Saturday, June 30, 2012

Five houses, and another five, and a bulldozer, and a prison cell

This week, I again got an emergency call from the village of Al Aqaba. An Israeli military force once again came to the village, and delivered five new  demolition orders. Five more houses under a sentence of demolition are a very serious matter in a tiny village of a bit more than three hundred inhabitants, living in a few dozen houses on a bit of land in the north-east corner of the West Bank.

Haj Sami Sadek, the Mayor of Aqaba, is particularly concerned about the Jaber Family, which has ten children. They had lived for twelve years in their home and have nowhere else to go.

There had been this week very much media attention for five other houses in a very different part of the West Bank – the five houses evacuated by settlers at the Ulpana Hill in the settlement of Beit El. The five houses in Aqaba never got any mention.

There are a few other differences: The Ulpana houses are to be demolished because they were erected by settlers on privately-owned Palestinian land, without the consent of the owners. The Aqaba houses were also erected on privately-owned Palestinian land, but in this case it was the legally-registered property of those who built the houses. They were doomed to destruction because they were built without a permit. The owners had been ready enough to obtain a permit, but the military authorities refused to grant them one.

And there are more differences. The five settler houses in the Ulpana were dealt with by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his senior ministers, while the five Palestinian houses in Aqaba got the destruction order from some local officer of the military government; quite possibly, Netanyahu has never even heard of the existence of such a village.

Also, in the Ulpana case, the five house are to be carefully dismantled and reconstructed at another location, at a considerable expense, and the PM promised the settlers that 300 new settler housing units will be built if they agree to move quietly and not make scenes. With regard to Aqaba, nobody felt the need for any such elaborate deals. The houses are to be bulldozed and razed to the ground, and if the families make any fuss the soldiers would be quite ready to pull them out by force; it had been done, more than once.

Early Monday morning, army bulldozers seemed to be heading to Al Aqaba, but they turned off and headed to Aqaba's neighbors, the Bedouins of El Maleh. Tent homes were destroyed in El Maleh as were water cisterns, and the community's water trucks were confiscated. Aqaba was spared – so far.

The people of Aqaba made an appeal to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, with the help of JLAC (Jerusalem  Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre), based in Ramallah. The lawyers are not very optimistic, however. Previous appeals against demolition orders in Aqaba had been rejected by the court. The problem, as far as Israeli law is concerned, is that the military planning authority had ruled that only "in the center of Aqaba" is building permitted. All land outside the tiny area which the military designated as "the center" is classified as "agricultural land", building houses in agricultural land is forbidden, so they must be pulled down.  The Jaber Family home, with the ten children, is very near to the magic line designating "the center" – close but still outside, and therefore illegal and to be destroyed and razed. Can the area  be extended, even a little bit? No, out of the question.

Such is the law which the military government laid down for Palestinians living under its rule and which its lawyers would represent to the judges of the Supreme Court. Has this anything to do with the fact that Aqaba lies at the edge of the Jordan Valley, and that all Israeli governments since 1967 have designated the Jordan Valley a strategic area which must be retained under Israeli rule? Could it be that government policies on the ground in Aqaba and scores of other locations in the Jordan Valley are designed to make life harsh for Arabs living there and if possible make them go away altogether? It would be very difficult to produce concrete evidence which would stand up in court. Officially, this is a matter of zoning law and of the army insisting that agricultural land remains agricultural. And so, the ten Jaber children might soon find themselves with no roof over their heads.

At this moment, a conscientious Jerusalem woman named Gila is staying in Aqaba, as  are international activists from the ISM -  to be at the villagers' side in this difficult moment. Not that they have much of a hope to stop the bulldozers. But they are preparing big photo posters of the village's kindergarten children, which will be held in front of the bulldozers. And the soldiers will hear people saying in English as well as Hebrew "Stop! Why are you doing this?". This is not likely to deter the soldiers from doing what they have come to do. But some of them might remember it later.

When will the soldiers and the bulldozers come? No one knows, they never announce it in advance. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next week, perhaps next month. Getting the element of surprise has always been a key element of military strategy. Catch the enemy by surprise and hit him when he is not expecting it. And clearly the Israeli Defense Forces, the mightiest army in the Middle East, regards the three hundred inhabitants of Aqaba as an enemy.


A few days ago I returned briefly to Military Prison No. 6 at Atlit. That is where a soldier, conscript or reservist, ends up when refusing military orders. Opposite the prison there is a mountain, and the imprisoned soldiers who have to get  out of their beds beds at 4:30 am sharp and stand in line on the parade ground can see the sun rise behind that mountain. And sometimes, a bit later on the day, they can see and especially hear protestors who have climbed the mountain shout words of support  and encouragement. I remember the cheers which I heard from the mountain when I was imprisoned in 1984 for refusing to go to Israeli-occupied Lebanon and bring supplies to outposts which the army established there. And again in 1990, when a string of brutal acts committed during the first Intifada led to my taking the decision to no longer wear the uniform of this army.

A few days ago, I was on the mountain, and along with several dozen others brought there by the Yesh Gvul movement I took part in shouting words of support and encouragement to Yaniv Mazor who is held there. Yaniv Mazor, a resident of Jerusalem, Sergeant Major (Res.) in the Armor Corps, and a tourist guide by profession, decided this year that he was no longer ready to do military reserve duty in an army of occupation.

rather regret not having been aware, when I joined up, what the Army is doing  in the Territories. The more I knew, the less easy it became to serve - until I came to the conclusion that I could not do it any more. The decision to refuse is the climax of a personal process through which I went for seven or eight years. In the education system we do not really learn what the Territories are and what is happening there. I came to the army as a characteristic product of the system: a good boy, serving where he is sent, doing what he is told, not thinking. Especially, not thinking. In recent years I am more and more using my head and asking myself what is it all about, what is the meaning of what we are doing there. This led me at first to "gray refusal", avoiding service by all kinds of pretexts. But after I went on an overseas trip for a year, I could not continue with the charade.

Although this is my first time in jail, I feel perfectly fine about it. Completely at peace with myself. My decision was the direct result of familiarity with the situation in the Territories. After seeing it clearly, I could no longer be part of the army. Although I am not that important in myself, I do hope my action will also inspire others, who face conscription or reserve duty and are still hesitant".

