Saturday, May 26, 2012

Who is a Palestinian Refugee? And who is a Jewish refugee? And what should the US Senate do about it?

Senator Mark Kirk
US Senate
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir

From the media I hear that you have introduced a bill (amendment to the FY 2013 funding bill) which aims to change the definition of "Palestinian refugee" and make it apply solely to people who were personally uprooted in 1948 from the territory which became the State of Israel. Your bill would therefore have the effect of depriving the descendants of these original refugees from having a refugee status.

As an Israeli, I am quite astonished by this idea. After all, the assumption enshrined in our Law of Return, ceremoniously enacted by Israel's Parliament soon after the creation of the state, is that refugee status is inheritable in perpetuity, regardless of how many generations have passed since the moment of exile. Indeed, this refugee status remains fully in force even after the passage of nearly two thousand years. It is on this basis that all Jews anywhere – deemed to be descended from those exiled when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem - are entitled to automatic citizenship in the state of Israel. As of this moment, more than thirteen million people worldwide are deemed by Israeli law to be Jewish exiles, of whom more than five millions had already implemented their rights under the law, while the others are entitled to do so at any moment they choose.

As it presently stands, your bill would require the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress on how many people are receiving assistance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency "whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict; and how many are only descendants of those people".

While you are about it, you might consider also mandating a report on the people who are receiving the benefits of the Israeli Law of Return, so as to find out how many of them are those "whose place of residence was Judea between the years 68 AD and 70 AD and who were displaced as a result of the Roman-Judean conflict; and how many are only descendants of those people".

Sincerely Yours

Adam Keller
POB 2542
Holon 58125


I have written the above letter after United States Senator Mark Kirk introduced a piece of legislation aimed at re-defining who is a Palestinian refugee and in effect drastically reducing their number.

If you agree with my approach, pointing out some logical implications touching upon basic tenets of Zionism and of the State of Israel, you can also contact Senator Kirk - either sending him a copy of my letter with your endorsement or composing a text of your own. If you do, I would appreciate a copy, and also one of any response you get.

Yours, Adam Keller

Sending online comments to Senator Kirk

Senator Kirk's  facebook page

More options of contacting Senator Kirk

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Nakba and the Minister of Education and the Minister of Culture and us

In a map published by the British Mandatory Government in 1945 I located the area where I now live. Within walking distance from my home, currently in the center of the city of Holon,  there appear on this map ​​the fields and orchards of Palestinians from the town of Yazur - fields bearing the name  "Wadi en-Nada" (Morning Dew Valley).

Today in this area there is a small quiet street named for Arthur Ruppin, a founder of the Zionist Movement. Ruppin devoted most of his life to the obtaining of Arab lands and the settlement of Jews on them, so as to create the basis for a Jewish state. At first he thought it was possible to achieve this goal without conflict with the inhabitants of the country. Later, he came to the conclusion that realization of the Zionist enterprise would inevitably entail a conflict - and that this enterprise must go ahead anyway, at all costs. There must still be, in refugee camps somewhere, people who remember Wadi en-Nada from their childhoods. Had they wanted – and been able - to visit Ruppin Street in the city of Holon, it is doubtful whether they could have recognized anything. (Perhaps, here and there among the houses, an ancient tree which had already been there in 1948...)

Two weeks ago, on the night of Independence Day when the citizens of Israel celebrated the sixty-fourth anniversary of the establishment of the state, a small group of activists planned to go out into the celebration in the streets of central Tel Aviv and spread on the sidewalk pieces of paper bearing the names of cities and towns and villages which were destroyed during the creation of this state and which thereupon became "abandoned property", empty houses and fields and orchards where a large part of Israel's citizens came to live. The Tel Aviv police considered that the spreading of these pieces of paper might  cause "a serious disturbance of public order". Therefore, police imposed a several hours' blockade on the office of the Zochrot ("Remembering") group and detained several of its activists. The police's conduct naturally imparted to this action a great public resonance, far more than the organizers had expected or hoped for.

