Monday, July 26, 2010

Israeli culture - 1

The IDF promises – and it keeps its promise. Some weeks ago, Israel's Defence Forces promised the villagers of Al-Farsieyah in the Jordan Valley that their village will be completely destroyed and that they will be left homeless under the open sky. The army promised – and on schedule the soldiers came, the vehicles arrived, the bulldozers were there. The houses were destroyed, the huts were destroyed, the tents were destroyed, the cattle pens were destroyed. Everything, totally everything, was destroyed. It did not take much time, nor a very great effort, to destroy the entire village and wipe it off the earth. (Well, it's a pretty small place, just a bit more than a hundred people ...)

Not that the soldiers who came to destroy Al-Farsieyah that morning last week were necessarily very bad people. Probably they were ordinary people, ordinary Israeli citizens, soldiers of the usual type. Like most soldiers in most armies in human history, they obeyed orders and carried out the task entrusted to them, to the satisfaction of their commanders.

Israeli law clearly states that there are Manifestly Illegal Orders, orders on which the Black Flag of Illegality flies. A soldier not only can refuse to obey such an order – he must. As set down by the Supreme Court of the State of Israel after the Kafr Kassem Massacre in 1956, an order to place unarmed civilians against the wall and shoot them to death is such an order, a Manifestly Illegal Order.

But that's not what happened in Al-Farsieyah. No one was murdered, thank God. All that happened was that some houses and some structures and some amimal pens were demolished, and that a handful of people who were already very poor will now have to start from scratch. That's all. Is that, too, a manifestly illegal order? Or was it just a plain illegal order, one which is illegal but not manifestly so, in which case the soldier is legally obliged to obey first and ask questions later? Or maybe it's an order which is unpleasant but perfectly legal, according to all the rules and procedures set down in Occupation Law as formulated by the 43-year old Israeli occupation regime?

Only highly expert, experienced lawyers can try to answer such questions - and it is far from sure that even the likes of them can provide any clear and authoritative answer. As the Army Chief of Staff is fond of saying – as does the Minister of Defense – it is unacceptable that every soldier would have to consult with lawyers before going into battle. Even before going into battle against the residents of the a tiny hamlet who do not carry any arms and did not try to put up any resistance to the demolition of their homes.

Israeli culture-2

After three years of renovations the revamped Israel Museum was inaugurated in Jerusalem. The museum renovation project was one of the largest of its kind in Israel, and the cost came to 100 million dollars. In fact, the museum doubled its display space and renewed the entrance pavilion, gardens and exhibitions.

The glittering opening event was attended by President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Barkat, Supreme Court President Beinisch as well as ministers, Knesset Members, ambassadors, judges, dignitaries, donors, and members of the cultural elite in Israel.

"I'm so proud of this spiritual as well as artistic achievement which represents in a special way our national character," the president said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu told of his memories from the period before the museum was built: "I grew up not far from here. When we were kids we used to play on this hill. The hill was rocky with a single acorn tree. Now, in place of the acorn, you can find Modigliani, Lifscitz, Pissarro, Van Gogh, the entire culture of the world is represented here in a quiet but astonishing way. The wonderful combination between the values of our heritage and world culture actually constitute the bridge from our past to our future. "

Israeli culture-3

Shir Regev was born 20 years ago at Tuval in the Galilee. When he was born in the Israeli occupation in the West Bank had already been a fact for a whole generation, and he had never known any other reality.

When it was time for a Shir Regev join Israel's army of defense, the most moral army in the world, he did not wait until he could pass basic training, and be posted to a unit, and be ordered to demolish houses in Al-Farsieyah, and then deliberate if the order is legal or illegal. He also did not need to wait for the renovated Israel Museum to open in order to gain some knowledge of the Jewish historical heritage, and of world culture, and of how these two relate to each other. On what was supposed to be his recruitment day, Regev sent a letter to the military:

I believe it is my personal duty to refuse and defect from an army whose main purpose is to serve as an occupation police for maintaining "Israeli order" and imposing it on defenseless and disenfranchised Palestinians. (…)

Since I have the medical profile of a "combat soldier", had I joined the army, there is no doubt I would have been sent to serve this 'Mafiosi' system, which has almost nothing to do with the IDF's designated role as "Defense Forces". This is an army that serves interests in which I do not believe. Therefore, in the dilemma between doing such service and obeying the dictates of my conscience, I have no doubt about where I stand.