Maybe one day, also the soldiers accompanying bulldozers to the Jaber family's home in the village of Aqaba will enter the gates of Prison 6.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

THE GLOVES ARE OFF: How the police is raising a generation of not so nice kids

A year ago, the crowds filled the streets in Israel's cities. Week after week, tens and then hundreds of thousands marched and chanted "The People Demand Social Justice!". There had not been even a single violent incident. At the biggest demonstration, four hundred thousand people overflowed Hamedina Square in north Tel Aviv, demonstrating right in front of the most prestigious expensive shops in the State of Israel which only the most well-to-do can afford.

Commentators on the next day noted that in a European or American city, a social protest held in this kind of milieu would have inevitably ended with broken windows at the fancy stores and a tumultuous street battle between demonstrators and police. The commentators praised the Israeli protest movement for being so different, but amid the accolades one could also note an undertone of contempt for these "well-behaved kids".

Immediately after that great rally, the Social Protest Movement in Israel has taken a long break. The Rothschild Boulevard tent encampment was dismantled, and protesters waited to hear what would be the recommendations of the Trachtenberg Commission, appointed by the Prime Minister. And the commission sat and deliberated on the basis of very narrow and restrictive  terms of reference, and finally came up with very pale and limited recommendations.

The Netanyahu Government welcomed the Trachtenberg recommendations and proceeded to file most of them in the waste-paper basket. The government did not initiate any project to create affordable housing, nor did the situation in health and education change, or the stranglehold of a handfull of tycoons over the Israeli economy. When the social protesters returned to the streets last Saturday night, they had a good reason to chant "A year has passed, and nothing has changed!".

In fact, something definitely did change since last year. The police no longer stand smiling and friendly when the protesters pass through the streets. Already months in advance, the police made clear that they regard the possibility of renewed social protest as a threat, summoned organizers to  investigation and searched their apartments. And Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is no longer a friend of the protest. Last year, town hall expressed its sympathy for the young protesters filling the city boulevards with lively tent camps, and hailed it as a tangible expression of social involvement and democracy from below. This year the answer is no, absolutely not on. Tents on Rothschild Boulevard are out of the question, strictly forbidden. His Highness the Mayor has decided, and from his decision there is no appeal.

So the municipal inspectors and the national police teamed up to make sure no tents will be set up on Rothschild Boulevard. To prevent it, no less than six policemen converged on protest organizer Daphni Leef , pushed her to the ground, broke her arm and dragged her and her friends off to detention.

And on the next night, when the protest march began, it was clear that it will end with conflict. One young woman took care to prepare in advance a placard reading "Dear police officer, please do not interfere with a citizen's performance of civic duty". But the police did not understand the subtleties and by the end of the evening this sign was lying torn to pieces on the sidewalk near the Rabin Square and the girl who wrote it was among eighty nine detainees taken off to spend unpleasant hours at the Glilot Junction Police Station. And it has finally come to pass: shop windows were broken at a social protest demonstration, also in Israel. To wit, the windows of three bank branches. The next morning, the banks hired African migrant workers to repair the windows, and journalists who never sympathized with the protest saw an opening to denounce the "violent demonstration" and claim that "The demonstrators had crossed all Red Lines ".

The reception by the police certainly did not break the 2012 social protest movement. On the contrary, it seems to have provided the spark lighting up the  protest and bringing the angry young people back into the streets. But most probably the demonstrators will have need, also next time, of a song,   originating with the Hasidic followers of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav which had become also the anthem of completely secular: "The whole entire world is / A very narrow bridge / A very narrow bridge / A very narrow bridge / And the most important thing / Have no fear / No fear / No fear at all! "

I am pleased to host in this blog the comments put down by Liron Achdut -  software engineer and math teacher involved in volunteer work helping drug addicts - as written and put online immediately after she was released on bail and charged with organizing an illegal demonstration and assaulting police officers:

I was surprised by yesterday's demonstration. I was surprised by the sheer number of people who went out, in a spontaneous protest.  I was surprised by the energies, by the true spirit of unity, solidarity and determination. We walked together, we chanted together. We split up, bypassing the police barriers and joining up again on the other side. For a moment we were free, we took back the public space. I felt the togetherness, as I did not feel it at any other moment of the past year.

I was happy to see that despite the violence which was unleashed against us, people still smiled and kept their sense of humor. When being assaulted, people put their bare hands up in the air, leaving no doubt that the violence was one-sided. I was surprised by the brutality of the police, their determination to hit and hit and hit again – extreme even by their own normal standards. They resorted to unrestrained violence, even when exposed to the public and the media cameras, and certainly when they thought no one was looking – like when they shut people into the Bank Leumi ATM machine room beat them up there, or when Tom Yisraeli was punched in the face inside City Hall. I feel that the police feel under pressure and don't know what to do next, so they try to resist, and they think they can stop it ... I wish somebody would give it a thought before the next demonstration, and understand that you can't stop an idea whose time has come...

And arrests were stupid. About 90 people were picked up, 90 "dangerous criminals" who dared to think that in this country they had a right to protest... People who were arrested because they photographed the police, because they shouted, because of standing on the road or just moving around ..

In the indictment filed against me this morning, it is argued by Commissioner  Yoram Ohayon of the Tel Aviv Police that I had pushed a megaphone into his face and wounded him. Interestingly, when he appeared on TV a few hours later there was not a scratch on his face. In addition he asserts that while being  arrested I had wildly kicked
him. The video showing my arrest tells a different story:

But the most severe in my eyes - and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough – is that my father was arrested when he arrived in court. When he arrived he was detained by police under false and foolish pretexts, handcuffed, locked in a room, terrorized by the police and then released. They are crazy!

Another account – by Oren Matar, 24-year old Animal Rights activist who  until this evening never had any direct dealings with the police:

Bank Leumi ATM machine room had become a makeshift detention cell. A small room, about four meters long and three wide, without windows. The walls are made of glass, so we can see the police dragging a lot of other demonstrators into the room. In our limited space there are already 20 protesters squeezed in, but who cares? It is hot and humid, no air so that we start feeling sick. Trying to hold to the gaps between the glass walls, to get some air to breathe. The heat starts to be really painful.

"We have no air!", "Bring water!", "This is completely crazy! There are old people here! What do you know about medical problems they have?! Somebody is going to pass out". Some people cry, most of them had not been  arrested before and do not understand the process, do not know what their rights are. "We demand to know why we're under arrest! This is unwarranted imprisonment, you cannot keep us here!" Those who still get enough air go on breathing regularly. The officers look through the glass and smile - we got our punishment.

I film the police beating up and ragging other protesters to join us, and correspond with my brother outside. I tell him we have no air, and that the police is violent. He says lawyers have asked to go in and see us – the police laugh when I tell them that.

Someone who can not stand any more lies down on the floor, only half conscious, barely responding. That's the sign for the cops - it's time to give us water and begin to get us out of there.

