Friday, November 14, 2014

The conflict is managing us

The effect of tear gas (photo: Guy Butavia)

Two weeks ago, in the memorial rally at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Shimon Peres made one of the better speeches of his long career. “Some people have made ‘peace’ into a dirty word. For some, 'a peace seeker ' is a word for people with naïve illusions, or for non-patriotic persons. To all these, I want to say  loud and clear: the naïve illusion is of those who despair of peace. Those who gave up and stopped seeking peace, it is they who are naïve and non-patriotic! And we have the wise guys who, instead of peace, are talking of ‘managing’ the conflict. Does this concept of conflict management really fit with what happened in the Gaza Strip last summer, and in Jerusalem these days? Is it possible to manage a conflict? The conflict is managing us”.

Two weeks have passed since that speech, and the conflict continued to manage us into a dizzying vortex of inflammatory declarations and hatred and violence and bloodshed, event following event at lightning speed until it's hard to remember exactly how it started and which Palestinian provocation was a reaction to an Israeli one (or the other way around).

Last week, an Israeli Arab resident of Kafr Kana in the north was killed by police officers under dubious circumstances.  And the flames of confrontation and disaffection spread from East Jerusalem to the Arab population of Israel proper. Three days later Nur a-Din Hashia – an 18-year old Palestinian worker from the Askar Refugee camp in Nablus, working in Tel Aviv without a permit – took a personal decision, not at the order of any organization. He took up a knife, stabbed and fatally wounded Almog Shiloni, a 20-year old soldier serving in the Israeli Air Force, who was on his way back to base.

On the evening of the same day we left home. The door on the ground floor opened and a neighbor whom we don’t really know spoke with motherly concern. “Did you hear?” she said. “They have already gotten to Tel Aviv! It’s better that you don’t walk around in public places. Better not get far from home at all. It’s dangerous, they said so on TV!” On the street a very excited young man passed us, speaking to his mobile phone: “If after what happened now the country starts fighting, they will not have to call me! I will show up at my unit even before getting the call-up order”. Would it have been any use to stop and try to explain to the frightened woman and the enthusiastic young man, to try to explain the roots of the conflict and the still existing chance for peace?  The fact is, we did not even try. The esplanade on the Tel Aviv beach was nearly deserted, we saw only a few passers-by.

On the following day, at the soldier’s funeral, his twin brother Sahar Shiloni said: “You can’t just walk quietly down the street in this country. My brother just wanted to get back to his base camp, and he was stabbed in the street. It just can’t go on like this. I understand that this country is living under the delusion that everything is fine. I want to say to everybody, to the policymakers - you'd better start waking up." And if the policymakers start “waking up”, does that imply going for peace or to war? He did not elaborate.

Commentator Alex Fishman, known as an unofficial spokesperson for some factions in the army’s high command, published on the following day an extensive commentary firmly calling for an iron fist policy “in order to restore Palestinians’ awe of the government”. Fishman proposed to conduct manhunts and systematically detain all “Arab rioters in Jerusalem and all over the country”, even if it would necessitate building an extra prison for them; to blow up “the houses where the terrorists and their families have lived” in order to “create deterrence among the population out of which the knifemen issue”; and also to deny work permits to everybody in the part of Nablus from which the Tel Aviv perpetrator came, since “it is impossible to deal with terrorism without environmental punishment” and there is a need to target “the environment where the perpetrator came from, his neighbors, the worshippers in the mosque he attended”. 

Today, just three days later, the same Alex Fishman published a commentary with a different slant, far more moderate. Now he tells that the army commanders have decided, for the time being, not to exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians and to avoid collective punishments, since “it is better to separate the terrorists from the general population. They also recalled a military commission which some years ago concluded that destroying homes is counterproductive. It seems that this change of atmosphere is also linked with the efforts made in the past few days by Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to put off the fire or at least lower the flames.

