Saturday, September 26, 2015




Two weeks ago, a volcano erupted in downtown Reykjavik, capital of Iceland. At least, that is how the Foreign Ministry of the State of Israel defined the resolution taken by the Reykjavik City Council, which called for a boycott of goods from Israel "in order to show support for the Palestinians' right to independence, and to put pressure on the Israeli authorities to end the occupation of Palestinian territories." In the summary of the Foreign Ministry spokesperson: "A volcano of completely blind and unreasoning hatred against Israel." For its part, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith threatened to initiate a boycott of Iceland in the United States – quite a threat to a small country in whose economy exports to the US play a significant role.

In Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy remarked: "Once upon a time Reykjavik loved Israel very much, sending the best of her sons and daughters to volunteer on kibbutzim. Reykjavik, like most of the world, hates the Israeli occupation. She hates injustice, and apartheid, and colonialism, and violations of International Law. Reykjavik which once loved Israel cannot keep silent anymore."

Eventually, the mayor of Reykjavik issued a clarification, stating that the intention is to boycott settlement products and not all Israeli products. Thus, Reykjavik fell into line with the European Parliament which resolved by an overwhelming majority to conspicuously mark settlement products reaching the European market. Particularly, the Icelandic Social Democrats, all of whom dominating the city council, aligned themselves with the unanimous position of the Scandinavian Social Democrats, all of whom are committed to struggle against the Israeli occupation and settlements and for the realization of the two-state solution. (The Copenhagen City Council already adopted a few months ago a resolution to boycott settlement products, which did not cause so much commotion…)

Another diplomatic volcano - this time on Yehuda Halevy Street in Tel Aviv, location of the Brazilian Embassy to Israel. It was visited by a delegation of former Israeli diplomats who became very sharp critics of the policies enacted by the current government of Israel. Heading the group were Alon Liel, former Foreign Ministry Director General; Ilan Baruch, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa; and Eli Bar Navi, former Ambassador to France. The three met with the Brazilian Ambassador and asked him to forward a message to Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, containing an unusual request – that she refuse to accept the Israeli ambassador-designate Danny Dayan.

Danny Dayan is a talented man who successfully filled various public positions. He is also a native of Argentina, Brazil's neighbor, and speaks fluent Spanish. But a large part of the public positions held by Dayan were within the Judea and Samaria Council, leadership body of the Israeli settlers on the West Bank, which he for some years headed. He is not just a settler, but a settler political leader and ideologue, nicknamed "the foreign minister of the settlers." The three dissident diplomats stated that if the Brazilian Government accepts Dayan as Israel’s Ambassador to Brasilia, it would be tantamount to a recognition of the Israeli settlement enterprise in the Occupied Territories. "Dayan is a settler, ideologically committed to a policy which the government of Brazil defines as illegal and in violation of International Law. Dayan is staunchly opposed to the two state solution. Brazil’s accepting his appointment would send a very negative message to all Palestinians and Israelis who support this solution."

According to diplomatic protocol, a country seeking to appoint a person to the position of its Ambassador to another country should formally request the written consent of the host country. If the host country does not issue such a letter of consent, the appointment cannot take place. In practice, only rarely is there an official outright rejection of a designated Ambassador – since usually such appointments are agreed upon in preliminary, informal contacts between the two governments. In this case, Netanyahu was in a hurry to announce the appointment in Brazil, as a reward to Danny Dayan who supported him in the last election, and apparently without completely clarifying it in advance with the Brazilians. The President of Brazil had expressed unofficially her displeasure with the appointment, although so far she did not officially reject it.

Upon publication of the diplomatic rebels’ act, there arose a veritable storm of verbal attacks against them. The main "opposition" leader Yair Lapid, Yitzchak Herzog and Shelly Yechimovitz publicly announced their full support for the appointment of Danny Dayan and asked the Brazilians to accept. Yechimovitz went as far as publishing a warm testimonial of her personal friendship with Danny Dayan: "He is a most worthy appointee – a military officer, a talented high-tech entrepreneur, an economist, an elected official, a public servant - so what if he lives in a settlement? Many people in various positions of authority live in settlements"). Indeed, there are many settlers who hold senior positions of all kinds in the State of Israel – the soon to be appointed new commissioner of the Israel Police will also be one of them. Usually, however, the appointments of settlers to influential positions does not require the consent of the government of Brazil…

