Saturday, May 30, 2015

An international roller coaster

Palestinian boys in Nabi Saleh village present a Red Card to an Israeli lieutenant 
Photo: Issam Rimawi

The Eurovision Song Contest, held annually among the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union, is very important to Israelis. Is perhaps more important to them than to the Europeans themselves. Israelis want very much to be part of Europe. It is important to Israelis who originally came from Europe, and perhaps even more important to Israelis who originally came from countries outside Europe. It is important to Israelis  to be part of the Eurovision Song Contest, as it is important to them to be part of the European Soccer Championships and the European Basketball Championships and the European Association of Scientific Exchanges and numerous other European organizations and associations. It is only the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which most Israeli citizens would prefer stay away from (at one time, this court  strongly criticized the acts of the British army and security services in Northern Ireland…)

This is a tremendous manifestation of reaching out across borders, linking hands between different countries, different cultures!" announced the three moderators to the crowd of thousands at the huge hall in Vienna and the audience of millions at their TV screens at home. Some doubt can be cast on the inter-cultural part, given that almost all the songs were sung in English rather than the national language of the participating countries, and that song after song seemed all derived from a single culture – a rather shallow culture, originating in the United States of the Twentieth Century, though the Americans themselves did not take part in this European event.

Also the song "Golden Boy" sung there by the young Israeli  Nadav Guedj  did not deviate much from this rule, the main Israeli element in it being the refrain "Let me show you Tel Aviv." Before Guedj came on Israel, like the other participating countries, got a chance to present two minutes of its characteristic landscapes to the audience of millions across Europe. In the Israeli footage, a few seconds of  the hotel-lined beach of Tel Aviv flashed across the screen, followed by a long leisurely shot of  alpine vistas of a snow-covered mountain complete with cable car taking skiers to the summit – undoubtedly the most European landscape which Israel could present. No one bothered to mention to European viewers that this was in fact snowy Mount Hermon, part of the Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria and whose unilateral annexation aroused at the time strong reactions from Europe. Of course, as long as the Syrian Civil War lasts, Israel has a respite from pressures to  give back that particular area.

In truth, even if there was not very much of a real bridging of cultures, this musical event did see some bridging political differences. Despite all the tensions around Ukraine, the Russian song (in English) garnered  considerable  support and was in lead for much of the competition, though eventually overtaken by the Swedish song (in English).

In all, the Israeli public felt satisfied with their Guedj, who managed to gain 97 points and ended at the ninth place in Europe. "I feel that I won, it was an experience greater than life, an enormous experience, I was told that people in the streets were talking about the song contest, I got a lot of likes on Facebook and people wrote nice compliments like 'With God's help you have warmed the hearts of the entire Jewish People'. One can sum up that in the political universe we are in a bad international situation but in the universe of music and interpersonal relations, Israel is much beloved and desired”.

For a moment the political universe did threaten to invade the podium of the Eurovision Song Contest. The Hungarian Singers who presented at the contest  the song "Wars in Vain" originally intended to illustrate their anti-war message with a clip of slides referring to specific wars in the past year and the number of their victims – included among other things, the words "Gaza 2014:  two-thirds of the victims were civilians, including over 500 children”. But the Israeli Ambassador to Budapest had taken decisive action in time, approaching the Hungarian government and pointing out that political statements are not allowed in the Eurovision. It worked, and the offending video clip was censored, and the European viewers were spared the reference to the children killed in Gaza.

Tzipi Hotovely, who was appointed as Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister when Netanyahu decided to keep this portfolio in his own hands, came up with a different approach to Israel’s position in the international arena. Upon taking office she convened the senior diplomats charged with representing Israel around the world, and urged them to play down the argument that Israel needs the territories it occupied in 1967 for security reasons. Instead, they should say loud and clear that the land belongs to the Jews since God Himself promised it to them. Hotoveli provided the diplomats with a quote from the great commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shalomo Yitzchaki). Already in his lifetime in Medieval France – so explained the new Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs - Rashi foresaw that one day the Jews would need to justify their rule over the Promised Land. When faced with moral arguments by the Palestinians, who complain that their land was stolen from them and that they live under oppressive occupation, representatives of the State of Israel should simply cite the clinching counter-argument provided by Rashi – simply, that at the very moment of the Creation of the World, God already designated this land for the exclusive use of the Jews and them only. Reportedly, the veteran Israeli diplomats were not really enthusiastic about the new PR line offered by their new boss. For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly appointed his loyal Dore Gold as Director General of the Foreign Ministry. Gold is considered a political hawk, not favorable to the Palestinians, but religious arguments in politics are not his forte.