It seems that the Amman emergency summit held by Kerry with PM Netanyhau and King Abdullah – and separately, with President Abbas – succeeded in dealing at least with the most sensitive focus of conflict, the mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. Today, Israeli police allowed unrestricted entry of Muslim worshippers, with the Palestinians giving a tacit obligation that there will be no demonstrations and riots there. Netanyahu reinforced his public commitment to prevent any change of the status quo on the Mount and avoid takeover acts by the Messianic Nationalists, some of whom hold ministerial positions in his own cabinet. It was probably easier for Netanyahu to take this position due to the firm stand taken by the Chief Rabbis, who forcefully reiterated the traditional Orthodox position opposing on purely religious grounds any attempt to ascend to where the Temple had been 2000 years ago. The Rabbis went as far as blaming those breaking into the Mount for the bloodshed in Jerusalem.

However, in other locations outside this holy sensitive compound, riots and outbreaks and confrontations continue. From the area of the Qalandia Checkpoint in North Jerusalem came today news of an innovative action taken by Palestinian activists, to protest the fence which denies West Bank inhabitants access to East Jerusalem.  One of them told Israeli Y-Net  news that some 150 activists arrived at the blocking fence with improvised ladders, enabling some of them to cross the fence. Simultaneously, other Palestinians cut the fence near the inactive Atarot Airport. The activist asserted they had surprised the army, which was not prepared on the other side of the fence.

Against the background of riots and confrontations ten years since the death of Yasser Arafat were marked in Ramallah – a death whose circumstances remain controversial, many Palestinians believing that he was poisoned by the Israeli security services. Ten years since the death of Arafat, it also means a decade of presidency by his successor Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen)   and invites a comparison between the two leaders – and for most Palestinians, such a comparison is not favorable to Abbas.

From the beginning of his term Abbas opposed as a matter of principle the use of violence, and insisted that Palestinians could achieve their political goals solely by the politics of diplomacy. But in the ten years of his term he did not succeed in presenting to his people concrete achievements which prove this claim.

During his term, Abbas reiterated again and again that his aim as a Palestinian leader is to create a Palestinian state in the ‘67 borders and that he has no intention to hurt the integrity of Israel within these borders.
It failed to impress Netanyahu.

A few days before the Holocaust Day Abbas met with an American Rabbi and stated that “the Holocaust was the most terrible crime in the history of humanity.”
A sour reaction from the Israeli PM.

At the conference of Arab Foreign Ministers in Saudi Arabia last June, Abbas made a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the kidnapping and killing of three Yeshiva studenst on the West Bank. Earlier Abbas had admitted that he personally as a Palestinian refugee understands that he will never return to his town of birth, Tzfat in the Galilee - nowadays a Jewish-Israeli town with a big concentration of national-religious who threatened to use violence if Abbas comes to the city even for a short visit.

By such declarations Abbas angered quite some Palestinians while the positive effect on Israelis was limited. The Prime Minister’s Bureau adopted as an almost automatic reaction “as long as he doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish State, everything is worthless.” One may wonder what excuse would have been launched, had Abbas embraced this too.

In recent months, with the growing escalation, Abbas was pushed into a changed policy – making militant declarations (“Israel committed genocide in Gaza”, “the settlers are desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque”) but at the same time strictly maintaining the security cooperation with the state of Israel and it’s security services.

An unnamed IDF officer, involved in daily activity on the West Bank, is today quoted in the article of Nachum Barnea in Yediot Ahronot:

“The Palestinian security services remain faithful to their commitment of calming down the situation, under the explicit orders of Abu Mazen. They continue to arrest Hamas people. The Palestinian public regards them as traitors and nevertheless they continue.” The officer emphasized that so far there had not been “any flow of people and weapons from the security services to terrorism”, a situation which very much surprises the military which wonders how long it will last. Especially, the call to start an uprising made by Marwan Barghouti from prison might change the situation. “Barghouti says openly what many Palestinians think, but so far it does not happen.

The officer gave a non-optimistic assessment  “We had more difficult times as far as the violence is concerned, but my feeling is that this is the most dangerous situation in the past decade. The Palestinian grassroots feel, much more than in the past, that there is no alternative to terrorism. Abu Mazen proposes an alternative – let’s go to the Security Council, let’s go the UN Agencies.  The only Palestinians who believe in this alternative are Saeb Erekat and Abu Mazen himself. The public does not wait for salvation from New York. What is left? There is left armed resistance, what we call terrorism.”