Meanwhile the situation on the ground continues to sizzle. True, as of now the situation in the highly sensitive holy site of Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif has calmed down. But in many other places, less famous and less sacred - in fact, almost at any spot where Palestinians are living under an occupation which has become unbearable - daily incidents continue: confrontations, shooting and the hurling of stones and Molotov cocktails. Is it the Third Intifada, which had been so much talked of and awaited with apprehension? The Israeli mass media no longer bothers with this vexing question, having invented a new term: "Terrorism of the Stones ". This solves the problem. Obviously, if it is a form of terrorism it must be stamped out. So cries out daily the Prime Minister Netanyahu, from whom the threat of the Iranian Bomb was snatched and who is in urgent need of a replacement. So it appears every day, with banner headlines and lurid colors, on the pages of "Yediot Ahronot" – a paper which in elections times opposes Netanyahu and supports any candidate running against him, but which now gives the PM a big boost in The War Against Terrorism of the Stones.

Netanyahu is strongly pushing for three interconnected measures: police snipers to be stationed to shoot stone throwers from afar; long mandatory prison terms for those who make it alive to the dock; and heavy fines imposed on the parents of stone-throwers who are still under the age of criminal responsibility. The third one might prove the most draconian. If the parents of a stone-throwing boy are unable to pay the heavy fine imposed on them - and there is no doubt that such will often be the case - then according to Netanyahu's proposal they would be denied their Social Security allowance, a small pittance which is the only thing keeping many impoverished East Jerusalem families afloat. But whether the imposition of a harsh utter poverty would prove the right method of bringing stone throwing to an end, remains doubtful.

Remarkably, Attorney Yehuda Weinstein has placed obstacles in the way of approving the Prime Minister’s measures, making various well-reasoned objections on grounds of civil and human rights, due process and the independence of the judiciary system. Remarkably – because Attorney General Weinstein was specifically selected to his job in order to pliant and not place obstacles in the PM’s path.
Also IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot is not really enthusiastic about Netanyhau’s highly publicized campaign. "Already, since the beginning of this year, 19 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire in the West Bank, in clashes due to the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails. This is a high figure which is not conductive to calming down the situation." Therefore, according to the report by Amos Harel of Ha’aretz, "Eizenkot and OC Central Command, Roni Numa, do not succumb to pressures exerted on them by settler leaders and right-wing MKs to use more force during crowd dispersal or issue more lenient open-fire regulations to soldiers on the ground."

However, since the above was published last Sunday, the figure of 19 dead Palestinians is no longer up to date. On Tuesday - in the midst of Yom Kippur, the day set aside by the Jewish religion for believers to reflect on their sins and tensely await God’s verdict – a young Palestinian woman was shot dead by soldiers in the city of Hebron. According to the army's version, the 18-year old student Hadeel al-Hashlamun went through the checkpoint; the electromagnetic system beeped an alarm; the soldiers shouted for her to stop but she continued on her way; they shot several bullets towards the floor to warn her, and then saw she was holding a knife – whereupon they shot several more bullets which proved lethal. The testimonies collected by B’tselem indicate that, while she indeed had a knife, there was a 1.2 meter metal barrier between her and the soldiers, and certainly after she was shot in both legs and was lying on the ground she posed no threat of any kind, and there was no justification for the lethal shooting to the torso. "The military command’s knee jerk defense of the soldiers, as expressed in the army’s official response to the incident, sends soldiers on the ground a clear message that there are very little limitations when it comes to using force, including lethal force, against Palestinian civilians" said the B’tselem activists. Precisely the opposite message to what the army’s supreme commander seemed to convey a few days earlier.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is preparing for his long-anticipated speech at the United Nations next week, on 30 September. For several weeks, Abbas has raised expectations and promised to "drop a bomb". The nature of this "bomb" was not explained and prompted a wave of speculations: The overall abrogation of the Oslo Accords; a declaration of the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and the handover of responsibility to Israel as the Occupying Power; the cessation of security cooperation between the security services of the Palestinian and those of Israe; a declared founding of "a Palestinian state under occupation" which would seek the protection of the International Community; an appeal to the Security Council to admit Palestine as a full UN Member State.

In the past days, there were rumors of Abbas being strongly pressured by American and European diplomats, making him agree to tone down his intended speech - reduce the size of his "bomb". Even so, with the occupation going on and no sign of hope on the horizon, sooner or later a bomb would be dropped, not necessarily a diplomatic one.
Or a new volcano would erupt.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Conflagration on the island of stability

A burning bus at Ras el Amud, East Jerusalem
Photo: Jerusalem Fire Department 
On Sunday last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu sent an official greeting to the citizens of Israel on the occasion of the Jewish New Year, telling them how lucky they all were. "Over the past year we have seen how special is the State of Israel. All around us, the ground is shaking - but Israel is an island of stability, of prosperity. We have established here a magnificent country, a free, vibrant, creative democracy, a beacon of sanity and progress" said the Prime Minister, adding, "Our first priority is to continue to surrounding the State of Israel with security fences."

