIFA Congress armed with a long list of charges: Israel restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinian soccer players between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as abroad, restricts the entry of soccer teams from the Arab and Muslim World to play in the Palestinian Territories, causes damages to Palestinian soccer facilities and imposes restrictions on the importation of soccer equipment from abroad – and also that soccer matches in Israel are often the scene of blatant anti-Arab racism, especially where the notorious Beitar Jerusalem Club is involved. But the charge which the Israeli Soccer Association might find the most difficult to handle is that five clubs based in West Bank settlements have been admitted to the Israeli Association, despite its being an Occupied Territory where the Israeli association has no authority. Could it be that exactly when the power position of the settlers in the Government of Israel has reached a new peak, the government would dare to stop the activities of the settler soccer teams in order to save Israeli soccer as a whole?

A Foreign Ministry official said that an Israel suspension from FIFA could have   far-reaching consequences, much beyond the damage caused to the Israeli soccer teams. He said such a move could create a precedent that would give a boost to similar moves in other international sports organizations - and to moves to boycott Israel in general. It can be remembered the sports boycott which had been imposed on South Africa was one of the deciding factors that led to ordinary white South Africans accepting the need to terminate Apartheid...

Meanwhile, just in this week when Miri Regev was appointed to the position of Israel’s Minister of Culture, there took place an extraordinary cultural event in the Gaza Strip. As reported by the Masmerim Quarterly, a documentary film festival opened in what had been until last summer the Shuja'iyya Neighborhood in eastern  Gaza. The festival includes 28 films from different countries, on the theme of Human Rights. Posters announcing the festival were hung on the remains of destroyed buildings, the films themselves projected on a white sheet stretched across a broken wall.

With “the generosity of rich beggars”, the Karama Film Festival deployed sixty meters of Red Carpet through the ruins. Hundreds responded to the invitation. Khalil Al-Mozain, Palestinian film director and one of the initiators, says that one of the messages issuing from the three-day festival is that Gaza residents are ripe for the reconstruction operation promised by dozens of First World countries, which so far failed to arrive.
 
"We invite those who lost their homes to walk along our Red Carpet " said Al-Mozain to the Chinese News Agency. "Normally, it is Kings and Presidents or famous movie stars who walk on a Red Carpet. No less deserving of this honor are the residents here, still suffering great deprivation”.

It is not clear from the report how the organizers got the actual films for their  festival. Israel has not boasted of giving any assistance, and the Egyptians have long since lost the keys of the Rafah Crossing. On the other hand, with the special magic Red Carpet of this film festival, the riddle of how the films got there is the least intriguing.


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Jerusalemites will not keep silent in the face of racism!

Stop the March of Hate on Jerusalem Day!

We will be standing in protest against racism on Safra Square, in Jerusalem's Jaffa Street, at 5:00 pm on Sunday May 17, 2015.

The Flag Dance Parade on Jerusalem Day has become a focus for extremist groups, disseminating hatred, racism and violence.


The march through the streets of the Eastern city, particularly in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, is routinely accompanied by racist slurs and insults,  destruction of property and physical violence against the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

Year after year, the Jerusalem police and municipality fail to take any real steps to stop the violence and incitement. In the past stormy summer, violence and racism threatened to completely dominate and overwhelm the public sphere. This year we say a loud and clear No to the violence, the hatred and the incitement which threaten the delicate fabric of daily life in Jerusalem.


This year we will manifest a significant, nonviolent presence on the street. We will remind the inhabitants of Jerusalem that there is another way. We will not stand silent in the face of racism!

No to the parade of violence and incitement passing through the Muslim and Palestinian neighborhoods!

Yes to tolerance and coexistence in our city!


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Dance of the Flowers vs. Dance of the Flags

Tag Meir is excited to help an initiative of Jerusalemites who have decided to put an end to racism in the city.

Tonight, following the march of the flags for Jerusalem Day, we are going to march in the old city of Jerusalem and distribute flowers to all residents of the Old City.

We want to show the faces of Jerusalem residents who want to live together peacefully and crave to see better days of love between all the people of the city.

We are going to paint the Old City - its streets, stores, allies and people with a lot of flowers, colors and love.

We will meet at 6pm at Safra Square (by city hall) where you will be able to take your flowers and we will walk from Tsahal square towards Damascus Gate and Jaffa Gate.

If you truly care about this city, on all its residents, join us and spread the word.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

At this square in the heart of Tel Aviv…

Now it's official: Mohammed Deif lives - and he has resumed his activity in the military wing of Hamas. The State of Israel did not succeed in "eliminating" him.

Last summer, Deif was the man that Israeli citizens most loved to hate. During the long decades of conflict between Israel and its neighbors in the region, there were many earlier people who filled that slot: The Egyptian Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Palestinian Yasser Arafat, the Lebanese Hassan Nasrallah, the Iranian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. People who greatly differed from each other in ideological orientation and their political and/or military position, but each in turn was depicted as the Devil Incarnate by Israeli government ministers and Israeli media and general Israeli public. So, in 2014 it was the turn of Mohammed Deif. It was Mohammed Deif whose photo was placed in Israeli newspapers in the bulls-eye position of a bright-red target board. Senior military commanders and government ministers yearned publicly for his death, their words being echoed by ordinary citizens queuing at a bus station.

On 19 August 2014, after several weeks of futile war and destruction which didn’t stop the Gaza rockets, a sensational piece of breaking news flooded the Israeli media. "Mohammed Deif liquidated! Strategic gain in the war against Hamas!"