There we sit in the park under guard, gulping the free air. The worst part of the night is over, now we are going into custody.

The police had made a record number of arrests and had to send for two buses to take us all to the police station. This is an opportunity for me to begin to get to know the people with whom I would spend the next hours. One says he is living nearby, that he went into the street with beer in his hand, saw people being detained and approached, whereupon a policeman threw away his beer and told him he was under arrest on charges of drinking beer.

Two girls say they had been standing to the back, on a traffic island, until some Riot Police grabbed one of them and started to strangle her, and threw her into  our airless cage. When the second began to ask what happens to her friend, she received similar treatment, as the blue marks testify.

Most people, apparently, did even less than I did. I had been at the forefront of the demonstration, but have broken no windows, nor did I shout abuse or  assault police officers.

Among the dozens of detainees was a handful of activists, experienced with police violence and arrests, who knew their rights. But the great majority were in shock at the disregard of their rights. In the early part of the long evening, some fantasized about filing complaints, enjoying their imaginary revenge. It did not take them long to understand how the police work and that the chances of Commissioner Ohayon being "charged for what I saw him do" (as one of the detainees put it) were quite dim.

When we got to the police station we were herded into the station conference room and given water. That is all we got for six hours. The lawyers who came to the station were not allowed to see us, we did not get food, nor were given any explanation of the grounds for our arrest. No phone call to notify the family (unlike me, most did not understand what was happening quick enough to use their mobile phones before they were taken away). Requests for medical treatment to the guy with internal bleeding in his eye were answered with laughter. Also the minor who was arrested with us got the same treatment.

After six hours they took me for interrogation and read to me the charges. illegal gathering, obstructing a police officer in doing his job, assaulting a police officer, property damage, and many other charges. I think the attack  on the World Trade Center was also pushed in.

Whoever was through interrogation was moved to another part of the station. Luckily there was one Riot Policeman who did respect our rights. We got cold water, tea, and rolls. Slowly was also something done about medical care, also for the diabetic girl.

After a few hours, charges were filed against 15 detainees who were sent off to court (where the judges reprimanded the police for the detentions, and saw no reason to remand anybody in custody). Those who remained at the station, me among them, were released after a few hours.

One should have been there to see the violence, the arbitrariness of detentions and the complete disregard of our rights, especially in the initial cage. It had to be experienced to be believed. But the ending could have been written before the demonstration. Every demo now ends with detentions, and almost invariably the detentions end with release, either at the police station or at a court hearing when the police asks for remanding in custody. Israeli courts still respect the right to demonstrate, and always emphasize to the police that  protests are not grounds for detentions.

So, why were detained? In theory, the police should investigate whether a criminal offence was committed, press charges and leave it to the courts to  punish those who broke the law. But that is not the idea with detentions where the court's opinion is known in advance. The idea is intimidation. These twelve hours, and especially the early part, were a quite unpleasant experience. Now we know it's not fun to be arrested, and we also know how easily you can be arrested without doing anything. As we waited I heard some detainees doubtful whether they would participate in another demonstration. Simply, they were  afraid.
When people can't go to a demonstration to express their opinions, because they're simply afraid, this is not just a red light. In what is supposed to be a democratic country, this is a giant red projector.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Soccer , a hunger strike and settlements, or how to lose friends easily

It was not all that long ago. In 2007 the famous soccer player Eric Cantona, former star of the Manchester United team who had quite a few fans in Israel, came over here and participated in the Beach Football tournament which took place in Netanya. He was interviewed by the media, especially those involved in sports, shook hands with Israeli athletes and a few politicians, and expressed his great satisfaction to be in Israel.

Two years later, in 2009, there occurred in our country a sport-related event of a rather different kind. Soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, member if the Palestinian National Team, arrived at the Erez Checkpoint dividing the Gaza Strip from Israel, on his way to a football match in the West Bank. He never arrived there, nor did he again get a chance to play soccer. Since then he has been held in Israeli prisons, considered an "Unlawful Combatant" – a term quite problematic in International law, but enshrined in Israeli Law since 2002.  Not that there was any proof shown of Mahmoud Sarsak having ever taken part in combat (other than the kind of combat conducted by kicking a round ball on a green pitch). However, the law does not require any such proof. Anyone defined by the Israel Defence Forces as being an Unlawful Combatant is by definition an Unlawful Combatant and as such may be held behind bars indefinitely.

Three months ago, Mahmoud Sarsak began a hunger strike in his cell at the Ramla Prison, and persisted in it. With his hunger strike lasting beyond three months, he gained increasing fame among his people and throughout the world. A widely distributed poster of him, published first in Arabic and then translated into various languages
​​(including Hebrew), showed the imprisoned footballer  wearing an Israeli prison uniform and holding a football, with the caption reading "Mahmoud Sarsak, hunger strike world champion " – which was not an idle boast.

In the Netherlands, soccer players held a demonstrative match on the streets of Amsterdam, with their shirts bearing the word "Sarsak" and Dutch MPs also attending. From overseas came to Israel the angry voice of Eric Cantona, demanding the release of the detained Palestinian footballer, and also making reference to Israeli violations of International Law and Human Rights and to  blatant manifestations of racism against African refugees and migrant workers in south Tel Aviv. Also Sepp Blatter, President of the International Football Federation, sent an official letter to the Government of Israel, expressing the Federation's grave concern for the condition of Sarsak and calling for his  immediate release. Blatter also appealed to the Israeli Football Association to  use its influence on behalf of the detained Palestinian soccer player whose life was in manifest danger.

Avi Luzon, Chair of the Israeli Association, hastened to throw away this hot potato, announcing that his association "does not deal with matters of state security." But in fact, it was Israel's security services themselves which started to feel apprehensive (not necessarily for humanitarian reasons) of what might  happen should Sarsak die in the Israeli prison. Sarsak's attorney was unofficially approached and asked to convince his client to accept milk, so as to preserve his life until the Israeli decision makers made up their minds. Indeed, after a few days Sarsak was given an official reassurance that he would be set free no later than July 10. No doubt, he would be given a hero's welcome – but would also need to undergo extensive medical treatment and it is far from sure he would ever be able to return to the soccer field.  And soccer fans in Israel may not see Eric Cantona here again.