This week, Jewish and Arab students conducted a commemoration of the Nakba at the Tel Aviv University. The university which was established at the village of Sheikh Munis Village, a village whose inhabitants did not take part in the war waged by their people against the newly formed State of Israel, and whose non-participation in that war did not save them from becoming refugees nor did their village escape being razed and erased from the map. The Minister of Education of the State of Israel strongly denounced this intended ceremony and made undisguised threats against the university which gave permission for it to be held – and nevertheless, it did take place on schedule. And next day the Zochrot activists went out on the streets of Central Tel Aviv and at last placed on the sidewalk their pieces of papers with the names of destroyed villages, and what a surprise! There was no public disorder to be witnessed. Nothing worse than a few loud but on the whole civilized street debates.

"But they brought it on themselves: they had rejected the Partition Plan!" Opponents said this on that day, as they say it wherever the issue comes up.  In 1947, the Palestinians rejected the Partition Plan proposed at the time by the United Nations - namely, that the Palestinians would have to give up in favor of the Zionist Jews some 55% of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and themselves rest content with the remaining 45%. For rejecting this, the Palestinians were punished with the loss of homes and fields and property and becoming refugees. And if so, what does it imply for the Israelis who at the present day reject  the Partition Plan nowadays proposed by the UN and the entire international community? Under this plan, the State of Israel would give up 22% of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River (i.e., the West Bank and Gaza Strip) and have to stay content with "only" 78%...

"What are these Arab villages which Zochrot is speaking about and trying to present to the public? They present a map on their website, and the map is full of dots. Dots, dots, dots" stated the angry Limor Livnat, Minister of Culture, at the stormy debate in the Knesset. "Dots, from the north of the country to the south, even south of Beersheba. These dots, which are the villages they talk about, are all over the State of Israel. I found some in the Tel Aviv area, dozens of dots. In Bat Yam, Rishon Lezion, Rehovot - where not? Also in Beit Shemesh, Netanya, Or Akiva, around each and every one of all these regions. At Tiberias, Madam Speaker. In Beit Shean. Where not? Indeed, where not?"

Indeed, the Minister is right in her description. Everywhere, throughout the State of Israel, towns and villages were destroyed. Many of them were wiped off the map, as our country's bulldozers did their work well. But the villages remained in the old maps in various libraries and archives, and it is difficult to collect and destroy all of them. And  memories are left, among people who are no longer young, but who are still alive and who still remember.

In theory (very much in theory) it should have been Zionists, more than anyone one, who would have understood and sympathized with the demand to realize the Right of Return, which is so central to the national consciousness of the Palestinians. For after all, what is the basis of Zionism if not the assertion that  all Jews, wherever they may be, are refugees whose ancestors were expelled  from this country, refugees who - all of them without exception – are entitled to exercise the Right of Return. Even after two thousand years have passed, even though there is not a single Jew now living who can point to a specific village or a specific field and say "Here is where my personal ancestors lived two thousand years ago". And if it can be so after two thousand years, all the more it can be after sixty-four years, when there are still many people who remember their own destroyed village, and a lot of younger people who had never been  there but who know exactly where each house had been, each well, each olive tree, even if on the ground everything had been totally destroyed.

Precisely sixty-four years ago, on May 15, 1948, David Ben Gurion stood up at  the hall of the Old Museum in Tel Aviv, and read out the text of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, including the words: "After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom". Thereupon, the representatives of all parties and factions in the Zionist Movement came up and signed the text. Had these words been translated into Arabic and read verbatim in Ramallah or Gaza or any of the refugee camps, certainly the representatives of all parties and factions in the Palestinians National Movement would have come up and signed them, just as their Israeli counterparts did.

So far – theories and "might have beens". In the reality in which we live, it is very difficult to conceive, as a concrete idea to be actually implemented, a situation in which the State of Israel would consent to a full correction of the injustice which is at this state's very foundation and bedrock.

Though growing dim in recent years, the hope is not yet lost that a government would eventually be established in the State of Israel which would agree to terminate occupation which had been going on since 1967, and facilitate the creation of the independent and sovereign State of Palestine, with no  settlement enclaves in its territory, and its border with Israel based on the borders of June 4, 1967.