Two and a half days after that graceful greeting, the Prime Minister chaired an emergency cabinet meeting concerned to address the conflagration raging in the city of Jerusalem, not far from his bureau - widespread riots, widespread clashes between police and Palestinian demonstrators, dramatic footage from Jerusalem getting to the focus of world news...

As in many past cases the spark that set off the Jerusalem conflagration came from the holy compound known to Jews as Har Ha-Bayit (Temple Mount) and to Muslims as Haram a-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary).

This is the place where the Jewish Temple had stood - rather, two consecutive Temples, the second one of which had been destroyed by the legions of the Roman Empire in 70 AD. The Jews carried the memory of the Temple with them throughout their wanderings, and in their collective consciousness the Temple was cleansed from the corruption that characterized its priests during much of its existence and became the very quintessence of beauty and perfection, the ultimate dream of redemption for countless generations. After centuries of later Roman and early Byzantine rule, during which the site was used as a garbage dump, the armies of Islam came to Jerusalem. The Muslims cleaned up the garbage and constructed there the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is for the past 1300 years the third holiest site in Islam, immediately after Mecca and Medina. According to Muslim belief, this is the place where the Prophet Muhammad arrived in his miraculous Night Journey on the back of his flying horse.

For many generations the Jewish religion was led by wise Rabbis who were well aware of the dangers inherent in a religious conflict over such a sensitive site. They found a sophisticated theological way to defuse this bomb, instructing the faithful that the Temple is too holy a place, not to be violated by the passage of mundane feet. Ascent to this awesome place should be postponed until the arrival of the Messiah. In the meantime, observant Jews were instructed to go on praying at the Wailing Wall, a remnant of the Temple - as they have been doing for generation after generation, century after century.

Nowadays, however, the Jewish religion – at least in the version dominant in Israel – has undergone a mutation. Increasingly, religious leaders are calling on their flock to ascend en masse the Temple Mount, to hold prayers there, drive a wedge of Jewish presence into the site and eventually destroy the Mosque and build the Third Temple instead. Once, this kind of "Temple Seekers" had been tiny groups, considered crackpots even in the right-wing milieu. Not anymore. Like other "wild growing weeds" in the Israeli society, they grew and greatly multiplied, gaining the open support of what passes for mainstream Knesset Members, including cabinet ministers.

The official position of the government of Israel is that Jews - and other non-Muslims - should have the chance to visit the mount. To that, as such, the Muslim authorities did not express any opposition – indeed, they sell admittance tickets from which a considerable source of income is derived. But in recent months, there is a constant increase in the number and size of organized groups of extreme right Jewish Israelis, who make no secret of their intentions and desire to become not visitors but landlords and eventually dispossess the Muslims. This inevitable brought an increasing number of incidents and confrontations. For some time the police began to prohibit the entry of Muslim aged less than fifty, but continued to allow the entry of Palestinian women. Thereupon, groups of Muslim women organized and clashed with right-wingers, who demanded that Muslim women be banned as well. In the past months police began a new procedure, to altogether prevent Muslims from ascending the mount in the morning hours, so as "to prevent attacks on Jewish visitors" - which aroused the suspicion of an intention to create a new status, with some hours reserved for Jewish prayer.

And so we came to past week - the week of the Jewish New Year. Most Israeli citizens took advantage of it for relaxation and recreation and barbequing in public spaces. But hundreds of religious nationalists announced their intention to celebrate the New Year by ascending Temple Mount and holding there a public prayer. They were led by Uri Ariel, Agriculture Minister in the Netanyahu Government, and among them were also the Young Guard of Netanyahu's Likud Party, declaring their determination to "assert Jewish Sovereignty."

To get around the police limitations, dozens of young Palestinians rushed to defend their Holy Site, arriving already on the previous night and camping at the mosques in order to face the Israeli right-wingers. In the early morning, a large police force raided the mosques in order to "safeguard the visit of the Jews" and had a very violent clash with the youngsters. Dozens of young Palestinians were detained and others were pushed into the mosque and the doors barred, whereupon Minister Ariel and his fellows arrived under heavy police guard. The Minister held an ostentatious prayer on the Mount and promised to return the next day.