As it happened, in the same period there was an extensive interview with Danny Dayan, Chair of the settlers' "Judea and Samaria Council". Dayan considers himself to be a moderate, and has no hesitation in condemning the torching of mosques in Palestinian villages. To Dayan's mind, such actions are unnecessary and even harmful to the settler cause, at a time when so many settlement accomplished facts had been created on the ground. According to Dayan, the settlers are very close to achieving their strategic objective, i.e. to block and prevent any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state and soon foreclosing this option for good. And Dayan happily recounted having recently spoken with a senior European diplomat who saw things in much the same way (and himself was not precisely happy about it).

It is very possible that Danny Dayan is right, and that we have indeed passed already - or will soon pass - the point of no-return. The occupation will become irreversible, the State of Israel will remain in control of the Occupied Territories, and will continue to rule the Palestinians, take over more and more of their lands under all kinds of excuses and pretexts and build on it ever more settlements.
And of course for the policy makers it would be unthinkable to grant civil rights to the Palestinians – rather, they would be left indefinitely as subjects, under military rule, with no rights.

If so, it is likely that there would be very many Eric Cantonas. There will be many people – sometimes artists, sometimes soccer players, sometimes just decent people – who will simply start get nauseated by this country. For some of them there would be one specific event tipping the balance, for others it will be the accumulation of many occasions and events. In any case, Israel's friends will quickly become ex-friends.

True, there is in the world one type of people who would have no problem in being good friends of Israel, also of an occupier and oppressor Israel. Last week Knesset Member Ze'ev Elkin, Chief Parliamentary Whip for the ruling  government coalition, went off to Brussels in order to strengthen ties with Europe's extreme right parties. He noted that the State of Israel has much potential support among the European Far Right who hate the Muslims, though he did mention that one should be wary of neo-Nazis.

Representatives of Jewish communities in Europe, involved in a struggle against the extreme right-wing parties in their own countries, were not happy  with Elkin's mission. To which Elkin responded: "The fact that there is a conflict of interest between Israel and Jewish communities is problematic, but a country can not remain without allies. The Liberals in Europe have already abandoned us and became an enemy, we should turn to whoever we  can" (Yediot Ahronot, June 21, 2012).

It seems Mister Elkin would even sell his mother to hold on to the territories.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Nine killed, two reports and one siege

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss revealed serious failures in the decision making process which led on the night of May 31, 2010 to a lethal assault in international waters, with Israeli commandos launched at what the Israeli media dubbed "the Turkish Flotilla" (ignoring the sailors from at least ten other countries that participated in it). The Comptroller found that the Inner Cabinet, which is supposed by law to approve such actions, was not convened at all. The National Security Agency which is supposed by law to prepare for such decisions and examine thoroughly the possible courses of actions and their implications remained was completely left out. There was only one ministerial meeting, held in an improvised manner at the last moment, and also there the full facts and considerations were not presented. In short, the decision was taken in a highly amateurish way.

In fact, the only real plan prepared was
designed by a junior officer who was given a purely tactical military problem, i.e. how to seize control of a ship at sea, and was not concerned with wider issue. The higher echelons, who were supposed to address the wider issues, simply approved the plan provided by the military without much of a discussion or criticism. And the plan which was approved and implemented turned out to be a complete fiasco. Israeli troops killed Turkish citizens (one of whom was also a U.S. citizen), some of them by shooting at point blank range to "confirm a kill".  And it seems nobody thought or anticipated that the tactical action would have a strategic result – namely, driving the final nail into the coffin of the strategic alliance with Turkey, which had been a cornerstone of Israel's policy for some fifty years.

The State Comptroller determined that the Israeli worldwide Hasbara network effectively collapsed, did not  function properly and failed to perform the task assigned to it, i.e. to provide a good explanation  (which is what "hasbara" means) and thereby convince the world of the justification of the actions taken by the State of Israel and by its armed forces and its navy and the navy's elite commandos. It was too much also for the State Comptroller to consider  the chilling possibility that some acts just cannot be explained or plausibly whitewashed - not even by the most skilled and eloquent of propagandists and jugglers of words. Not even when the good old cliches are repeated a hundred or a thousand times, "a small country surrounded by enemies" and "the only democracy in the Middle East" and "Axis of Evil" and "Decisive war against Global Terrorism." It is especially very difficult indeed to explain to the world why the State of Israel maintains an occupation over millions of Palestinians for more than two thirds of its existence, and continually builds and expands settlements in the Occupied Territories, and also expands enforcement of this occupation rule into the Mediterranean, to international waters tens of kilometers from its shores.

Together with his team of investigators, State Comptroller Lindenstrauss examined in depth how the decision was reached on how to implement the takeover of the Turkish ship "Mavi Marmara" and other ships in the "flotilla". But he did not conceive his role and his authority as including also the reasons for the more fundamental decision to block the path of this flotilla and  prevent it at all costs from reaching the shores of Gaza. Certainly he did not examine the more fundamental decision to impose a naval blockade on the shores of the Gaza Strip and instruct the Navy of the State of Israel to cruise and patrol and take over by force each and every vessel from the outside seeking to reach the coast of Gaza, as well as any Gazan vessel  trying to sail out to sea. And most certainly the Comptroller did not think of checking the essential decision to impose and maintain a blockade on the Gaza Strip by land and sea and air, when exactly was the decision made to do so, and by whom. Whether it was the best and wisest decision, and whether it should be re-examined in light of the experience of five years.

Gisha – a human rights organization specializing in issues of access (and denial of it) and having its own skilled team of investigators – took up some of the issues which the State Comptroller avoided. A comprehensive report published in the same week  summing up  five years of Gaza closure.  

Gazans nowadays have more of a possibility of traveling to the outside world (and coming back) than they had a few years ago. Such traveling is carried out exclusively via Egypt and its extension owes more to drastic political changes in Egypt than to any change in Israeli policy. Since access to Gaza via sea and air remains completely blocked, Gazan access to the outside world is hostage to possible shifts in Egyptian politics and policy, which neither the Egyptians themselves nor anybody else could in any way predict.

The export and import of goods – essential for running any modern economy – is still severely hampered for Gazans. The productive sectors are paralyzed, unemployment in the first quarter of 2012 stands at 31.5%, and 58.9% among those aged 25-29. Unsurprisingly, more than 70% of the population in Gaza receives humanitarian aid. True, Israel allows consumer goods more generously into Gaza Strip than used to be the case before the flotilla affair, but  many Gazans can't afford them.

Relatively affluent Gazans are those who have a government job, being paid either by the locally-based Hamas government or its Fatah rival based in Ramallah. The salaries from either source depend ultimately on the ability and willingness of the two Palestinian governments' respective outside donors to continue pouring in money. There is little the Gazans can do under the present circumstances to build up their own economy.