As the commentators said, Israel’s Security Services had gone looking for Mohammed Deif’s vulnerable spot - sought and duly found one. Even such a diabolical villain, it turned out, occasionally wants to spend some time with his wife and children. An informer planted with great painstaking effort within the ranks of Hamas told the Israeli Security Services the exact time and place when and where Deif was going to meet his family. In feverish consultations at Israel‘s highest echelons, it was concluded that the aim: to get rid, once and for all, of the terrible Mohammad Deif - justified the means: killing along with him also his wife and children and neighbors. And thus the helicopters duly took off into the skies of the Gaza Strip and shot their missiles, within seconds making a high-rise building into a pile of rubble. Buried under the ruins were Deif's 27-year-old wife Widad, his 3-year-old daughter Sara, his 7-month-old son Ali, and several Palestinian civilians unfortunate enough to have lived in adjoining apartments.

The jubilation in the media did not last long. After about a day, hints of confusion and doubt penetrated into the headlines - "Mohammed Deif - Dead or Alive?", "Hamas denies assassination of Deif", "Did the Cat with Nine Lives manage to survive, also this time?". Mohammed Deif was in no hurry to dispel the haze. Only now, nine months later, did it became unequivocally clear that he is indeed alive and that senior IDF commanders had in vain stained their hands with the blood of a woman and her two small children.

At the moment, Mohammed Deif and the Gaza Strip are not really at the news focus in Israel. Some commentators do talk about negotiations taking place, somewhere behind the scenes, between the government of Israel and the Hamas leadership, in order to reach agreement on a "long-term truce" which would include a "significant easing" of the suffocating siege of Gaza. "Nowadays, there is only one player in the Middle East arena, perhaps in the entire world, who is interested in preserving Hamas rule in Gaza. That player is the Government of Israel," wrote veteran commentator Avi Issacharoff. "Everybody else - Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, the EU, the Arab states and the United States - all of them would like to see the Palestinian Authority replacing Hamas in Gaza. But Israel sees things differently, and largely cultivates continuation of the Gaza status. The Prime Minister's bureau in Jerusalem sees a low probability of getting the Palestinian Authority to regain control of the Gaza Strip. As long as Hamas keeps quiet and doesn’t escalate the situation, continued Hamas control seems to be the least evil for the Gaza Strip - compared to a situation of chaos or a renewed direct Israeli occupation of the Strip."

Is the Netanyahu government willing to go as far as the construction of a floating port off the coast of Gaza, under the supervision of NATO countries - as proposed by the Turkish and the Qatari mediators? In the meantime, it seems not - easing the closure is feasible, but only with Israel keeping its hand on the switch and able to cut off everything at any moment.

And what of the widowed and bereaved Mohammed Deif? For the time being, he is building up and strengthening Hamas' military wing, but is wary of exercising it in practice. In fact, one of the units under his command is currently in charge of blocking any attempted attack on Israel by one of the rogue organizations active in the Gaza Strip. Maybe in a year he will become once again "The Man You Love to Hate"? Who can tell…

The news focus of this moment is somewhere else entirely – the distant Nepal, on the other side of the continent of Asia, struck by a terrible earthquake. The Israeli media, which usually does not carry much international news, had this week hardly place for anything else.

Nepal is a favorite destination for Israeli tourists and hikers, hundreds of whom were caught in the disaster areas, especially backpackers who sought to refresh themselves after three years of military service. Young people like Or Asraf, an Israeli still missing in Nepal. Or Asraf, 22, was a soldier in the ranks of the elite Sayeret Egoz, went to Gaza last summer and was wounded during the bloody battle which left piles of rubble where the Shuja'iya Neighborhood of Gaza used to be. After recovering and being discharged from the army he embarked on a backpacking trip in Nepal. After a week of searching failed to discover his whereabouts, his former comrades-in-arms set out to Nepal to join the search.

"You are the true face of Israel," Netanyahu told members of the IDF rescue mission leaving for Nepal, and the Israeli public relations campaign around the world worked feverishly to provide full details of Israel’s great humanitarian act. Also the Prime Minister of Nepal phoned his Israeli counterpart, in order to give warm thanks for the modern and well-equipped field hospitals, which began operations within hours of landing in Katmandu and immediately performed emergency operations.

In the rural disaster areas of Nepal, not all shared this enthusiasm - especially when they discovered that the helicopter loaned to the Israeli mission by the Nepalese army was charged only with extracting trapped Israeli tourists and was not ready to have Nepali citizens on board. "We were almost lynched, there at the top of the ridge" said Shahar Zakai, one of the Israeli travelers saved by the helicopter. "They used sticks and stones and even grabbed us by the neck. People who have lost everything; they behaved like wounded animals; they just wanted to survive."

Meanwhile, in the shadow of Gaza and Nepal, Netanyahu gets closer to finally forming his cabinet - the fourth Israeli government which he is going to lead. Following complex negotiations and arduous maneuvers, it seems - among other things - that Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett will be the next Minister of Education. Bennett is taking up the Education Portfolio in bitterness and unwillingness – he had his heart set on higher things. In fact, he wanted to be Defense Minister of Israel, or at least the Foreign Minister.