US President Barack Obama did not mention Tzipi Hotovely in his speech at the Adas Israel Synagogue in Washington, nor in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in “The Atlantic ". He did express his growing concern with the direction Israel is going: “When I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of … kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We are going to make sure that the lessons we’ve learned from our hardships and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others.(…) I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian values and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium. The same values that led to the end of Jim Crow and slavery. The same values that led to Nelson Mandela being freed and a multiracial democracy emerging in South Africa. (…) There has been a very concerted effort on the part of some political forces to equate being pro-Israel, and hence being supportive of the Jewish people, with a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies coming out of the Israeli government. So if you are questioning settlement policy, that indicates you’re anti-Israeli, or that indicates you’re anti-Jewish. If you express compassion or empathy towards Palestinian youth, who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel, then you are suspect in terms of your support of Israel. If you are willing to get into public disagreements with the Israeli government, then the notion is that you are being anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Jewish. I completely reject that.”

Several ministers in the Netanyahu cabinet started an outcry about "Obama interfering in the internal politics of Israel ". The same was also given a banner  headline in Netanyahu’s mouthpiece,"Israel Today “. However, quite a few people on the opposite side of the political spectrum were  less than impressed by the President‘s impassioned worlds, given  the large shipment of arms which Obama promised to Israel immediately following the inauguration of the new government. Moreover, the United States took care to nip in the bud Egypt’s efforts to convene a conference for nuclear disarmament of the Middle East. The Egyptians’ aspiration to have the US demand of Israel the same which is demanded of Iran was dismissed by American officials as “completely unrealistic”.

This week a friend of mine, a Liberal American Jew, got a unique opportunity to speak a few minutes alone with President Obama, and then to continue the dialogue with him in the framework of a small and intimate audience. As she later said: "I דsaid that I wanted to talk to him about the Palestinians, that they are living in hell'. He paused with this sympathetic look on his face and said “I know” in a strong voice. And I said, “I was sure you would say that.” But then, in front of the entire group, he said “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is a mess, and will continue to be a mess for a very long time. I have consulted with my generals and the CIA, and we all believe that Israel needs our armaments and all the money we give because she cannot be vulnerable to terrorism”. My friend came out of the meeting with the President feeling acutely sad and disappointed. However, it should be noted that in this meeting – as on other occasions - Obama kept a poker face on the most sensitive issue: is he, or is he not, going to veto the draft resolution which France intends to submit to the UN Security Council in September? Under the proposed French text, the line of June 4, 1967 would be declared the basis for peace border between Israel and Palestine. Before going seriously into all that, Obama clearly intends to complete the agreement with Iran – with the target date of June 30 fast approaching, and a tough fight on Capitol Hill expected to follow.


The Civil Rights struggle of Black Americans is of fundamental importance to President Obama and his supporters, among whom Liberal American Jews are prominent. As it happened, in the direct aftermath of the President's interview Haaretz published a commentary entitled "The line connecting the Palestinian worker with Rosa Parks”.

The occasion for that was the long-lasting, extensive lobbying by West Bank settlers, demanding that Palestinian workers returning home from work in Israel be prevented from using the public transportation in which settlers travel. "For the safety of our children and teens, the young boys and girls from Samaria, it is unacceptable that they be forced  to travel daily in these buses daily along with thousands of Palestinian workers. It is very dangerous to their safety and the Arabs also sexually harass our girls!" declared settler leader Gershon Mesika. Due to the pressures exerted by the settlers, Defense  Minister Ya’alon announced a "test run" of a new plan, whereby West Bank buses would be reserved for settlers only, while  Palestinian workers returning from work in Israel (with permits duly issued by the army and security services...) would be forced to a more tortuous route and go through security checks, prolong their way home by an average of two hours.

Publication of the plan sparked a wave of angry responses. Peace groups and left-wing parties in Israel raised their voices, as did international bodies - and as also did former Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who six months ago positioned himself as a potential successor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and who periodically tries to cultivate a "liberal" image. A blatantly displayed separation of buses was the last thing Netanyahu needed on the eve of a crucial visit by the European Union's Commissioner of Foreign Affairs – and within a few hours, Netanyahu summarily instructed Ya'alon to cancel the separation program.