In particularly optimistic scenarios, the peace movement inside Israel would  recover and grow stronger, and external pressures increase, all pressures together bringing about an end to the occupation. Especially if Barack Obama gets re-elected as President of the United States of America, and takes up the issues of the Middle East from the point where his elections campaign interrupted his all-out confrontation with Binyamin Netanyahu, and as a second term President would be no longer bothered by the force which an Israeli government can muster within American politics. In an optimistic scenario one can think of an Israeli government signing an agreement with the Palestinians, ending the occupation and gaining for that step the support of a large majority among the citizens of Israel, with opposition limited to a minority of settlers and their religious-nationalist supporters.

Even so, it is very difficult to expect that the Palestinian refugees will get more than what was on the table in the Taba talks of January 2001 – i.e. the return of a limited number of them into Israel's territory, and not necessarily to their original villages.

At a minimum, the State of Israel must recognize the injustice which it had done to the Palestinians, and understand that accepting a state within the 1967 borders would be for the Palestinians a very hard and very painful concession.

If at all, it could only succeed if the State of Israel makes to the Palestinians a really generous offer - a two-state solution fully implemented without tricks and shenanigans. And not too late.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A brief history of land robbers, judges and slippery lawyers

Shortly after the IDF entry into the West Bank and the establishment of the military government which continues to this day, it was Meir Shamgar – head of the army's judicial branch, later Attorney General and still later President of the Supreme Court – who resolved to give occupied Palestinians the option of appealing to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the acts of the army set to rule over them. This was considered a significant expression of what was then termed "enlightened occupation" and speakers for Israel took great pride in it during their appearances worldwide.

But there were limits to enlightenment. The Supreme Court flatly refused to hear appeals based on the Fourth Geneva Convention, though the State of Israel had been among the first to sign it, already in 1949. Quite simply, this Convention speaks of the duties and obligations set on an occupying power in its relationship with inhabitants of the Occupied Territory – and the State of Israel refused to recognize that the West Bank is Occupied Territory, and found all sorts of other terms such as "Administered Territory" or "Disputed Territory". Government jurists were well able to phrase it in learned legal terms. It is always possible to find lawyers ready to formulate a legal case fitting one's needs. Gangsters know it, as do  prime ministers.

Under the Geneva Convention, an occupying power is obliged to maintain the status quo which existed in the territory upon its entry. It is certainly not supposed to settle its own citizens in the Occupied Territory, provide them a generous package of subsidies and incentives, and create a new and completely different demographic situation. But the government lawyers  concluded that it was not an Occupied Territory and the Geneva Convention does not apply.  As a special favor, the State of Israel would uphold the humanitarian requirements arising from the Convention. But,  what the humanitarian requirements are was left to the discretion of the state of Israel, its government, its army, and most importantly its settlers.

For example, the aspiration of landowners to retain ownership of their land was not a humanitarian issue. Rather, it was deemed to be a security issue. Thus, it was not very difficult for settlers to obtain land. Quite simply, the General in Command signed a decree stating that in his expert opinion as a high ranking military officer, the land located at area X of village Y was required for security purposes. Forthwith, the area was taken from its Palestinian owner, and they were forbidden to ever enter into it again as it was declared a closed military zone, and was surrounded by a fence and settlers joyfully entered. Formally the General stated in his decree that the land was seized for  temporary security purposes only, for a limited period of ten years, but this did not cause the settlers any problem, either – when the stipulated period ended the General just signed an new decree extending the seizure of the land for  temporary security needs for another ten years. In some cases he added an adjacent piece of land, which was also seized for strictly temporary security needs and handed over to the settlers who thereupon declared they would never leave these lands of Eretz Yisrael, the sacred Land of our Forefathers.

There were, indeed, those who asked naïve questions. How precisely did the transfer of civilian populations from Israel to Occupied Territory serve security needs? Indeed, what contribution to the security of Israel could be provided by a growing presence of pregnant women and young children? Did this not constitute, in fact, a new burden on the army's resources? But when such  questions arose in the Supreme Court, the judges proved very reluctant to set  their own civilian opinion in opposition to the military expert opinion of the Commanding General and the Army Chief of Staff, and the seizing of land for the purpose of establishing settlements regularly got the court's approval. When the Supreme Court unanimously gave a go-ahead to the confiscation of privately-owned Palestinian land north of Ramallah for the purpose of establishing a new settlement called Beit El, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared happily, "There are judges in Jerusalem."