The Palestinian diplomatic initiative, in which most Palestinians have no confidence, remains the thin thread on which Mahmoud Abbas’ fate is hanging. In Europe the Palestinians are accumulating a momentum of recognition by governments and parliaments. After the declaration of the Swedish government of its recognition of the state of Palestine, and the dramatic vote in the British Parliament, there are expected in the Spanish Parliament (Nov. 18), in the French Parliament (Nov. 28) as well as in those of Denmark and Ireland (time not yet fixed).

Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs, tried to pose a counter weight and in a big interview in a French paper warned that a French recognition might “hurt the peace process” (which peace process?) as well as making it impossible for France to be a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians (but Israel never agreed to France having such a role). The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament responded, noting that 700 Israeli citizens have signed a public call to the member of the French Parliament to support the recognition of Palestine – among them Dr Alon Liel, former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Professor Eli Barnavi, former Israeli ambassador to France.

The struggles in the European arena are but the prelude to the decisive moment expected some time in December or January – the moment when the Palestinian Draft Resolution will come up in the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. will have to decide to veto or not to veto. The American decision, one way or another, will likely define Mahmoud Abbas’ fate – and might have far-reaching implications for the whole triangle of relations U.S., Israel, Palestine.

On the weekly news of the Israeli TV Channel I, commentators discussed the possibility that President Obama would indeed remove from Israel the protection of the American veto. The veteran commentator Oded Granot summarized: “Netanyahu expressed an open glee at the Republican victory in the mid-term elections. Netanyahu’s people said again and again that Obama has now become a lame duck. But they may find out that he has become a wounded tiger.”

Tomorrow morning on Saturday, November 15 which is the anniversary of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence initiated by Arafat in 1988, the Combatants for Peace movement made a special call:

Israelis say "Yes" to a Palestinian State

Because independence for the Palestinians means true independence for Israelis.

Join us, a large group of Israelis and Palestinians, in a demonstration of popular democracy, solidarity and hope.

The event will take place on both sides of the Separation Wall, on Saturday, November 15 - the Palestinian Declaration of Independence Day.

The event will challenge the validity of the separation barrier in regard to relations between peoples, and will create a constructive interaction between the two communities – an interaction that is intended as a declaration of our support for Palestinian independence - and thereby also free us of the burden of Israeli domination over another people.

At the event we will use giant puppets towering above the wall, and we will be accompanied by a film crew documenting our activities.


Shuttles will depart from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

9:45: Tel Aviv – Central Railway Station comound, Shlomo Sixt Car Rental parking lot.

10:45: Jerusalem – Teddy Stadium parking lot, across from the Mall. Please register on the online form

Please bring your own food and drinks.

Contributions, to cover expenses and ongoing activities of "Combatants for Peace", will be warmly welcomed.

For further information please write to

November 15 is the date of the declaration of the creation of a Palestinian state, a declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly with the support of 104 countries in 1988. 111 countries, including all the Arab countries, most countries in Africa, most countries in Asia, most countries in South America and most Eastern European countries have recognized, in one form or another, the Palestinian Authority as a “political entity”, even though most of them have not acknowledged it as an independent state. 96 of them have formalized diplomatic relations, some with ambassadors. In spite of proclamations by the Chairman and leaders of the Palestinian Authority of their intention to unilaterally declare the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the announcement has yet to be made. Diplomatic activity has resulted in a number of countries including Russia, Cyprus and most South American nations to declare their recognition of the State.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

War in Jerusalem

Palestinians barred from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque praying in the street, facing the police (photo: Flash 90)

Precisely twenty years ago, the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed. But nowhere were there celebratory events held to mark this date. It was marked in a different way – on the precise anniversary, Jordan filed a strong complaint to the UN Security Council demanding an urgent debate on the conduct of the State of Israel in East Jerusalem.

When Prime Minister Rabin and King Hussein signed that peace treaty, it was just a year after Rabin signed the first Oslo Agreement with the PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. At that time, when there were still concrete  expectations that a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be signed by the May 1999 deadline, there was still room for dreams of establishing a real peace with Jordan, most of whose citizens are Palestinians, many of them in the territories under occupation…

"Netanyahu has given a final goodbye to the Bar Ilan Speech," wrote commentator Shalom Yerushalmi. "The same Prime Minister who once promised the Palestinians a state, had last Monday informed them on the  Knesset floor that there would be no 1967 lines, nor any other borders marked on the map, and no division of Jerusalem, and no Jordan Valley, and no  independent forces in the Palestinian state, and in fact there would be no negotiations. And to all these categorical rejections was attached a firm Netanyahu demand that Abbas recognize the Jewish state."