The main slogan of the elections campaign which Bennett conducted earlier this year was "Enough! We have stopped to apologize!" And he did much to explain: "We stopped apologizing for the fact that we love the people of Israel, the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel. Why is the world picking on us, with all the terrible things that happen around us? The reason is that we do not send out a clear message - the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and only to the Jewish people. There is a lot of pressure on Israel to establish a Palestinian state. There should be a clear and unapologetic answer: We will not give away a single Israeli meter as part of some crooked deal. The way to avoid war is not by being nice and feeding the monster with pieces of territory. It's a nice theory but reality is different. The world despises a country which gives up its own dignity. The world despises a country which gives up territory. The world respects a country which stands up for itself. This is our country, our patrimony. When I go around in the Land of Israel, I feel in its soil the footprints of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Patriarchs, our Fathers, who had walked right here. Very simply, this is the Land of Our Fathers, and that is what we should tell the whole world - and stop apologizing! "

This is the world view which Naftali Bennett wanted to implement as a Defense Minister in charge of managing the military power of Israel. That authority Netanyahu was not willing to entrust to him, but Bennett could at least comfort himself with an intensive four-year educational program instilling his views into Israeli pupils.

On Tuesday, thousands of the Arab citizens of Israel flocked to the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv – as did Jewish Israeli peace and human rights activists. We had come to protest against the demolition of homes which were declared "illegal" - and more fundamentally, against a long-standing discriminatory government policy which holds up approval of zoning master plans in Arab areas, thereby denying to many Arab citizens the option of building legally, even on their own privately owned land.

The immediate cause for the demonstration and for the general strike held on the same day throughout the Arab Sector in Israel was the destruction of three houses in the village of Dahamash, between Ramle and Lod, about two weeks ago. Arafat Ismail, resident of the village, tried to explain the misery of daily life in Dahamash. "When we tell people about the village, they think we are in the back of beyond. They don’t understand that it's right here, a few minutes’ drive from Tel Aviv. Those who visit us feel they have come to a different world, that we are in the Third World. We just want to live in peace on our land and in our homes." Next to him stood Sheikh Sayah al-Touri, nicknamed "The Al-Arakib Sheikh ", who had become one of the symbols of protest against demolition of homes in the "unrecognized" Bedouin villages in the Negev: " "Already for months we sleep in the village cemetery, because they destroyed everything else. More than seventy times, Al-Arakib was destroyed, but we do not give up. Every time they demolish we build new huts to sleep in. We will not surrender!" Iyad Khatib, who lives in the area between the towns of Qalansawe and Taibeh, northeast of Tel Aviv, said that near his home a protest tent was erected, the constant focus of activity. He said, "In our compound there are dozens of houses which were built out of real distress - because we have nowhere to live. Now there are demolition orders against all these houses, which can be implemented at a moment’s notice. We can’t know when they will decide to raid us and begin demolitions. It is very difficult to live with the feeling that at any moment you might lose your home. I came here, to the square, to ask people, Jews and Arabs: come to visit us, see what state we live in. No one is looking to break the law, but we will not let the law trample us. We are charged with having built on agricultural land, but to change the zoning and get a legal approval - maybe it would be my grandson who gets the permit. The foot-dragging is already going on for decades."

Professor Gadi Algazi of the History Department at Tel Aviv University, an activist of the Tarabut movement, reiterated in his speech that this is a struggle touching upon everybody, not just upon the Arab population. "As Jewish citizen who enjoys a privileged position in this country, I am grateful to the Palestinians in Israel for the vision behind the organization of this demonstration, the long-term vision, the vision of building a shared home for everyone. The government of Israel is talking to its Arab citizens in the language of bulldozers. Its bulldozers thirst for destruction. Behind every bulldozer there is an official and behind every official there is a minister. Behind every destroyed house there is a family, a family which wants to live a normal human life. Every destroyed house should be rebuilt! There is a political party called the Jewish Home Party which wants to build a state for Jews only, to build a Jewish home on the ruins of the Arab home . Here, at this square in the heart of Tel Aviv we say, loud and clear – there won’t be a home for the Jews if the Arabs don’t have their own home! We are building a common home, a home for everybody."


Photo: Ynet / Motti Kimchi

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Another kind of memorial

Thousands attending joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial
photo: Combatants for Peace


At last we know when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began. It started in 1873, exactly seventy-five years before the creation of Israel, and the first casualty in this conflict was Aaron Herschler. His name opens the official list of the Israeli Defense Forces soldiers killed in the line of duty. On Memorial Day every year, that list is broadcast on a special channel of Israeli TV, mournful music accompanies name replacing name on the screen until the whole list is run through, from 1873 to 2015. Also on the rest of the year, the List of the Fallen can be found online. 
 

 
This year Aaron Herschler was mentioned specifically in the Prime Minister’s  ceremonial Memorial Day speech. "The blood of our loved ones is soaked in the soil of Israel. Our  boys and girls fell on a mission to secure the existence of our nation. The first to fall was Aaron Herschler in 1873, when Arab rioters attacked a Jewish neighborhood here in Jerusalem. Aaron was a yeshiva student, he cut off his  studies in order to repel the rioters, he tried to catch them but they shot him and he was mortally wounded. He was the forerunner for all the fighters who came after him and defended their homes".

After the Prime Minister’s speech, diligent journalists went to the archives to find out more about that Aaron Herschler. Indeed, the case had been widely reported in the country’s first Jewish newspaper, which started appearance a short time before. According to the contemporary report, there had been no rioters attacking a Jewish neighborhood but simply Arab bandits, stealing  both from other Arabs and from Jews. They broke into the house of Aaron Herschler, 23-year-old yeshiva student, to steal money. Herschler tried to chase them and recover the stolen property. They did open fire, severely injuring him, and he died at the hospital a few days later.