And so did things go on for years and years, until that night when land was seized near Nablus, and the establishment of the Elon Moreh settlement was announced, and a road hastily paved through the land which a Palestinian farmer had no chance to harvest. Mobile homes were brought in, and on the same day the newly arrived settlers declared on TV: "This is our land and home, we will never go away". The story made unfavorable headlines in the country and around the world. The Peace Now Movement organized hundreds of protesters who blocked the new access road and laid siege to the settlers and spent the night opposite them. The present writer was also there on that night, in cold mountain night in the bare field and the hotly bursting protest.

And when this event arrived at the halls of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, there were handed to the judges the expert opinions of Major General (Ret.) Matti Peled and Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Haim Bar-Lev, whose professional  expert opinion of the security situation flatly contradicted the opinion of the incumbent Chief of Staff and concluded that there was no security value to the establishment of a civilian settlement in Occupied Territory. And the judges took up this opinion and ruled that there expropriating Palestinian private land for the establishment of a civilian settlement was unacceptable, and the new settlement of Elon Moreh had to be dismantled forthwith. The settlers and their friends thereupon burst out in a bitter outcry, as they do in such cases.

But as was already stated, at need, it is always possible to find lawyers ready to formulate a legal case fitting one's needs, whether one is a gangster or a Prime Minister. Some jurists have a slippery and very imaginative and creative mind. In this case, a talented lawyer named Pli'a Albeck gave the matter some thought, and she eventually came up with the saving formula: no need to  expropriate private land, you can just settle on state land.

It turned out that there were lots and lots of state lands around, more than half of the entire West Bank, more than enough for hundreds of thousands of settlers. Lots of state land, most of it lands which Palestinians had held for generations until Mrs. Albeck discovered them to be actually state lands. Yes, state lands they were, by all sorts of very creative interpretations of Ottoman law which still applies, very creative interpretations which the Ottoman Sultans themselves never thought of. Bottom line: Before, landowners used to get from representatives of the Israel Defense Forces a piece of paper reading "We hereby inform you that your land had been seized for security purposes, so kindly step aside forthwith".  Now, they started getting a different kind of paper stating in essence "We hereby inform you that we discovered this land is not yours but ours. It is state land, I.e. Israeli governmental land, i.e. settler land, so kindly step aside most immediately".

The Supreme Court accepted this reasoning, and the Elon Moreh settlement was moved simply some kilometers to a new location that turned out to be state land, and dozens of other settlements sprung up, all on state land. The Supreme Court gave its wholesale approval to settlement on state land, and the settlements increased and grew and developed, and also survived successfully  the Oslo period and continued to grow and grow. The settlers were, however, not quite satisfied with the abundance of state lands available to them. They continued to covet private land, and establish facts and even more facts on the ground. And while the General in Command no longer issued for them official confiscation orders, also when they seized plots of private land with a manifest violation of the law they immediately got soldiers to guard them day and night and protect them against the landowners, and were immediately connected to electricity and water, and got paved access roads, as well as generous government mortgages and subsidies.

State officials contemptuously pushed aside the landowners' claims. But some Israeli peace activists such as Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran conducted a thorough research to locate and map out the law-breaking and land theft perpetrated in broad daylight. Lawyers dedicated to Human Rights, such as Michael Sfard, went to the courts to confront the government and the settlers and their slippery representatives. And the evidence of theft and law breaking were clear and conclusive, and impossible to ignore. Even the gross intervention by the parliamentary right wing in the composition of the Supreme Court and the identity of its President was to no avail.  The court set clear deadlines for evacuation and demolition of houses built with manifest illegality on private Palestinian land. And now has come the time set by the court to dismantle the Ulpana Hill settlement, which is an extension and enlargement on private Palestinian land of the settlement of Beit El, which happens to be the same settlement which was as a whole founded on private Palestinian land thirty years, at which time the expropriation of land for security needs had been authorized by the court.