Shir Regev is currently serving his third consecutive period of detention. He would probably have to undergo several more prison terms until the military authorities are convinced that he is not made of the stuff of which destroyers of Palestinian homes are made.

For details on delivery letters of support to Shir Regev and protests to the military and civil authorities, click here:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nasty words and white phosphorus bombs

For a whole year Judge Goldstone was attacked. Ministers of the government of Israel daily abused him, and the government's official spokespersons, and its unofficial spokespersons, and its friends and agents all over the world. He was called an enemy of Israel, and a self-hating Jew, and an antisemite, and a servant of the Iranian regime, and a servant of the Apartheid regime. Even at the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson an attempt was made to prevent him from attending. The Goldstone Report was continually denounced as a collection of lies and vicious propaganda.

Still, now the Israel Defense Forces officially informed the UN that in future wars it will take greater care not to use White Phosphorus bombs in civilian areas. It is no coincidence that this was one of the main points in the much-maligned Goldstone Report.

This came too late for the residents of Gaza who got Israeli White Phosphorus burning deep into their living flesh, in a fire which cannot be extinguished. But those who will in the future get visited by the most moral army in the world can give heartfelt thanks to Judge Richard Goldstone.

More about the same

The UN Human Rights Council decided yesterday to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to look into the killings on board the Gaza Flotilla boats. The government of Israel already announced that it will not cooperate with this commission.

That's how it started with Goldstone, too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Death in the Fire Zone

In April 2003 the British peace activist Tom Hurndall was fatally wounded at Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The city of Rafah was then the scene of daily attacks and clashes with Israeli forces stationed nearby, whose presence was then considered "vital to national security." (Two years later, it was decided to evacuate them  far too late for Hurndall as for too many others.

Raphael Cohen, a fellow peace activist from London, described what happened: "Palestinian homes in the area were under fire. Bullets flew over the heads of children, and hit the wall behind them, about the height of the second floor. The frightened children began to run, but some went exactly in the most dangerous direction. Tom saw it and ran toward them. He saved a little boy and took him to a sheltered spot and then returned to take two girls who were in the fire zone. Suddenly he was shot in the head and collapsed." Hurndall was taken unconscious to the hospital and never woke up again. He died nine months later.

Sergeant  Taysir Hayb, who killed Tom Hurndall, was a member of the Desert Patrol Battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces - the official name of the unit in which are concentrated most of the Bedouins who join the army, hoping (usually in vain) to come nearer to a situation of equality in the country of which they are citizens. (Recently we had a case where a Bedouin received on the same day a call-up order and a demolition order for his home...)

Sergeant Taysir Hayb did not know that he killed a British peace activist. He did know that there was a "red line" declared by the army at the edge of the town of Rafah, that anyone who passes this line enters into a "fire zone", becoming suspected of being a terrorist, and that a soldier needed no special permission before shooting at such a person. Hayb probably did that several times before the evening when he took a sniper rifle and fired through telescopic sight at the figure he saw in the evening darkness between the houses of Rafah. In his initial report Hayb stated that he had shot in self-defense at a man armed with a pistol, who threatened himself and his fellows. At that time, nobody asked very many questions.

Had it been a Palestinian who was shot, the story would have ended with another grieving family added to thousands of such families throughout the Gaza Strip, and another anonymous name added to the long, long list of casualties. But as the killed person was British, the case came up prominently in the media at London, the British government continued pressing the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem with ever more questions, the Foreign Ministry contacted the Ministry of Defense, and eventually the military police arrived at Sergeant Taysir Hayb's door and he arrived at the dock in the Southern Command's Court Martial.