In January 1873, when this incident happened, the Zionist movement was still in its infancy. Theodor Herzl, was a boy of thirteen in Budapest and had no idea that he would grow up to be a renowned Zionist leader. The first Zionist settlement in Israel, Petah Tikva, would be established only five years later. Aaron Herschler was born in Hungary and came to Jerusalem to attend a Yeshiva seminary and join the "Old Yishuv", the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community which for centuries lived among the Arab residents of Jerusalem under Ottoman rule. Members of the Old Yishuv were not enthusiastic about Zionism, to say the least.

What would Aaron Herschler have said if he could have known that a hundred and fifty years after his death there will be in this country a mighty state, with a mighty army. What would he have thought if he could know that  the army of this country would retroactively enlist him in its ranks, and that that county’s Prime Minister would hail him as the first among 23,320 soldiers who gave their lives for this country? And on the other hand , what would have those anonymous thieves said if could have known that the bullets which they fired at the young man pursuing them would be considered in retrospect as the first shots in a war which would last more than a hundred years, a conflict that would figure prominently on the agenda of international diplomacy and engage the attention of the American President and the leaders of Europe and Russia and China? 

Aaron Herschler was not the only shade from the past which Netanyahu conjured up. Also figuring in his speech was Shlomo Ben Yosef. Shlomo Ben-Yosef had been a member of the Jewish nationalist underground known as Etzel of Irgun, and on 21 April 1938 tossed a grenade at an Arab civilian bus on  Rosh Pina–Safed Highway, in revenge and retaliation for acts committed by Arabs in the same area. Ben Yosef was sentenced to death and hanged by the British Mandatory authorities, and  came to be considered a hero and martyr for his cause. In the state of Israel his face appeared on a postage stamp and streets were named after him in many cities. In a song written in 1939, poet Shlomo Skolski praised Ben Yosef and held him up as a model and inspiration for young Jews. The most well known words of that poem are "You don’t conquer the mountain top/If there is no grave on the slope." Those were the words which Netanyahu quoted in his speech on the occasion of Memorial Day 2015, and he too presented them as the model and recommended way of life for young contemporary Israelis.

"Our proud people this day bow down their heads and flag in the greatest of all gratitude to our loved ones who had fallen. Our persecutors and enemies change face, the battlefields remain virtually the same. The more the threats of our enemies to destroy our home increase, the more increases our determination to defend that home. Our spirit has not weakened throughout the years, it grows ever stronger. We have seen that great determination in this past summer in Operation Protective Edge - such courage and fellowship and  togetherness and sacrifice. Unfortunately, in the Middle East as it is we have to continue to fight for our place. Our place here is not to be taken for granted without such a sacrifice. Only through the Iron Wall, each stone of which is held by our sons and daughters in the IDF - only thanks to them can we go on living here and raise our children and grandchildren. Dear families, our loved ones who had fallen have all become the foundation stones of that Iron Wall.” 

The term "Iron Wall" is taken from a well-known 1923 article by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the ideological current from which today's Likud party emerged.  Jabotinsky argued that it was impossible for the Zionists of his time to hold dialogue and reach agreement with the country’s Arab inhabitants. Instead, he urged his fellows to concentrate on establishing a strong Jewish military force, strong enough that the Arabs would have no choice but to accept Zionism, paving the way for peace.  Evidently, Netanyahu believes that the same still holds nowadays, nearly a century later. Except that if the great force built up by Zionism and Israel in these hundred years was not enough to “convince” the Arabs, it is doubtful if anything ever will.  

Conspicuously absent from the speech of Israel’s Prime Minister was the word "peace" and the phrase "Our hand is always extended in peace to our neighbors," which Israeli Prime Ministers traditionally tend to include in their speeches - even if it often seems no more than lip service. It was the speech of a leader preparing his people for a total war without compromise, without presenting his listeners with the slightest hope of an end to the bloodshed ever. Among other things, this can be considered as finally dispelling the rumors and speculations of Netanyahu intending to invite opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog to join his cabinet and serve as a Foreign Minister who would present a moderate and dovish image to the world.
 
"We will serve the people from the opposition benches. It is from there we will topple Netanyahu" stated Herzog. "Netanyahu is scare-mongering, spreading poisonous propaganda. It worked in his elections campaign, but eventually it will stop working. With his right-wing  cabinet he is heading for a right-on crash into the wall. His government will get into a dead end, and then maybe the public will see sense".
***

At just the time that the Prime Minister delivered his speech of blood in Jerusalem, a completely different type of memorial event took place in Tel Aviv. It was the tenth time that an alternative Memorial Day ceremony was organized by the Israeli-Palestinian group of "Combatants for Peace", bringing bereaved Israelis and Palestinians who all lost their loved ones in the ongoing conflict together, let them tell their stories of the personal loss they experienced and comfort each other.

"The common Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony came out of the  initiative of a bereaved father, Buma Inbar," explains Avner Wishnitzer who lost his own son Yotam at Lebanon in 1995. "His intention was to make it possible for the bereaved families to mark Memorial Day while emphasizing a message of reconciliation and an action to prevent further bereavement. We are not strangers to pain. Many of us have served in combat units, have lost relatives and friends. But we must always remember that war is not a foredoomed fate but a personal choice. Precisely on this harsh day we call upon both sides to acknowledge the pain and the hope of those living on the other side of the fence, to try to prevent the next war. "

The first ceremony ten years ago was attended by some two hundred people. Since then the number of participants kept increasing by the year, this time  already reaching many thousands. A large hall was taken and filled to capacity, and many were left out and had to squeeze into adjacent halls where the ceremony was shown on large screens. Big screens attracted considerable numbers of viewers in the Palestinian territories, at several European locations and in California. Many others – in Israel, the Palestinian territories and wordwide, were watching at home via the Internet. Until the last minute there was a tension on whether the Palestinian bereaved families would be able to attend – a settler group tried to get their entry permits to Israel cancelled. But eventually, the Palestinians did arrive and were received with applause.