And now again the settlers and their friends are  bursting out in bitter outcry, as they do in such cases. To the point that they made use of their power within the Likud Party to undermine the rule of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and thwarted his plans to call early elections and get  himself another period at the helm, and forced him into a rather dubious deal with the leader of what until now passed for "The Opposition ". And yesterday morning the Prime Minister called together his advisers and his ministers and his partners, old and new, searching for a way to give a valid legal basis to the robbery of land in broad daylight. As was already remarked, at need it is always possible to find lawyers ready to formulate a legal case fitting one's needs, whether one be  a gangster or a Prime Minister.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A matter of education

It happened in between Holocaust Memorial Day and the Memorial Day for the soldiers killed in the state's wars. 

High school pupils were taken by their schools to see Yehoshua Sobol's "Ghetto", an award-winning Israeli play which had a global success. And what a  shame! As it turned out, the kids were not at all impressed by the horrors of Nazi persecution of Jews, which were presented on the stage by some of the best actors in Israel.  How could it happen that they constantly laughed and jeered and rudely interrupted the actors, throughout the play? And worse, how come that when presented with a realistic scene of a Nazi beating up a Jew, they  identified with the perpetrator rather than with the victim, broke into cheers for the Nazi on the stage and called out: "Yeah, Yeah!," Hit him harder, on the head!" and "Good job, Good job! ". How could Israeli pupils behave like that, when they had been constantly educated about the crucial importance of the Holocaust in Jewish history, how the Holocaust which fell upon the jewish people constitutes the ultimate, unquestionable justification for the creation of Israel and the establishment of the Israeli Defense Forces and the employment of the Israel Defense Forces as an iron fist mercilessly smiting any enemy who dares to stand up against us?

Indeed, there was one person who dared to draw far-reaching political conclusions. Dr. Ze'ev Degani, principal of the Herzliya Gymnasium, said: "This happened  because of the violence which one people uses against another. We should not be surprised that the violence turns back on us, that it cannot be kept somewhere else, in another field". Of course many people found his words annoying - in a sense, even more annoying than the pupils' behavior in itself. In fact, Degani's words were furiously rejected out of hand by a succession of commentators and officials, foremost among them Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar in person. The Minister took care to get things straight: Of course, there can be no connection between the behavior of rowdy pupils  and the presence of Israel in Judea and Samaria, the Land of Our Forefathers. It's time that leftists drop the bad habit of always talking about the occupation, and that the engage in education rather than in irrelevant political issues. Next time, the teachers should just take care to have a profound pedagogical preparation for attending this play, and they must maintain a stronger discipline over the pupils during the play itself. Then, such things will not happen again.

Well, this storm of controversy died down and was forgotten after two days, like all public turmoils in our country. And then came the Sixty Fourth  Independence Day of the State of Israel. And on the main news magazine in the state TV channel, the lady announcer told with playful good humor the events of this festive day, noting that in this year's Independence Day a special emphasis had been placed on increasing and strengthening the ties between Israel's citizens and their army, the Israeli Defense Forces. So as to help strengthen the motivation for military service which has weakened a bit in recent years - which might in future pose the Army some manpower problems. In token of which, army bases had been opened wide to the citizens - adults as well as children.

"For one day the children left their war toys at home and came to play with the real thing," said the newscaster with a smile on her face, replaced by the images captured that morning by the TV reporter covering the festive events. A girl, six or seven years old, filled the screen. She was sitting on top of a tank and turning round and round a machine gun, her finger on the trigger and with a bright smile aiming the barrel - which was as long as she was tall – at the indulgently smiling adults and at the other children who sat on the cannon of a neighboring tank.

The news bulletin ended with the voicing of some criticism: The announcer remarked indignantly that Israelis who had spent the day in various national parks left behind them a lot of garbage, a careless and negligent  behavior by any standards.

Shortly after this news broadcast was shown on state TV, there was somebody who found a slightly different way of celebrating Israel's sixty-fourth birthday. Namely, by going out into the night streets of the Shapira slum neighborhood, in South Tel Aviv, and hurling Molotov cocktails at the homes of refugees and asylum seekers and migrant workers, some of whom had fled to Israel under the threat of genocide in their African homelands. There were no casualties, but the apartments were burned with their meager contents, as was the small makeshift kindergarten set up by Africans for their children.