Not that that famous speech delivered at the Bar Ilan University in 2009 ever aroused ​​a lot of confidence or credibility. Nevertheless, there is some difference between Netanyahu trying to pretend and pay a bit of lip service for the sake of those who insisted on hanging some hopes on him, and the October 2014 model Netanyahu, evidently determined to take off all masks - and gloves. So there were very many events squeezed into this one week. There was the bill designed to allow the Knesset to enact laws violating basic Human Rights, even against the opposition of the Supreme Court. There was also Defense Minister Ya'alon's decision to prevent  Palestinian workers using Israeli public transportation, in compliance with the demands and assertions of the settlers which were extensively quoted in the media. Arabs on the bus are: “a security threat”; “sexual harassment”; “they stink and make great noise”; “and anyway why should we have to travel in a bus full of Arabs - this is a Jewish land, is it not?”
 (Officially, the Defense Minister spoke only of "security problems", although in fact the military officers concerned had said there's no evidence of such problems).

There was this week also the sweeping announcement of the construction of thousands of settlement housing units, with the Prime Minister and senior ministers reiterating that engaging in such construction is the right and duty of Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state, “just as the English build in London and the French are building in Paris”. And Housing Minister Uri Ariel stating his intention to personally come to live among the settlers who penetrated into Silwan Village in East Jerusalem, in order to strengthen and encourage them; and the statements of Prime Minister Netanyahu on tightening his alliance with the Jewish Home Party of which Ariel is one of the leaders. And there was the highly publicized confrontation between the PM’s bureau and the White House, with insulting words flying back and forth over the Atlantic, and the expectation that it would escalate further after the Midterm elections to the US Congress, due next week. 

Meanwhile,  war in Jerusalem. The spark which had set off East Jerusalem was the kidnapping, murder and burning of the boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir, blood feud for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli yeshiva students. Since then the conflagration had been going on, also in the weeks when all attention was focused on the bombing of Gaza. Every week, almost every day, still more fuel is added to the combustion.  Israeli Nationalist-Messianic settlers penetrate deep into the Palestinian neighborhoods, take over houses on the basis of questionable purchase contracts, and effectively turn them into fortified compounds. Larger Jewish neighborhoods, established by the government on expropriated Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, are expanding through major projects involving thousands of housing units – with ordinary Israeli Jerusalemites, seeking a place to live, becoming unwittingly the pawns in a game of “expanding the Jewish presence” and driving wedges between Palestinian neighborhoods. The trains of the Jerusalem Light Rail, built a few years ago by a French company despite loud voices of protest and intended as “A symbol of United Jerusalem” had instead become identified as the focus of confrontation and conflict and clashes and constant stone throwing. It was at a station of the Light Rail that the baby Haya Zissel Baron was killed a week ago. Israeli citizens are convinced, without the slightest doubt, that the Palestinian who run her over did it as a deliberate pre-meditated act; many Palestinians say it was a car accident. The truth would probably never be verified, as he was shot and killed on the spot.

And topping everything else, the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound - most sensitive place in the Middle East and one of the most sensitive in the whole world, Temple Mount to Jews, Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) to  Muslims. Two 1300-year old mosques, the third holiest site to a billion Muslims  worldwide, which were built on the site of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. In our time Nationalist Messianic Israelis, in increasing numbers and with increasing support in the political system, try to get hold of that compound, many of them speaking explicitly of their desire and intention to destroy the mosques and rebuild the Temple. They don’t shy away from the idea of confrontation with the entire Muslim World, to some of them it actually seems desirable. Activities to bring about Jewish control of the Mosque Compound were coordinated and organized tirelessly by a red bearded man named Yehuda Glick. Day before yesterday, he was severely wounded in an assassination attempt. The Security Services of Israel announced that within twelve hours they had solved the case and discovered the identity of the assassin. Was it indeed the real assassin? The truth would probably never be verified, since the soldiers and police took care to shoot and kill him immediately upon reaching his home. On the Israeli TV news last night  commentators said that it had been a relatively calm day in East Jerusalem, but reporters from the ground brought footage of confrontations and shooting  and clouds of tear gas over the alleys of the Old City.