There had been a time when official Israeli policy considered it as in Israel's own interest to facilitate Palestinians building up their own economy. The man who used to be identified with such ideas is at the moment Israel's President, but of the ideas themselves hardly a shred remains. For example, regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a single territorial and economic unit, as specifically stated in the Oslo Agreement which are in theory still in force, or facilitating the building of a deep-water port in Gaza for which international companies competed in the 1990's.

Nowadays, the byword in Israeli government circles is the opposite – separation. A virtually complete separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as between it and Israel. The big border crossing which Israel erected at Erez with considerable expanse stands barred and empty. The only exception are "exceptional humanitarian cases" (and one needs to be in a very serious condition indeed to be accepted as such) and a hundred especially favored "senior merchants".

The prohibition on Gazans to enter Israel are of course justified by "security reasons", even though suicide bombings are clearly off the Palestinian agenda nowadays. But it avails Gazans little to try bypassing Israeli territory and get into the West Bank by the long way around, via Jordan – their entry by that route is strictly forbidden, too. The West Bank, which used to be the best and most accessible market for Gaza  goods, has now become completely inaccessible. And restrictions on travel between Gaza and the West Bank also sever the familial, educational and cultural ties that bind the Palestinian society together. Of course, this policy is greatly helped by the political division among Palestinians themselves and the existence of two rival governments in Gaza and Ramallah – both having a far from complete ability to govern. It is not by chance that in 2006 and 2007 the government of Israel did all it could to help fan the flames of Palestinian civil war, and that it is now staunchly opposed to efforts to forge Palestinian unity.

Israeli officials to whom the Gisha researchers and activists talked in the past two years are increasingly speaking of the Gaza-West Bank "Separation Policy", though none can point out where and by whom such a policy was decided upon and what its aims are. Without the State Comptroller digging deeply into the decision-making process, it would still not be far-fetched to guess that neither the Inner Cabinet nor the National Security Agency had any hand in this decision, either.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Living the occupation, 45 years

This week – to be precise, the fifth of June,  2012 – marks the 45th birthday of the occupation. An occupation which already lasts for more than two-thirds of Israel's entire existence. Forty-five years of military rule which the State of Israel maintains over millions of Palestinians who did not choose this government and do not want to live under it, but which the State of Israel decided to impose on them against their will, throwing in jail those who oppose the Israeli rule imposed on them.

And this decision is democratically confirmed by the citizens of Israel.  Again and again they go to the polls, again and again voting into office - in all elections held since 1967 - governments which continue  to maintain occupation rule over the Palestinians (who themselves are given no chance to participate in these elections and this democratic decision-making process). The one time that the citizens of Israel chose a Prime Minister who showed signs of an intention to end the occupation - the elections of 1992 - an assassin's bullet removed that Prime Minister from power (and from the world of the living).

Forty-five years have passed, no end to turmoil and upheavals and conflicts
 and diplomatic moves and military moves and bloodshed and suffering to Palestinians as well as to Israelis. In the West Bank the Palestinian Authority was established and the Palestinians given a chance to elect a parliament and a government, but no shred of a real power on the ground. Still, up to the present moment, a 19-year old Israeli corporal standing at the checkpoint on the highway between Ramallah and Nablus holds more power in his young hands than do Palestinian President and Prime Minister and all their ministers put together. In the Gaza Strip a disengagement had been effected and settlements dismantled, but still no Palestinian can leave or return, import or export, without permission of the State of Israel.

Basically, the contours of the political debate and political dilemmas of Israel have not changed since the moment when the tanks of the Israeli Defense Forces stopped on the banks of the Jordan River and the Suez Canal, forty-five years ago. Over forty-five years the State of Israel did not annex the Occupied Territories, did not apply to them its laws and certainly did not give their inhabitants Israeli citizenship. On the other hand the State of Israel also did not withdraw from these territories and did not allow its residents to establish their own independent state, but rather intensified and deepened its control, most particularly continually establishing and extending settlements in those territories.

In June 1967, the Commanding General of the IDF Central Command was appoint
ed to act as the temporary ruler, legislator and judge over millions of Palestinians. Such are his "temporary" position and his "temporary" power to this very day, precisely forty-five years later. As stated in a well-known Israeli proverb, nothing is more permanent than temporary things.

June 5, 1967

On this day, 45 years ago, at 8:00 in the morning, I arrived at the A.D. Gordon Elementary School in Tel Aviv. Just as I entered the school gate the air raid alarm sounded and pupils and teachers hurried to take shelter in the basement but no enemy planes appeared over Tel Aviv. And when I returned home in the afternoon I still worked with some of the neighborhood kids to prepare sandbags and place them in front of the house, though clearly this was no longer necessary.

On the news, the IDF Spokesperson stated that the Air Force and  ground forces of our country had repelled an Arab attack and went on to counterattack, which was not entirely accurate. And the following days I basked, like the vast majority of adults and children in Israel, in the euphoria of victory. I devoured the Victory Albums which filled the shelves in the stores, and was excited to no end at the country's enlarged borders and its having gained "The New Territories" (the term which everybody used at the time).

I was not among the few who protested and sounded a warning already then, in the very aftermath of the great victory - the few isolated "Matzpen" activists who went
out at night to write on the walls "Down with the Occupation!" when the occupation was not yet one month old.

It took me another three years. Until 1970, the time when General Ariel Sharon set out to break with an iron fist the first uprising of the Gaza Strip Palestinians. It was on that year that I sat with fifteen other young people in the damp basement of a house in central Tel Aviv, and we heard a soldier who had just returned from there who told of the horrific things he had seen and in some of which he had himself taken part. That was the moment I and my friends gave up using the phrase "Enlightened Occupation".

At night we left with bundles of leaflets, printed on a creaking stencil machine, and we went out and  distributed them in the mailboxes in order to expose to the citizens of Israel what the military censorship was concealing from them.

June 5, 1982

Thirty years ago I walked along with thousands of other demonstrators through the streets of Tel Aviv, in a march organized by the Committee for Solidarity with Bir Zeit University. We carried placards reading "Fifteen years of Occupation - Enough!", to which were added signs hastily prepared at the last minute: "No  War in Lebanon!" and "An offensive in Lebanon – the route to disaster! ".

From the continuous media reports we learned that Defense Minister Sharon was about to launch the war which he had been openly preparing over many months, to break the Palestinian presence in Lebanon so as to better consolidate control over the West Bank. I remember talking on the phone with a soldier who served in the Air Force Headquarters, and she told me about the preparations she witnessed for a massive bombing in Beirut  – risking serious personal consequences, had the army's Field Security been listening  in.