The Y-Net website concentrated on two of the bereaved parents who participated. Iris Segev of Rosh Pina describes her son Nimrod, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War, as a young man, full of life and laughter, with an ever-present smile. Jihad al-Sre’ir of Idna village near Hebron says his son that “My son  Ala’a was my heart”. Ala’a was killed in the village by IDF soldiers during Operation Protective Edge. Rather than bitterness and seeking revenge, they – like others of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Familes’ Forum – found they could share their pain. 

Iris’ son Nimrod, 28 years old at his death, was a  computer expert and held a senior position in Microsoft. "In fact, his position as an army reservist was in process of being shifted from a tank crew member to an army computer expert, and he did not have to go on a tank to Lebanon in 2006. But he insisted. His tank was hit by a roadside bomb which was immediately followed by Hezbollah anti-tank missile. The missile explosion killed all four tank crew members.

"My husband spoke to him on the phone just before he went back into Lebanon.   Nimrod said he did not believe he will live out this mission. He described exactly how it would happen. He said if the tank would hit a roadside bomb it would be immobilized, and then it will be a sitting duck for a missile. Hezi told him, 'If that's how you feel, get out! Put down the phone, get away, don’t return to the army.' Nimrod replied, 'That’s not the way I was brought up'. He also said that if we get a coffin, he will not be in it. ‘There will be three sandbags inside the coffin to give it a weight. I will not be in it, nothing will be left of me’. And that's exactly what really happened. Six months later, officers arrived and told us that parts of Nimrod's body parts were found in the morgue and we needed to do another burial. It was a nightmare. "

"For years  I just drifted, I could not find any meaning, either to my life or to the death of Nimrod. Four years ago I saw a TV documentary which shook me. It was called ‘A Heart from Jenin’, about Ismail Khatib, whose 12-year old son Ahmed was shot to death by the IDF fire. In the hospital, he decided to donate his killed son’s organs. The film documents the father’s meeting with the three families whose children received the organs – an ultra-Orthodox family from Jerusalem, a Bedouin family from the Negev and a Druze family from Peki'in ".

"The film opened to me a new, humane perspective on the other side. I especially wanted to thank Khatib for what he did. Also thank him for the sense of mission and understanding I gained from him, the understanding that I should not just sit passively grieving for my son, but  do something so that there will be no more bereaved mothers like me, on either side. That  there will be no more sons going out to be killed, none on our side or theirs. When I tried to get my letter to Khatib I found the Bereaved Families’ Forum. Immediately I knew I wanted to be a member of that forum.

Iris is involved in a project which brings together Israeli and Palestinian women - all of whom have lost children in the conflict. They speak at schools and community centers, conducting  dialogue, expressing their grief and giving a message of reconciliation.

“It is exactly bereavement which brings the desire for reconciliation. Nimrod died and I could not accept it. It did not make sense. I felt that what I want to do is not to stop others from going out and getting killed. It is unconceivable to me that mothers go on sending their children to the army and thinking it will not happen to them. I grew up in this country and took in the atmosphere we live by the sword and that we will not have a country if we don’t fight. But I do not want my son to protect me. I want to protect my son. The most important thing for me was to do all I can so that such things like this will not happen any more, that there will be peace. Palestinians come with me to the schools, we tell the story from the personal and human perspective. They are my friends. "

Jihad Ahmad al-Sre’ir, from the West Bank village of Idhna near Hebron, lost his son Ala’a in July 2014. He died nine days after being shot by soldiers with live bullets. Today Jihad al-Sre’ir is a member of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families’ Forum conflict and prays for an end to the conflict.

Ala’a was 21 when he died. "He was working in the village," says Jihad, "and the month of Ramadan was marked at the time. On that day he came home, and after 19:00 it was permissible to eat after fasting. The custom is not to go to sleep, but to eat a meal that lasts until the wee hours of the night. Around midnight, after we ate, Ala’a said he was going to visit his grandfather, who lives about 200 meters from our house. He went with his uncle, my brother, and there seemed to be no problems, everything was quiet. If there had been any  tensions, I wouldn’t have let him go out. We did not know that there were soldiers. There are large trees near the road. My brother said he heard someone say to them, 'Come here'. These were soldiers. There was a war on in Gaza, but in our village nothing was going on. I do not know why the soldiers suspected them. "

Ala’a was shot by IDF gunfire. "My brother said he heard two shots. One of the shots hit my son and smashed through his belly." He was taken to a hospital in Hebron, where he remained for nine days, and on July 29 died.

Until the incident Jihad used to work in Israel in construction and renovation jobs. “Four or five months after the death of my son I was forbidden to go out again. They took my approval, the note said ‘Forbidden by the General Security Service’. They killed our child and then they took away my job. Now I'm sitting at home. All my life I worked in Israel, I have friends there." (It is a standard policy of the Israeli authorities to deny permits to relatives of those killed, on the assumption that they might be inclined to acts of revenge.)