The road connecting Beitin and other Palestinian villages northeast of Ramallah to the city of Ramallah gained much less media attention - hardly any at all. Fifteen years ago, during its effort to suppress the Second Intifada, the army blocked this road to Palestinian traffic and reserved it for the travelling of settlers only - and not just ordinary settlers, but residents of the Beit El settlement, where many leaders of the “Judea and Samaria Council" live. The Palestinians needed to take longer and more difficult routes in order to get to the city. This week the army announced that, “as part of easing the living conditions of the Palestinians", it will allow Palestinian traffic on this road for the first time in fifteen years – though only for private cars, only in one direction, and only provided that Palestinians drivers "give right of way to settlers’ cars". After one day and following a stormy demonstration by the Beit El settlers, the army announced that “the experiment failed”, and military bulldozers were sent to pile rocks and once again block Palestinian access to this road.

All this happened on the day that Prime Minister Netanyahu met in his bureau with the European Union’s Federica Mogherini. The distinguished guest asked the PM  to manifest “a positive attitude conductive to the reopening of negotiations”. Netanyahu responded with the surprise announcement that he would be prepared to discuss the demarcation of the "settlement blocs" in which the State of Israel would be allowed to build and extend settlements. Until now, Netanyahu (like his  predecessors) rejected out of hand any demand to define the boundaries of these  "blocks" - because any attempt to demarcate them drew howls and outcries of protest from settlers who were left out.

Had Netanyahu really changed tack? Or is it convenient for him to make proposals regarding hypothetical negotiations with the Palestinians, knowing that there is virtually no chance of such negotiations taking place? One of the key conditions which Palestinians put for resuming negotiations with Israel is a complete freeze of construction in all settlements, blocks or no blocks. In such negotiations the idea of a territorial exchange might  come on the agenda. The Palestinians might consent to the annexation by Israel of some portions of West Bank territory, containing some settlements - provided that Israel cede in exchange some land within its pre-’67 territory, equal in its size and quality. Following such an agreement, an understanding might be reached that Israel will build legitimately on land which it would retain, and that the Palestinians could also start building on land earmarked to be passed over to them... All of this does not seem a very realistic vision under the current Netanyahu government, whose very narrow parliamentary majority depends on several extreme right-wing nationalists.

Indeed, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home Party rushed to protest: “If indeed the Prime Minister told the EU representative what the media reported, this offer creates a dangerous precedent and is clearly contrary to the first clause of the Cabinet Program – stating that the Jewish People have an unquestionable right to a sovereign state in Eretz Israel, our national and historical homeland ". Netanyahu did not seem really disturbed by the criticism of Ariel. Indeed, it might have even given him a greater credibility towards the Europeans. Will this be enough to halt European projects which Netanyahu does not like, such as marking settlement products entering the European market or even blocking them altogether? And how would it affect the French intention to submit the famous draft resolution to the Security Council? The French Foreign Minister is next in line among the distinguished visitors expected to call on Netanyahu next month.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue what has been dubbed "The Diplomatic Intifada", and this week the headlines were taken by their effort to get Israel excluded from the International Soccer Association, FIFA. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Soccer Federation and a prominent candidate to eventually replace President Mahmoud Abbas, has brought up a series of charges: the blocking of Palestinians players moving between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or to the outside world; manifestations of anti-Arab racism in Israeli football; and most especially – the participation in the Israeli soccer league of five clubs based in West Bank settlements. "Doomsday for Israeli football?" cried the morning papers’ headlines. "Suspension from FIFA would be a tsunami, we would not be able to play in the World Cup qualifier, nor compete in any international soccer  enterprise, Israeli players will not be able to play in foreign clubs and foreign players will not be able to come here," warned the veteran sports Ya’acov Er’el.

But suddenly a storm came up from a different direction. Coincidentally or not, the rumors which circulated for years about corruption and large-scale bribery in the International Soccer  Association ripened to an open police investigation, just on the eve of the vote on the Palestinian motion to suspend Israel. The Swiss police conducted a raid on the offices of FIFA, confiscated documents and placed several senior officials in custody. "The US is not a soccer power football, but there is a high-profile FBI  involvement  with the FIFA investigation, the Americans demanding that the suspects be extradited from Switzerland and be tried in US courts.”  