Later that evening I was among a group of reservists who gathered in a private home. We discussed whether or not it was feasible, in the State of Israel, for soldiers to organize on the eve of an unnecessary and harmful war and announce their refusal to participate in that war. The meeting ended inconclusively, because some of the participants felt that such an act would be too radical and extreme. On the next day the war started, which in the best of Orwellian tradition was dubbed "Operation Peace for Galilee".

I heard the announcement of this offensive on a creaking little radio at the  gates of Tel Aviv University, where I stood with other students to distribute leaflets against the war which was about to begin. And the next night, when the tanks were racing deeper into Lebanon and the planes dropped a rain of bombs on the cities in Lebanon (the exact number of civilians casualties will probably never be known), activists came to distribute hastily printed leaflets at the Hebrew Book Fair, held annually in this time of the year at the center of Tel Aviv. The City Inspectors were quick to expel us from this important cultural event. Distributing leaflets causes litter in the streets...

After a few weeks the group of reservists gathered again and founded an organization called "Yesh Gvul ("There is a Limit/There is a Border") and refused en masse the order to go to Lebanon (and later also the command to go to the Palestinian Territories and take part in suppressing the first Intifada). Many of them did time in the military prison, me among them (in April 1984). It turned out that in the State of Israel it is quite possible to go out and demonstrate and protest, also and especially in time of war - at least when it is a war whose wickedness and folly are so clearly manifest.

Still, it took almost twenty years until Israel's Lebanese adventure ended, and a high price was paid in the blood of Israeli soldiers (and an even higher price in the blood of Palestinians and Lebanese, though that is not so often mentioned in our Israeli media). As could have been expected, it was found that there are no shortcuts. The problems in Nablus and Hebron and Gaza, which Sharon tried to solve with a single stroke of the sword, remain as complicated as ever. Perhaps even more so.

June 5, 1997

Fifteen years ago it the was thirtieth birthday of the occupation, which was also  the end of the first year of Binyamin Netanyahu's first term as Prime Minister of Israel. In the demonstration marking the anniversary of the occupation there were many placards reminding of Netanyahu's deeds since he took power, the provocative opening of a tunnel in East Jerusalem which Netanyahu called "The Rock of Our Existence" and which had cost the lives of sixteen Israelis and more than a hundred Palestinians, and the construction of the settler neighborhood in Har Homa which was condemned by the entire world with only loyal Micronesia standing with Israel at the United Nations.

During that event in Tel Aviv, there was much talking and debating as to how much confidence we could place in Ehud Barak, who had just taken up Leadership of the Opposition, and who embarked on a vigorous campaign to topple the Netanyahu Government and who promised to continue and complete the lifework of the assassinated Yitzchak Rabin. Some of the marchers mentioned dark episodes in Barak's military career, and others retorted that also Rabin had been a general and gave the order to break the bones of protesters, and they said "Give him a chance, first of all we must throw Bibi out".

That evening Professor Tanya Reinhart spoke to a packed hall at the Tzavta Club and put up an argument that at the time sounded peculiar. I.e. that it was wrong of left-wingers to support the Oslo Accords, and equally wrong for settlers to furiously denounce the same. Since, she argued, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority was not a step towards ending the occupation, but rather a new, sophisticated way of perpetuating it.

Two years later, Ehud Barak came to power, and was given considerable credit as an incipient new peacemaker, which by now it is clear he in no way deserved. He went to the Camp David Summit and returned without an agreement and making accusations against the Palestinians who rejected his  “generous offers”. It was very difficult – in fact, virtually impossible – for the present writer and his fellows to propagate the idea that these proposals had not been so very generous. Immediately afterwards, Barak authorized Ariel Sharon's ascent of the Temple Mount, and the spiral of bloodshed and hatred called the Second Intifada was launched. The peace camp in Israel was struck a severe blow from which it never really recovered, and Ehud Barak eventually got to the position of the most loyal assistant and political associate of Binyamin Netanyahu.

June 5, 2012

And here we are. After so very many ups and downs and, after forty-five years, the occupation is alive and kicking and trampling of millions of people under its feet. There were in fact very few references to this anniversary in the media. If at all dealing with history, the media preferred to dwell on the round number of thirty years to the (First) Lebanon War.
Though a group of Meretz people did go out to physically mark the Green Line and remind of this anniversary.
On the 45th birthday of the occupation there was very little talk of the occupation as such, nor of the settlement enterprise as such, nor even of the robbery in broad daylight of Palestinian lands as such. What however got all the attention was a tiny fragment of all that -
 about the specific and limited case of one plot of land where a band of settlers built houses, with the active assistance of the Government of Israel  and the Israeli Defense Forces, on land which does not belong to them. The Palestinian owners of the land, with the help of Yesh Din and Peace Now and the devoted Attorney Michael Sfard, appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Israel and got an explicit order for the removal of the settlers from the land they had stolen.

Thus came about the explosive issue which shook the political system and captured the headlines during the days of this week: Would the Government of Israel implement an explicit order issued by the Supreme Court of the State of Israel? Or would the Knesset pass a bill permitting and legitimizing the takeover and theft of private Palestinian lands?

Ultimately, the bill did not pass, after the PM had been warned that its passage might cause serious problems of International Law and bring the State of Israel to the dock in the International Court at the Hague and further undermine its already precarious international position. And at the end of a big storm in a glass of tea, the PM was praised as a moderate upholder of the Rule of Law, who bravely faced down the Extreme Right. After all, he did pledge to dismantle five (5) manifestly illegal settler houses, though he did also pledge to compensate for it by building several hundred new settler houses in slightly different locations. And the occupation continues.

And on that morning, the morning of the anniversary of the occupation, some Palestinian fields were burned in the South Hebron Hills. An act of arson too small and too far away for the media to notice. 15 dunums of a not yet harvested wheat field belonging to Palestinians villagers, near the settlement of Shimah. But it was not specifically related to this symbolic date. In recent weeks, there were two other cases of Palestinian fields set alight in the same area. The military and police forces of the State of Israel were unable to track down the perpetrators in any of these cases.