After the disaster, Jihad became a member of the Bereaved Families’ Forum. "Even before the disaster I had Israeli friends, with whom I keep in contact by  phone. We don’t want bloodshed. We want peace.  'God willing, let my son be the last’. Every night since then, I feel like it just happened. I still live for the moment, but pray to God to stop the conflict, for our children and yours. "

Jihad received a phone call from Osama Abu Ayash, one of the forum’s members on the Palestinian side, who invited him to Bethlehem, established his connection to the forum. "When I joined the forum. We went and sat with some Jewish representatives. Everyone had lost a relative. I said, 'To have peace, to have a future, I'm coming'. We exchanged phone numbers and since then we are in contact."

- Would it not have been more natural to seek revenge?

"God forbid. That is not the aim of Islam. I would just like whoever did it to my son to be brought to justice. At the forum we all sit together and talk. We understand each other, everyone had lost somebody dear".

***

 Memorial Day is immediately followed the Independence Day celebrations. The 67th Independence Day of the State of Israel, taking place on the 48th year of the occupation…

A great number of young people roamed the streets, watching fireworks and listening to loud music from the loudspeakers. Yearly, the State of Israel tries to recreate the atmosphere of the spontaneous enthusiasm which prevailed in the streets of Tel Aviv night after the UN adopted the Partition Resolution (1947). The new fashion which spread on this Independence Day were giant plastic hammers - almost as high as the kids holding them - decorated with Israel's national flag. The children ran through the streets, busily hitting  each other with these hammers.

Among the many flags that festooned Dizengoff Street, there suddenly shows a surprising item in a shop window: two relief maps hanging side by side – a map of Israel as it is now, with the Occupied Territories included, and next to it a map of pre-1967 Israel, within the internationally recognized Green Line borders, which are only rarely displayed nowadays. It was the Bauhaus Store, a shop dedicated usually to Tel Aviv's unique architecture and to nostalgic accessories of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Not really a store with a clear political agenda. But the two maps were hanging  in the window, side by side.
 

 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A complicated chess game and a Liberty Holiday in military prison

In the beginning of this week, the far-right paper Makor Rishon published an exclusive report entitled "Germany gave the order not to visit Ma'aleh Adumim – because it is Palestinian territory". As was related, the international Jewish organization B'nai B'rith organized an Israeli visit by the German female soccer team FFC Turbine Potsdam, to culminate in a friendly match with a team of Israeli girls. The trip was funded from German Foreign Ministry's special budget for celebrating the fifty years’ anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. For the German girls’ pre-match training, the Israeli organizers found a suitable location in… Ma'aleh Adumim.
"Then followed an amazing and shocking development" recounted Ralph Hoffman, president of B'nai B'rith in Germany and Europe, "The German embassy in Israel sent email messages to the team managers and told them unequivocally to cancel the visit to Maale Adumim, stating that Ma'aleh Adumim is a settlement in Palestinian territory, and that a visit there will be a violation of International Law. Our representative in Israel immediately called the Embassy. He hoped to hear there's been some mistake or misunderstanding. But no, the diplomat told him explicitly that this was indeed the official policy!"
"I'm still upset" added the president of B'nai B'rith. "Can you imagine it? Seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz, and they behave like this. Is this friendship? Is this a way to treat Israel? If they behave like this in sport, how will they behave on other issues? What will they do to business people?"
 


Indeed, the German government, which spends hundreds of millions of Euros from the German taxpayers’ money to provide the Israel Navy with submarines capable of carrying nuclear missiles, dares to also require German soccer players who traveled to Israel at government expense to abide by International Law. What a nerve!
On the same day that this news broke out, there was a radio interview with Bonni Ginzburg, past goalkeeper of Israel national soccer team and presently a well-known sports commentator: "This evening our team faces a hard test with Belgium. The Belgians are among the best in the world. We would have to struggle hard for every chance at the ball. But I would be willing to have Israel suffer a harsh and humiliating defeat on the pitch, if only I knew that the Lausanne negotiations would fail and that this bad agreement with Iran will not be signed. In fact, the next morning’s news broadcast told of soccer team losing at 1: 0 to the Belgians, and of a seeming deadlock at the Lausanne negotiations.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s old-new Prime Minister, once again demonstrated his talent of creating catchy sound bites and arousing waves of panic. On election day two weeks ago he had warned against "Arabs being bused in droves to the polls in order to bring the Left to power". This week, it was the turn of "The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen Axis" which Netanyahu proceeded to describe in the strongest terms: "The agreement being worked out in Lausanne would be intolerable, an existential threat to Israel and to the entire region and to the whole world. The Iranians are trying to take over the entire Middle East in a pincer movement. It is impossible to understand how representatives of the powers close their eyes to this aggression, when Iranian forces continue to occupy more and more territory in Yemen. The agreement which is emerging in Lausanne sends a message that there is no price to be paid for aggression – on the contrary, Iran's aggression is being rewarded". (Zvi Barel expressed in Haaretz some surprise at seeing Netanyahu being "strongly opposed to the occupation of territory and protesting the International Community’s inaction in face of that occupation. In Yemen, of course.)
Exactly a year ago, Secretary of State John Kerry experienced a bitter diplomatic failure, which Netanyahu probably remembers proudly. This time, Kerry and President Obama were determined to see it would not happen again. Even after the passing of the original deadline, 31 March, there continued over day and night the intense and crisis-ridden negotiations between the foreign ministers of the six world powers and of Iran. On Thursday night was announced the agreement, designed to halt Iran's nuclear program for ten to fifteen years. Minutes after the dramatic press conference in Lausanne, President Obama delivered a passionate speech in Washington, speaking of a historic deal which will make the world a safer place: "This is the right way, the best and safest way to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. And it is certainly preferable to a bloody war."
Obviously, Netanyahu was not pleased – the transatlantic call by which President updated Prime Minister on the agreement achieved was yet another in the ever-lengthening series of head-on confrontations between them. The Prime Minister was quick to convene his Inner Cabinet and pass a unanimous resolution characterizing the agreement as no less than "an existential threat to Israel." Evidently, in the coming months he intends to wage another running struggle on Capitol Hill, with the help of his Republican friends. House Speaker John Boehner, the impresario of Netanyahu's famous speech last month, visited the PM this week and promised his help. But as noted by Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth, "The Republicans are happy for any occasion and excuse to bash Obama, but they would not want to be perceived in American public opinion as those who led the United States into a new war in the Middle East."