Residents of the neighborhood who were later interviewed in the media said they don't hold with throwing Molotov cocktails, but that it's time for the government to take action and deport all these Africans, as it is unacceptable to concentrate all the human garbage in one neighborhood. And the kindergarten will most probably not be restored any more, since even before the incendiary attacks there were neighbors who strongly objected to seeing so many black children inside their building. And on this, there was nothing to be heard from  the Minister of Education, as this had been an informal kindergarten, not part of the official education system of Israel, and many of the children in it anyway have an unclear legal status and might be deported from the country even before the end of the school year.

Certainly, there is no call to fault Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar for not giving attention to such trifles, when he is hard working on a thorough overhaul of the entire Israeli educational system, from kindergarten up to and including university. On all levels, the study of Jewish heritage must be strengthened and emphasized. For example, just last week the minister and his staff took care to remove from the curriculum a textbook in which heinous signs of post-Zionism had been detected. This book quotes extensively from the notorious  Goldstone Report... Moreover, it argued that a large part of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union did not come to Israel for reasons of Zionism, but out of a simple wish to improve their standard of living.

All this was of course intolerable for the zealous minister. The book was phased out of use forthwith. Israeli pupils will no longer undergo leftist brainwashing, and the replacement textbook will make it clear that the Goldstone Report was a tissue of malicious lies and anti-Semitic propaganda against the world's most moral army.And of course, also that all Jews who come here from Russia (as well as all Russian Christians who also come here if they could show one Jewish grandparent) came only and solely because of the flame of Zionism pulsing in their hearts.

Indeed, Minister Sa'ar has his hands more than full. He is taking a lot of trouble and effort to upgrade the Ariel College, in the West Bank settlement of the same name, to full university status - despite the obstructions of the bastards on the Council for Higher Education. And he also spoke as the guest of honor in the conference of Im Tirzu, ("If you wish it"), a watchdog movement which set itself the task of rooting out and denouncing leftist and post-Zionist professors who managed to cunningly infiltrate university departments and faculties, especially at the notorious Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheba.
For the high school pupils, the minister took care to arrange special tours of Hebron, City of the Patriarchs. Pupils are boarded buses with bullet-proof windows, going to Hebron and systematically move from one settler enclave at its heart to the next one. "The Settlement Project is based on the belief in our right over this land. From a young age I believed that settlers perform a vital mission and protect the people of Israel," said the honorable minister. Accordingly, pupils are told that the Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron are the Cradle of the Jewish Nation, that the Jewish people had looked up to Hebron for thousands of years, that in 1967 the city was at last restored to the Jews and that a happy new reality was created there with the arrival of the settlers.

One high school in Jerusalem had the audacity to initiate a slightly different plan of visiting Hebron. They met with Palestinian Hebronites and also heard the testimonies of soldiers from "Breaking the Silence" who had served in this city and had gone through not quite edifying experiences. Of course, the visit ended soon after it began, getting a quite hostile reception from settlers who were determined to expel the leftist pupils and their teachers. (True, it is not sure that even that sufficed to convey the message wanted by the Minister of Education...).

Even so, the leftists still did not despair, and published a letter signed by hundreds of teachers announcing their refusal to go with their pupils on the Hebron tours organized by the Education Minister. Michal Shkolnikov, who on this past Independence Day lighted one of the twelve torches at the alternative ceremony organized by the Yesh Gvul Movement, told of the buses full of teachers going to Hebron and watching the empty streets in the city's heart where it is forbidden for Palestinians to walk, and the empty stores which  Israeli soldiers prevent customers from reaching, and the walls covered profusely with graffiti calling to the expulsion and murder of Arabs. "We hear teachers express their shock, and say they did not know it was like that, and that they would not go with their pupils to visit the settlers there. And also school principals and Education Ministry supervisors tacitly support us, even if they can not say so publicly."

Meanwhile, Minister Sa'ar took another initiative: in order to strengthen the Jewish heritage and national values, the Ministry's Heritage Program was also extended to the kindergartens: children there were required to hoist the National Flag and sing the National Anthem at a weekly ceremony, and to learn by heart all the words of the anthem.