And the anniversary of the occupation was th
is year also the day after Israel's Prime Minister dramatically announced a major operation to arrest and deport  tens of thousands of Africans found within the boundaries of the State of Israel, as well as the expansion of detention camps for those of them who for any reason could not be deported forthwith. And on the night after this announcement there were some impatient people who did not wait for the PM to carry out his announced policy but proceeded to burn down the home of an Eritrean family living in downtown Jerusalem and write on the house: "Get out of this neighborhood!". Professor Arnon Sofer of Haifa is an expert demographer and has often warned of the demographic threat posed to Israel  by the proliferation of the Arabs and did some impeccable academic research on this subject and he is now the right man in the right place, being appointed head of the new governmental commission to recommend ways of fighting the  demographic threat which African refugees pose to Israel. Perhaps it was also to such things that Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz referred in his warning and premonition, already at the time of victory euphoria in June 1967, when he said that the occupation would corrupt Israeli society, deprive it of conscience and moral bearings.

Also this year the anniversary of the occupation intersects with the beginning of the Hebrew Book Fair, when publishers display on the city streets stalls
offering to culture lovers books at a very discounted price, four books for a hundred shekels - just like in the vegetable market. And this year, also pianos  were placed in the streets of Tel Aviv and young pianists come to play and make music accessible to the general public. And the Gay Pride Parade was held in Tel Aviv under the auspices of the municipality and assorted commercial companies, to show that Tel Aviv is an open and liberal city and the capital of the gay community.

Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States who might get re-elected in November, this week mused aloud that the window of opportunity for Israeli-Palestinian peace might have closed already.

June 5, 2027

What would see and behold those of us who are still here – still in this world and still here in this miserable and crazy country - fifteen years from now? Will  June 5, 2027 be the 60th anniversary of a still ongoing occupation? If so, who w
ould still be found in the Israel of 2027 to cry out and protest, and what would be the point in protesting against an occupation whose beginning would only be remembered by people in their seventies?

It could well be. C
ertainly, an abomination which lasted for forty-five years can also last for sixty years and more. And if so, it is likely that long before the 60th anniversary of the occupation, the processes which are already underway would have come to their ultimate conclusion. Brutal racism would rule supreme and there would be no one able to stand up to it. The Israeli army would  have become the  Settler Defence Forces, and settlers would be the core of its officer corps (who but settlers would dream of devoting a life to a  career in an  army whose sole raison d'etre is the oppression of a civilian population?). 

Such terms as "a Left Zionist" or "a leftist Israeli patriot" or "a leftist serving in the IDF" will come to be considered an oxymoron. Israel's international isolation would be complete, and only the most sinister of racists would think of associating with such a country. Also many of the Jews worldwide, especially the young ones , would feel embarrassed by Israel and cut off any contact. Anyone who could would seek to save themselves and escape from this country and seek a more reasonable place to live. And Israel would retrench itself in military might, and will continue with stubborn self-righteousness to regard itself as moral paragon and dismiss all who criticize it as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. And it will  angrily and with contempt reject any proposal for change or compromise. No withdrawal from "Judea and Samaria" where settlements will grow and expand, certainly no granting of civil rights to Palestinians which will cause the end of "The Jewish State".

And so will this country lurch along somehow, so long as its military superiority lasts and as long as the United States is politically willing and economically able to give support? But how long will the American empire itself last?

And then, the deluge. A bitter fate to all who still remain here.

All of this could come to pass. We do not live in a Hollywood movie, and no one has guaranteed us a happy ending with living happily ever after. It could well be that we are actually living in a Greek tragedy or a Shakespearean one, the kind which ends with everybody ultimately lying  dead side by side on the stage. There are quite a few of us who have already given up, who think that we have already long since passed the point of no return, and there is nothing left to expect but the inevitable slide into the abyss. And evidence to support such ideas is not lacking – one needs just to read the papers, any newspaper on any day.

And on what basis could one argue the opposite? That we have not yet passed the point of no return, that everything is still reversible, that is is still possible to halt at the edge of the abyss? That It is also possible that the occupation will not have a 60th birthday, possibly not even a 50th one? That on June 5, 2027, occupation would be no more than a distant fading memory, and already there would be a new generation of Israelis and Palestinians who had never known it personally who would grow up in a reality of peace between their two countries?

Why, despite everything and in the face of everything, should we continue to hope and keep faith and struggle and struggle and struggle? Why do devoted activists work hard this very day, June 9, 2012, on organizing the procession which is due to march this evening in the streets of Tel Aviv – knowing full well that in itself it would not put an end to the occupation, that at best it would add one small grain of sand to the balance?

- Because ending the occupation would not be only a moral deed which the  State of Israel should undertake for moral reasons, but also an existential need which alone can ensure our long-term survival in this country. It is quite logical to hope that people, millions of citizens in the State of Israel, would eventually stop the slide towards national suicide and turn to the only course which can ensure their future and that of their children and grandchildren.

- Because for the Palestinians continued occupation is intolerable, and they would not tolerate it for long. And the Palestinians have already demonstrated on several occasions their ability to remind of their presence and their pain and their unresolved problem. To remind Israelis and the entire world.

- Because this unresolved problem has already several times proven to have an effect at a distance, far beyond any proportion to the number of people and the size of the territory involved. A
problem which arouses emotions all over the world, a major producer of news for the global media. An explosive problem which can set off all kind of other explosive situations in various other places. And therefore, a problem which global powers have an interest in defusing before it blows up and blows away with it various vital interests of these powers.

Beyond all this, because even after forty-five years, the adherents of occupation and settlement have failed to convince the general public that these  territories which Israel occupied forty-five years ago are really part of Israel. Very few Israelis (except for religious-nationalists) have ever visited Hebron  (unless the army sent them there as part of their military service). Very few Israelis (except for religious-nationalists) think seriously that the centrality of  Hebron in the ancient tales recounted in the Hebrew Bible is reason enough for the State of Israel to hold on to Palestinian Hebron in the present day. It is  reasonable to assume that if and when an Israeli government decides to end its rule in the city of Hebron and give it over to the State of Palestine, very few Israelis would do a serious effort to oppose this move – except, again, for  the religious-nationalist settlers and their friends.

A lot could be said to the detriment of the Disengagement from Gaza, carried out by Ariel Sharon 2005 – the replacing of direct military rule in Gaza with a tight siege strangling its economy, and the dismantling of a small number of settlements in the Gaza Strip so as to keep and expand many more settlements on the West Bank. Still, the events of 2005 can be seen as a kind of dress rehearsal for what is likely to occur, if and when an Israeli government decides to evacuate the West Bank. In 2005 the settlers and their national religious friends cried out in protest, organized several large and impressive demonstrations and protests - but in all of them, participants were drawn exclusively from this one segment of Israeli society. The settlers called out for for help to other parts of Israeli society – to the Mizrahi Likud voters in slum neighborhoods and development towns, to the Russian immigrants, to the ultra-Orthodox. None of them came, none joined the settler protests. And so, the Gaza settlements were dismantled on schedule, at the time stipulated by the government.