"Israelis tend to judge the agreement by their own standards, so they find it hard to believe that Iran would really give up its nuclear program" continues Barnea. "Israel, in a similar situation, would not give it up. Israel would play tricks. Why should Iran behave differently from us?". Actually, it's not a hypothetical question. Israel was indeed in a similar situation in the early sixties, facing President Kennedy. And indeed, at that time Israel did not give up its nuclear program, but rather played tricks. Eitan Haber, who was Chef de Bureau to Prime Minister Rabin and became a rather sober and cynical columnist, wrote even more openly: "Every beginner politician knows that where nuclear facilities are concerned, it is perfectly acceptable to cheat and deceive the whole world. A country which invests billions of its best resources in constructing nuclear plants would also be ready to invest hundreds of millions in fraud and deception. Iran will not give up. The concessions which Iran made during the talks in Lausanne were similar to the concessions of another country, a country which we all know very well – a country which outwardly exhibited exemplary behavior and got high marks, but still built first-class nuclear facilities and already for years and generations subsists on nuclear ambiguity." Netanyahu’s aforementioned triad "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen" does not include Dimona, nor does it rhyme.
According to several commentaries in the American press, especially in the Wall Street Journal, the nuclear deal with Iran is part of a much broader political initiative taken by President Obama - the final goal being to "do with Iran what President Nixon did in China" and make the rogue country into a key player in the system of US alliances in the Middle East. Compared with the murderous fanatic entity known as ISIS, which erupted with great force in the past year and whose trademark are ever-new execution clips released into the web, the broadly smiling Iranian diplomats at Lausanne seem the very epitome of moderation. Indeed, precisely during the talks in Lausanne came reports from northern Iraq on the significant success of the forces fighting to expel ISIS from the key city of Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein. Planes of the US Air Force launched heavy bombardments from the air, greatly aiding the pro-Iranian Shiite militias on the ground in penetrating to the center of Tikrit.
This direction in American policy is very worrying to Netanyahu - and also to Saudi Arabia, the United States’ long-standing ally. It is not by chance that, exactly during the talks in Lausanne, the Saudis formed an alliance of Arab and Muslim countries to go to war in Yemen and send planes to bomb the pro-Iranian Shiite militias. In these bombings American planes are not directly involved, although the US did announce its support for "the military operation designed to strengthen the legitimate Government of Yemen" and reportedly provided intelligence reports and satellite imagery to assist the Saudi bombers in locating their targets. Also this week the United States resolved to resume military aid to Egypt, resigning themselves to the fact that General Sisi, the Saudis’ ally, had an impressive success in crushing the buds of democracy which sprouted in Egypt four years ago.

(In the circuses of old it was common to feature the daring stunt of riding two galloping horses at once. How will Obama fare with such a stunt?)
And what about the Palestinians? Following the signing of the agreement in Lausanne, Secretary of State Kerry stated that there are greater threats than Iran to the security of Israel – namely, ISIS and the failure of peace efforts with the Palestinians. With regard to Iran, France was the power most skeptical about Iranian intentions, constantly pressing for tougher terms, and Netanyahu had pinned quite a bit of his hopes on the French. But conversely, on the Palestinian issue France intends, already in the near future, to submit to the Security Council a new, far-reaching draft resolution which would state unequivocally the principle of the 1967 borders as the basis for the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state. And, to Netanyahu’s alarm, it is far from certain that the US would veto such a decision – indeed, it is even possible that the Americans would join it.
It was just a week that Obama launched his broadside, stating that he quite believed Netanyahu’s elections pledge to the extreme right voters – "there will be no Palestinian state during my term". Conversely, the President found it difficult to take seriously the pale retraction published by Netanyahu after the elections, declaring that he was not opposed to the principle of a Palestinian state, provided that it will remain a purely verbal statement and never, God forbid, become a reality. Netanyahu had also taken two concrete conciliatory steps: The Palestinians were given the hundreds of millions of tax money which Israel is collecting on their behalf in accordance with the Oslo Accords, which were held up at the Israeli Treasury for several months – this, provided that Palestinian do not submit a complaint against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. And in East Jerusalem, preliminary approval was given to the construction of thousands of housing units for Palestinians - the first decision of its kind since Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and which had been delayed for many years, right-wing officials holding key positions in the governmental and municipal bureaucracy. Though, to be sure, realization on the ground of that decision might take years - while for the sake of balance, bulldozers in the here and now embarked on construction of yet another neighborhood for Jews only...
Still, on April 1 the State of Palestine officially became the 123th adherent to the International Criminal Court, fully authorized to sue and initiate legal proceedings for any violation of International Law committed in the territory recognized by the UN as part of Palestine. That would apply both to civilians killed in the bombing of Gaza and to the expansion of settlements in the parts of the West Bank designated by the State of Israel as "State Lands". "We are preparing files on all these issues. We will start proceedings when the appropriate time comes" stated the veteran Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians. "I hope that the very fact of our ability to file such judicial proceedings will act as a deterrent and inhibiting factor affecting Israeli behavior on the ground, from now on."
Will the ICC membership indeed make a difference on the ground? For example regarding the issue of forced displacement about which Human Rights activist Niv Michaeli warns?