What happened in practice? Nothing happened. The kindergarten teachers did not formally organize and made no outspoken protest. They just ignored the Minister's directive, holding no ceremonies and hoisting no flags. "I did not do it because it seemed to me an annoying directive. There's a lot of other important values ​​to be instilled in the children," said R., a kindergarten teacher from Jerusalem.

And the minister? He just decided to make a tactical retreat. A new ministry directive canceled the obligation to teach the words of the anthem and stated that flag raising ceremonies will take place "only on special occasions".

It might do this country some good if the kindergarten teachers were to form their own party and run in the forthcoming elections. I would definitely consider voting for such a party.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Elections soon - but about what?

"Tens of millions of dollars had been spent by the Foreign and Information Ministries, as well as by dozens of other bodies, in the attempt to convince the world that Israel wants peace while the Palestinians refuse it. Now, all this money had gone down the drain, a total loss" lamented the well-known Ben Dror Yemini in his column on the pages of as "Ma'ariv". The one responsible for the loss of these great investments was none other than Yuval Diskin,  former chief of the Shabak Security Service, in his much-quoted speech during the weekend: " The Government of Israel has no intention of making peace with the Palestinians. We have had enough of these  stories in the media about our wanting to negotiate, 'only that Abu Mazen doesn't want it'. This government has no interest in talking to the Palestinians and no interest to getting to a solution with the Palestinians. People in the government know very well that if they were to take the smallest step in this direction, the PM's soundly-based cabinet will be shaken to the core, and his strong government coalition would fall apart. The government has no interest in making any change in the situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians."

Diskin immediately came under a heavy barrage from the government's ministers and speakers, who charged that his comments were due only to personal frustrations and hinted at dark political machinations. But on that same day, the government also approached the Supreme Court, asking to be  released from its legal obligation to remove settlers from five structures built with manifest illegality on private Palestinian land clearly – a removal which should have taken place today. Not only a real peace initiative toward the Palestinians is beyond the ability or desire of the current government of Israel. So is also enforcement of the law on settlers who robbed Palestinian land in broad daylight. Any attempt to carry out such enforcement may already result in the downfall of the government.

And no wonder. The Foreign Minister of Israel is a settler, and another settler  party is a partner in the government coalition, and yet another settler party supports the government from outside. And also in the Likud, the main governing party, settlers and their friends are numerous, and they have established a powerful position in the party structure. Likud Knesset Members who care about their political career should beware of offending the settlers. In short - there would be no point in the Palestinians talking with an Israeli government which would risk collapse if it dares to so much as evacuate five (5) manifestly illegal structures (illegal even according to Israeli law)  in a West Bank settlement.

But still, this does not seem to be the main issue over which we are going to have early general elections this year. What are the elections about? What will the candidates discuss and debate? There is a very hot issue now capturing  the headlines, of which everybody is hurrying to catch hold and dwell upon. Namely: are young Ultra-Orthodox Israelis going to get to the army recruiting offices, or will they go on taking up holy studies in the yeshivas as they did since Israel was founded?

Much noise and commotion, a lot of bills aimed at dragging the Ultra-Orthodox into the army. But even if they do go there, what then? What does the army - with or without  Ultra-Orthodox soldiers in its ranks – do to the Palestinian living under its military occupation for forty-four years? What is its role in establishing settlements and providing the settlers with around the clock guard services? This is no longer a cool issue in Israeli politics today – in fact, politicians tend to actively avoid it.

For example, "Uru!" ("Wake Up!"), one of the many new movements which are emerging and flourishing recently, has the proclaimed intention of waking up and stimulating the Israeli public on a wide range of topics: education, narrowing the gaps between rich and poor, personal safety, changing the system of government and equalizing the burden of military service among different sectors. And the Territories? The Palestinians? The new movement's director general remarked forthrightly that "On diplomatic issues the Israeli society is sharply split". Therefore, the Wake Upers decided to make no attempt to wake up society about this issue.

In short, in the forthcoming election campaign we are likely to see candidates   perform complicated acrobatic contortions in order to avoid any need to utter such dirty words as "occupation", "Palestinians", "settlements" and of course the dirtiest word of all - "peace".  Which is, of course, not the first time. Many times before did the State of Israel attempt to sweep this issue under the rug and just forget about it. Somehow it always manages to reappear and disturb our rest yet again.