To the best of my appreciation, so it will be if and when an Israeli government decides to end the occupation, and evacuate the West Bank, and facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state whose border with Israel would be based on the Green Line. Most citizens of Israel would accept that decision, even if not with a big burst of enthusiasm. The settlers and their national religious friends will wage an all-out struggle against it, tooth and nail. It would be a fierce struggle, possibly getting far more violent than in 2005. But the settlers would remain  isolated and the evacuation would be carried out.

All this, if a Government of Israel ever reaches such a decision, due to a  combination of pressures from within the country and from outside. But would there ever be such a government? Would Israel put an end to the occupation, before the occupation puts an end to Israel?


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Thus spoke the Minister

 Thus spoke The Minister of the Interior of the State of Israel: "They called me a racist, hater of children, sinister  and cruel, but I knew that finally everybody will realize I was right. The Sudanese are chasing women and raping them. I know that many women in Tel Aviv were raped and are afraid to complain, because they don't want to be stigmatized as HIV carriers. The Africans carry diseases such as tuberculosis, measles and malaria as well as AIDS and because they live so crowded they all the time infect each other. Giving them medical treatment costs millions and it will inflate to billions. The reports which I get are a true horror. They have set up a state within the state. It's unbelievable, shops, restaurants, halls. They also build underground, they dig deep under the earth. I do not want to talk about all the horror stories I heard, their culture of murder and assassination. The African infiltrators along with the Palestinians will bring us down, put an end to the Zionist Dream. We had not faced such a threat since the Destruction of the Temple. I may sound like a racist or a sinister xenophobe, but I am just acting out of love for my country. We need more prisons and detention camps. We need to convert military camps so that we can lock them up, all without exception. Put them in prison for three years and then throw them out. I know that the detention centers which we have will soon be filled up, so I propose to grant an amnesty to thousands of prisoners who are less dangerous so we will have place for the African infiltrators who are a far greater threat to state security. They will be driven away, they will be deported, they will be expelled".

And Minister Eli Yishai spoke more and more and even more in the same vein, filling all three pages which Ma'ariv newspaper placed at his disposal in its weekend edition. An anonymous protester in the streets of South Tel Aviv this week managed to sum up the minister's teachings into just seven short words: "A good Kushi is a dead Kushi". The demonstration in which this succinct slogan was held aloft had been perfectly legal, held with a permit from the Tel Aviv Police. It was the counter-demonstrators, standing across and carrying such signs as "Stop incitement, stop racism!" who were warned by the police that they were violating public order and sternly ordered to disperse immediately.

And who exactly is a "Kushi"? Sudanese and Eritreans have a quite obvious skin color. But what about Ethiopians? Geographically, Ethiopia is in the middle between Sudan and Eritrea, and its residents have the same skin color as their neighbors. Also those Ethiopians who had been recognized by Israel as Jews and brought over here made into Israeli citizens, fully equal rights to everybody else (at least officially). One can understand the average Israeli racist finding it difficult to make subtle distinctions and sometimes falling into embarrassing mistakes and raising his fist at the wrongKushi”.

By the way, exactly this week the police ordered young Ethiopians to dismantle the protest tent which they had set up outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, to protest the racist manifestations which they encountered in the Israeli society. (Yes, this too
is a disturbance of public order)

Eli Yishai is not alone. Almost all European countries now have politicians who give prominence to the same kind of message, crying out hoarsely about the danger and threat posed to their countries by migrants and refugees and asylum seekers. Often, such parties receive substantial percentages in elections. And yet, they
have a good reason to be jealous of the Israeli Eli Yishai. There is still in today's Europe a strong and fierce opposition to such parties and politicians, a great reluctance to let them enter governments and take up ministerial positions. In most cases they can only keep shouting hoarsely from opposition benches.

Not quite by chance, most of the European xenophobes and immigrant-hating politicians declare themselves to be staunch friends of Israel, and call upon their own countries to learn from Israel and emulate Israeli practices. And not by chance, their love is returned by their Israeli counterparts, Israeli xenophobes, Arab-haters and adherents of settlement in the Occupied Territories. Year by year do the Israelis and European xenophobes expand their ties and cooperation mutual visits to Israel and Europe.

True, for some time there were in the Israeli extreme right some qualms about the "Freedom" party of Austria, founded by the late unlamented Joerg Haider. A resounding xenophobic speech sounds particularly bad when made in the German language. But also this barrier is cracking. Two weeks ago, Knesset Member Nissim Zeev, of Interior Minister Yishai's party, accepted the invitation of the Austrian Freedom Party to appear at a conference they organized, providing the full charge for airfare and lodging. He addressed the party members for half an hour, as a guest of honor, and gained a standing ovation for the message he brought them from Israel. Also Gershon Mesika, head of the "Samaria Regional Council," which incorporates the settlers in the Nablus Area, was there, and too was applauded. As did also the well-known Professor Hillel Weiss who opposes democracy and calls for its replacement by a monarchy under the Laws of the Torah and the Halacha, and who once said that police evacuating settlers are "worse than the Germans" (this comparison he probably did not repeat when addressing the German-speaking audience). Indeed, the Chief Rabbi of Austria, Chaim Eisenberg, had appealed to Weiss,  Mesika and Ze'ev and asked them not to participate in this conference organized by this Austrian party, but they did not find his opinion worth considering.

Recently a prominent new member was added to the club of Xenophobic parties in Europe, when due to the severe crisis in Greece the Golden Dawn Party entered its parliament. Party leader Nikos Michloliakos calls for the immediate establishment of vast detention camps in which all migrants on  Greek soil should be placed, until their expulsion. Just like Eli Yishai. The problem is this is also a party at whose headquarters "Mein Kampf" is being sold, and has a flag with an emblem that resembles the swastika and its members make Nazi salutes and question whether a Holocaust ever occurred at all and if six million Jews perished in it. This
would probably prevent xenophobes here in Israel from linking up with this party. At least for the time being.

Linguistic note: The term "Kushi", like much else in Hebrew, comes from the Bible. It was originally a geographical name, referring to a native of the Land of Kush - roughly present-day Sudan - and as such did not carry a pejorative meaning, Then it came to refer to anyone with a black skin, and gained some pejorative connotations already in Biblical times - especially where Moses' family is mentioned as displeased with his having married a Kushite woman.

 In present-day Israel, "Kushi" is fast developing into having all the connotations which "Nigger" has in English - an innovation which the Hebrew language and  Israeli society could well have done without.