Nevertheless, the tense debate of the Palestinian proposal continued throughout the day, with pro-Palestinian protesters besieging the Zurich FIFA headquarters and occasionally trying to break in, and rumors circulating about the struggles behind the scenes. The 75% majority needed to resolve on the suspension of Israel alternately seeming closer or further away from the Palestinians’ grasp. And suddenly, Rajoub mounted the podium to make a dramatic announcement: "The representative of South Africa, whose opinion I  highly appreciate, has asked me to withdraw the motion. So did dozens of delegations from Africa, South America and Europe. Therefore, I decided to withdraw the motion. This does not mean I give up the struggle".

Instead of the resolution to suspend Israel, for which they evidently did not succeed in mustering the required majority, the Palestinians managed to pass a resolution on the establishment of a supervisory committee of FIFA to look into fulfillment of the Palestinian demands, especially with regard to the five settlement clubs playing in the Israeli soccer league. This vote passed with a vast majority for the Palestinians - 165 support, compared with 18 opposed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to declare that "the Palestinian provocation had failed", and Sports Minister Regev called it “a great victory". But the Foreign Ministry experts were less enthusiastic. "At the moneytime, when you drag Israel into a confrontation on vital issues such as the threat of suspension from FIFA, from the IFF, Israel knows how to create international alliances to thwart the Palestinian move, even in cases where the Palestinians seem to have an assured  majority" was what senior diplomat Yuval Rotem, who had coordinated the Israeli diplomatic struggle on the FIFA issue, told the Y-net news website. He added, however: “Creating this deterrence comes at a high price: it leads to an erosion of Israel's status, it forces Israel to spend too much political credit, and puts Israel in a position where she must beg for the help of friends. It is a bad situation that this  campaign has gotten into the sphere of sports at all. While the battle for FIFA was decided the 90th minute, it is clear that the main battle is still ahead. Rajoub wears three hats - President of the Palestinian Soccer  Association, Sports Minister and Chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee. There are Olympics in a year. It started in football today, tomorrow it can be volleyball, handball and basketball. We have to stay on our toes and realize there is now a political dimension to Israeli sports. Also in other sports there are clubs and teams based in settlements. Once we have gotten in this kind of dynamics, they will try to entangle us and embarrass us again and again is such campaigns.

By pure chance, the dramatic FIFA vote coincides with date set for the protest march in Jerusalem initiated by Israeli peace and human rights groups to mark the 48th anniversary of the occupation. To the slogans originally resolved upon for this march can now be added: When you occupy and oppress, you can’t play soccer quietly’

End the occupation! Stop the separation!

No to oppression, violence and racism!

Yes to freedom and equality!

Protest March in Jerusalem, Sat. May 30, 2015.

8.00 pm – setting out from the Zion Square

9.30 pm – conclusion of the march, rally outside the Bew Gate in the Old City wall (Tzahal Square)

The lives and fates of over four million men and women in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are shaped by occupation and separation.

Minors arrests; house demolitions; political persecution and the suppression of the right to protest; over 400 administrative detainees; military violence against women; restrictions to the freedom of movement; lands theft; cutting out water supply; sexual harassment in checkpoints; revocation of residency; collective punishment.

Total violation of human rights

After a year in which our public sphere has been flooded by acts of violence, a year which seen a brutal attack on Gaza and a gruesome and bloody war. Yet another year in which occupation continued and racism intensified. Another year in which the security budget and the budget for the settlements grow while the economic situation in Israel has deteriorated

Especially now, after a new and more racist government has been elected, we all must protest

Marking 48 year for the 1967 occupation, we say end the occupation. We will stand together to remind the residence of Jerusalem, who face daily threats of eviction, demolition or arrest, that there is a different voice and a different way.

We will stand together, because there is no social justice without ending the occupation.

Participating groups:

AIC- alternative information center
coalition of women for peace

Combatants for peace

Daam- workers party
Gush Shalom

Hadash- Democratic front for peace and equality
Israel Social TV

Maan-workers union
Machsom Watch
Movement of Democratic women in Israel
New Profile
Socialist struggle movement
Two flags, One future

Peace NGO forum
Yesh Gvul movement
Women In Black


Saturday, May 16, 2015

A circus in Jerusalem and cinema among the Gaza ruins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jerusalemites will not keep silent in the face of racism!

Stop the March of Hate on Jerusalem Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes to tolerance and coexistence in our city!

Dance of the Flowers vs. Dance of the Flags

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 2, 2015

At this square in the heart of Tel Aviv…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Ynet / Motti Kimchi