The judges ruled that Taysir Hayb's testimony before them had been miserable, confused and full of contradictions, that he had lied in his initial deposition and that he had knowingly shot an unarmed man who did not threaten him. They found him guilty of killing Tom Randall and sent him to eight years in prison.

But the Israel Defense Forces still care for its own. This week, after the was forgotten and disappeared from the headlines, a military committee decided to shorten Hayb's sentence, and soon he will be set free.

Meanwhile, the IDF is no longer in Rafah. But it is still stationed in many other locations on the border of the Gaza Strip. And it still declares "red lines" the passing of which causes one to enter a "fire zone", to be suspected of being terrorist and to be liable to be shot on the spot. But the army has advanced, and the task is no longer given to the Bedouins of the Desert Patrol Battalion.

Nowadays, everything is electronically sophisticated. Throughout the Gaza border area, machine-gun positions are linked to TV cameras, and they can be shot by remote control from secure and protected command centers several kilometers away. As the army reported with more than a bit of pride a few weeks ago, the unit responsible for the whole complex is composed purely of women – truly the height of Feminism. The most talented of the eighteen-year old girls joining the army in every annual recruiting cycle are given long and arduous training. At the end they are ready to take charge of a TV screen showing the situation on one sector of the border and of the remote-control machine-gun trigger, ready to flood the "Fire Zone" near the border with a deadly barrage. They themselves are never in any danger, other than perhaps some bad dreams at night.

As reported by the army, the young women's supervision of the Gaza border area is highly successful, and they have already succeeded in killing several dozen terrorists who were plotting to infiltrate Israel. Were they really all terrorists? This will be probably be looked at after the next British victim.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Latest news from The Only Democracy in The Middle East

In Jerusalem, the Eternal Reunited Capital of Israel it was decided this week to build 32 publicly funded housing units for Jews only in Pisgat Zeev, so as to increase the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem.

In that same City of Jerusalem the municipality this week demolished six houses that Palestinians built for themselves with their own money , because it is necessary to enforce the law and also make life hell for the Arabs who insist on living in Jerusalem. But the huge "Jonathan House" which the settlers built in the heart of Silwan, the, Municipality decided not to destrioy. Though it is illegal, these are after all Jews and they have a lot of good friends at City Hall.

Also in the city of Jerusalem a court of law ruled that the Palestinian Parliamentarian Mohammed Abu Tir is an illegal alien in the city where he was born and lived all his life and that he should leave the city immediately and post a high bail to ensure that he would not come back. Upon Abu Tir refusing these terms, the court decided to remand him in indefinite custody.

And still in that city of Jerusalem: The Knesset, democratically elected Parliament-of the State of Israel, decided by a large majority to deprive Arab Knesset Member Haneen Zuabi of several parliamentary privileges, arguing that her views and actions were extremist. And the Jewish Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari, declared successor of Rabbi Meir Kahane, held a celebration and prepared to launch additional measures against Arab Knesset Members.

And rabbis in the city of Tel Aviv, Israel, The Only Democracy in The Middle East, this week solemnly called upon the faithful not to rent apartments to migrant workers. This was, of course, not motivated by racism, God forbid, but because of concern for preserving Jewish traditions

And in the City of Eilat, which is also in the aforementioned democratic State of Israel, the mayor in person this week organized a large demonstration demanding that migrant workers and asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea be immediately expelled from his town. And also this was, of course, not motivated by racism, God forbid, but because of the desire to preserve the character of the City of Eilat.

And in the settlement of Nokdim - which the Democratic State of Israel maintains in the area which its army is keeping under occupation over the past 43 years and where the democratic Foreign Minister of Israel in person resides - it was decided this week not to allow the entry of Russian immigrants who are not Jewish according to religious law. Also there this was, of course, not motivated by racism, God forbid, but by fear of mixed marriages and assimilation. Also, it was explained to the journalist of Haaretz, because non-Jewish Russian immigrants are known to be steeped in incest and their presence in Nokdim might infect the kosher Jewish settlers with this sin.