Israeli correspondent Asaf Gabor went to the streets and cafes of East Jerusalem to meet the young rebels. He quoted the words of the 17-year old  Uday and the 18-year Mahmoud whom he met near the pool table in the cafe opposite the neighborhood mosque in Ras al-Amud. "We are not interested in the struggles between Hamas and Fatah - we think they're just spoiling our popular uprising here in Jerusalem, and of our friends in the Territories. The debates between our politicians are nonsense, they just make the Israeli occupation stronger, able to maintain the current situation, to increase  settlements and attack Palestinians. We don’t need movements to come and  organize us. Certainly not the Palestinian Authority or Abbas. We had only one Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. After he was poisoned by Israel, we now have no leader. After all, if Abbas wanted to come here, if he wanted to come even to   Shu’afat or Beit Hanina, the Jerusalem neighborhoods which are just ten minutes from Ramallah, he must get permission from Israel. So what kind of leader is he? For so many years he is talking about peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state, and we see nothing from it. Forget about Palestinian leaders, there is no such thing. What we have here is a rebellion which comes from within, because of the attack on our dignity, on us as Palestinians and on Islam. We don’t need anyone to tell us to go out or start a riot or anything. We are just organizing together and do it, because we are hurt. Israel does not understand one basic thing. The old ones have had their time. Now it's our turn, the turn of the young people."

Not quite by coincidence, the Government of Sweden – which last month  announced that it would recognize the State of Palestine when the appropriate moment came – have come to the conclusion that this week was the right time.  The Swedish recognition put some wind in the sails of the diplomatic efforts by  the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, in which young people in the alleys of East Jerusalem no longer have any confidence. Probably next week the Spanish parliament will debate a motion to also recognize the State of Palestine – of particular importance because in January Spain will become a member of UN Security Council, where Palestinian demands would be debated. Similar initiatives are known to be developing in other at other Parliaments in Europe as well. Yesterday, 550 Israeli citizens sent a supporting letter to Members of the Spanish parliament: "We, citizens of Israel, who wish a safe and thriving condition for our country, are worried by the continued political stalemate and by the continued occupation and settlements activity, which lead to further confrontations with the Palestinians and destroy the chance for a compromise. It is clear that the prospects for Israel's enduring existence and security depend on a Palestinian state coming into existence, side by side with Israel. Israel should recognize the State of Palestine and Palestine should recognize the State of Israel, based on the June 4, 1967 borders. Your initiative for recognizing the State of Palestine will advance the prospects for peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians in bringing an end to their conflict.". This petition was initiated and organized by Alon Liel, former Director General of the Foreign Ministry of Israel. A few years ago, he probably would not have signed such a letter, let alone initiating it.

This is also the week in which the large"Africa Israel Construction Company" announced that it would no longer engage in construction of the settlements, nor even in East Jerusalem – a decision not motivated by pure political reasons but also from considerations of economic gain or loss. And the Soda Stream company announced that it would close down its factory in the industrial zone of the Mishor Adumim settlement on the West Bank and move its operations to the Negev. It turned out that the highly publicized campaign ran for Soda Stream by actress Scarlett Johansson did not really help to curb the fall in its sales, and perhaps even acted as boomerang. And the Israeli shipping company Zim encounters increasing trouble unloading its cargoes  on the West Coast of the United States where groups of pro-Palestinian activists seek to block them. Anyone bothering to look closely would find several more warning signs, which might have gone unnoticed or ignored by decision-makers in the Netanyahu government.

This night, November 1, there will  take place in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square a rally commemorating the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, rallying point for peace-minded Israelis. One of the announcements which landed in my message box states: "We can not forget the reasons why a Prime Minister was assassinated. We will  not settle for a vague condemnation of violence. We must speak out, loud and clear, say that this country must change direction, sign an agreement and put an end to the occupation which erodes and corrupts all that is good in our country."