"Dear Friends, I recently joined B’Tselem as data coordinator responsible for handling communities at risk of forced displacement. There are dozens of such communities scattered throughout Area C in the West Bank: especially in the Jordan Valley, the South Hebron Hills and east of Jerusalem. Home to thousands of people, most of these small farming and shepherding communities have existed for decades. In recent years, they have been subjected to ever more persistent attempts by the Civil Administration and the Israeli military to expel them from their land under various pretexts. With a view to gaining greater understanding of these communities, I joined B’Tselem’s field researchers on a visit to the area. I saw the long, arduous journey villagers must undertake to get water; the mind-boggling gap between the rough conditions in which they live and the conditions in nearby settlements, sometimes mere meters away. Words and photographs are inadequate to depict this reality.
 
It is also hard to convey the feeling of uncertainty that permeates daily life in these communities, of knowing that at any given moment your home, source of livelihood or property could be demolished or confiscated and that you are powerless to prevent it. Two such incidents occurred this month alone: on 4 March, military and Civil Administration personnel came to Khirbet ‘Ein Karzaliyah in the northern Jordan Valley and – for the fifth time since January 2014 – demolished the homes of the community’s five families. Two weeks later, on 18 March, Civil Administration personnel demolished the homes and livestock pens of four families in Khallet Makhul, a nine-family community that has lived at that site for decades. The Civil Administration had previously demolished all of the community’s structures in 2013. The residents of these communities are entitled to live undisturbed in their homes, as are all people. The Israeli authorities’ repeated attempts to displace them must cease. "
 
In the meantime, the calendar has once again brought us to Passover, also nicknamed the Festival of Liberty – a holiday which Jewish tradition had set to commemorate the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew slaves from captivity in Egypt, thousands of years ago. Whatever its historical basis, the Exodus is certainly one of the great emancipatory texts of human culture, and has throughout history served as a source of hope and inspiration to people who dreamed of liberation from bondage. In particular, it was a source of hope and inspiration for Black Americans.
Over here, Passover will also this year be celebrated by the soldiers engaged in the daily routing of occupation and oppression. And Passover will be celebrated with special devotion by a thousand settlers living in an armed enclave at the heart of the city of Hebron. In the general elections two weeks ago, these thousand settlers had the vote – which was not given to two hundred thousand Palestinians living in the city all around them.
Passover this year will be marked behind bars, by four young Israelis who resolved to refuse being part of the system of occupation, oppression and colonization - Edo Ramon, Yehiel Nahmany, Effie Darshner and Yaron Kaplan. Each of the four has a different background and different specific reasons for the decision to embark on refusal: Ramon refuses to enlist out of a straightforward objection to the military's policy in the occupied territories; Darshner is an Anarchist; Nahmany is a Gandhian pacifist; Kaplan refused to go on being a soldier.


Edo Ramon: "I don’t believe that force and war can lead to anything other than death and suffering. All the more so when this is an army which claims to be made for defense but is the tool of bloodthirsty politicians, a body calling itself 'The most moral army in the world’ which holds millions of men and women under occupation, in violation of their most basic rights. I will not wear this army’s uniform and will not obey its orders. Such an obedience would mean submitting to injustice, indeed becoming its accomplice. That’s what I told the recruitment officer in Tel Hashomer."
Yechiel Nachmani wrote: "After thousands of years of violence and abuse, a new way must be found. We must get ourselves, get the world, out of this cycle where all are casualties. I see online videos on the behavior of soldiers in Hebron, and my small and simple mind can’t comprehend how anyone can think that such conduct can provide a solution. What are the chances of these children in the video to make peace, to love, after what they suffered that night at the hands of the soldiers? In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: 'By opposing hatred with hatred we do nothing but spread hatred’. I'm not willing to join a system in which the supreme value is the use of force. My challenge in prison is to find a way to overcome hatred for the military and for the prison guards, to find a way of loving them, too. They are human beings and always remains in them something which is deeper than any of their behavior, something which gives me the hope that they can change."


Effie Darshner, an Anarchist active in the Achdut ("Unity") group, was unable to send from prison a detailed message giving in detail his reasons for refusal to serve in the army – since he went on to also refuse to wear a military uniform while being in the military prison, which led to his being placed in isolation.
 


Yaron Kaplan has already served eighteen months in the army, and his experiences during that time seem to be what led him to decide that he was not willing to continue this service.
 
Next Monday (April 6) at 12:00 pm, there will be held at the gates of the Tel Hashomer Recruitment Center a vigil in solidarity with the imprisoned objectors. Protest organizers cite the traditional saying: "In every generation one must see himself as if he himself came out of bandage in Egypt."
 
 
Journalists play chess outside the conference hall in Lausanne, waiting for the results (photo:Reuters) 

Demolitions in the Jordan Valley (photo B'Tselem)
 
  Effie Darshner holding an Anarchist flag, shortly before his detention (photo: Achdut anarchists)
Military Prison 6 at Atlit, where refusers – and ordinary disobedient soldiers – are housed in big tents (photo:Yesh Gvul )