And in the Bedouin village or Rahme which is not recognized by the Democratic State of Israel and which should not exist as far as state authorities are concerned, the state this week destroyed two houses built by two young people who were going to marry and live in them with their new wives. And this destruction did not get reported in any news media because in general the news media in the Democratic State of Israel is not interested in what happens to the country's Bedouin citizens.

And also this week the Knesset, passed, for the time being ony in the preliminary reading, the Boycotts Law which would impose severe punishment on anyone who calls for a boycott against Israel. The way things go in this country, there may be found a lot defendants to be charged under this law

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cinderella in trouble

What a great ball it was, there in Washington. So wonderful. Dancing and dancing, on and on into the night. For a moment all the troubles were forgotten, the step sisters and the Palestinians and the Turks. And Prince Obama was so nice and friendly and considerate, not at all the way I thought.

But now the clock struck midnight and the carriage turned back into a pumpkin , and soon the settlements will get out of freeze. How, oh how am I ever going to get my foot into that '67-borders shoe?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ghost at the table

Update: as yet, the army's bulldozers have bypassed the little village Al-Farsieyah, mentioned in my previous posting Get out - no matter where to!  The army handed its residents deportation orders, effective within 24 hours, but the immediate blow fell on their neighbors at Ras al Ahmar.

Daphne Banai, MachsomWatch activist who devotes much time and energy to residents of the Jordan Valley sent the following account:

Sarah, a goodlooking 68 years old woman, is tired. She looks into the distance and wipes a tear from her eye. The army came this morning, the bulldozer destroyed her home. Also the neighbors' homes. In total 15 families, comprising about 100-150 persons, were left homeless under the brutal summer sun. Children, the elderly, and the livestock. No one was spared.

Sarah can’t stand it anymore. Also last year at the same time her home was destroyed. A home which is nothing but a tent and a few shacks can be rebuilt. The most difficult to recreate is the tabun oven which is dear to her, which is made of stone and on which the family's bread is baked. Every time the bulldozers tear up her home they just destroy everything indiscriminately.

Years ago, she remembers, jeeps would come along with aircraft, shooting and killing the sheep. Or sheep would be taken to the Ouja Quarantine and had to be redeemed from the army at two Jordanian Dinars a piece.

But over the past twenty years, every year the army comes and destroys everything Tents, sheepfolds, warehouses, and the tabun. Lives are torn up anew every year. Young people are used to it, but she is old, tired... She would have been ready to leave - but where? Where could you go with your flocks? Into the city?

And it is a privately owned land. It belongs to land-owners from the town of Tubas. Their ownership is duly registered in the land registry books, and Sarah and her family and neighbors live there as officially recognized tenants. Like with thousands of other plots of land. But almost every place where people live had been declared the army declared to be "A Fire Zone" so as to justify expelling the people from it. An ethnic cleansing.

Israel's written and electronic media have not published any word of this story. The misfortunes of Jordan Valley villagers is not high on their list of priorities, and this is not the kind of news which an ordinary Israeli likes to hear. But deep inside the pages of Ben Kaspit's commentary in Ma'ariv newspaper last Friday, a hint could be found as to why the strongest army in the Middle East insists upon fighting the poor village families of Ras al Ahmar. As recounted there, in an intimate dinner with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared: "There is no way I would give up the Jordan Valley".

The Jordan Valley is a fairly substantial area, estimated at at least 33% percent of the West Bank (40% or more by some calculations). An Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, in accordance with the old "Allon Plan", would sever the Palestinian state from all contact with the outside world. It would not be really be an independent state, more of an isolated enclave within Israeli territory. In order to implement such an annexation in a smooth and elegant way, it would be better if the area was made "free of Arabs". Arab Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley are a nuisance. They should be bombarded with eviction orders and demolition orders, until they give up and go away.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is due to meet with President Obama, tomorrow evening at the White House – where he might be asked to state at last inside which borders he intends to place the Palestinian state to whose creation he says he agrees. .

Sarah of the village of Ras al Ahmar in the Jordan Valley, and he family and neighbors, will be an invisible presence at that table.