Hearing the news, many hundreds of Muslims flocked to the mosques. The police began preventing the entry of "Muslim troublemakers" on the basis of lists of names and photographs compiled by the Security Services. The people denied entry clashed violently with police in the alleys around the perimeter of the Sacred Mount. The clashes quickly spread all over East Jerusalem. All along the winding "Seam Line" - separating Arab neighborhoods from the Jewish ones built on confiscated Palestinian land - there broke out riots, clashes and the hurling of stones, firecrackers and petrol bombs. An Israeli driver, the 64-year old Alexander Levlovitz, was killed in a car accident. Police determined that the accident was caused by stones hitting his vehicle, causing him to lose control.

Israeli media focused mainly on the death of Levlovitz - much less on the events which preceded it. The mass circulation papers competed in composing inflammatory headlines: "Alexander was murdered on the way the from holiday dinner" / "Rampaging Stone Terrorism!" / "The Stone Kills, A Stone is a Murder Weapon" / "Stop the Murderers!" / "In the Streets of Jerusalem, Terrorism Never Sleeps" / "A Capital City Under Attack!"/ "Stop the Leniency to Stone Throwers! "/ "Needed – an Iron Fist!". Indeed, in the emergency cabinet meeting, held at the heart of the PM’s Beacon of Stability and Progress, Netanyahu pushed through a whole series of harsh measures against stone throwers and against the parents of stone-throwers - heavy fines, requiring judges to impose long prison terms, changing the rules of engagement to give police more freedom to shoot, placing snipers to target stone-throwers from a distance.

Meanwhile, reactions in the international arena tend to point at the source of the problem – the attempts of a Jewish take-over of a Muslim Holy Place. Russia, the EU, the UN and the State Department all issued stern calls upon the government of Israel to strictly maintain and preserve the status quo and not permit any change on the Mount. King Abdullah of Jordan, whose Kingdom is accorded under the 1994 peace agreement an official status at the Holy Places in Jerusalem, warned that "Any further provocation or confrontation of police with Muslim worshipers at Al-Aqsa might damage relations between the two countries". For his part, King Salman of Saudi Arabia conducted a whole series of urgent and highly publicized phone calls with world leaders – starting with Putin in Moscow, through European Prime Ministers and Presidents and culminating with Obama - asking for their intervention to prevent a conflagration in Jerusalem. Just a few days before, Netanyahu confidential adviser Dore Gold, recently appointed Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, boasted of the good relations which developed in recent years between Israel and Saudi Arabia...

And this morning, the UN Security Council unanimously and firmly called upon Israel to maintain the status quo at Haram A-Sharif – calling it by this and no other name. In vain did the Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor complain of "a one-sided text which did not mention Palestinian stone-throwing".

At the same time, however, Netanyahu got on a different issue a far from inconsiderable consolation prize. At the urging of the US and with European support, The International Atomic Energy Agency rejected out of hand a proposal to subject Israel’s nuclear pile at Dimona to international inspection.

The combination of the two resolutions on the same day implies a wishy-washy message from the International Community: Israel is asked to thread carefully in its relations with Palestinians as a people and with Muslims as a religious community – but is given at the same time a free hand to maintain behind the scenes a nuclear monopoly, complete with submarine-mounted missiles which can wipe off the map any city in the Middle East - such an island of stability.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A very educational week, indeed

In 2008 was born a new "friction hot spot" in the Ramallah area of the West Bank.  Israeli settlers from Hallamish went down to the spring which had been used for many generations by the people of the nearby Arab village of Nabi Saleh. The settlers took up spray cans and sketched blue Stars of David all around the spring. They put in place canopies and benches, and most importantly - blocked  residents of Nabi Saleh from any further access. Initially, a sign was placed reading "Archeological site - no entry”. Later, an unknown hand added a more explicit handwritten notice "No entry to Arabs."
The Nabi Saleh villagers were not resigned to the loss of their spring. First, they approached the military government’s Civil Administration and presented it with documents attesting to their long-standing ownership of the spring. For its part, the Administration was in no rush to take care of the matter. The documents were turned over to an open-ended “judicial examination” pending which the spring remains in exclusive possession of the settlers.
Thereupon, the residents of Nabi Saleh adopted a model which began at Bil'in a few years earlier. Every Friday, the villagers – accompanied by Israeli and international volunteers – set out on a protest march toward the stolen spring - usually blocked and violently dispersed by the military long before they could arrive there. The Nabi Saleh protests are distinguished from those at Bil'in and other villages by an especially conspicuous participation of the village women.
Usually, the Israeli media does not report on the weekly clashes in Nabi Saleh: the heavy barrages of tear gas grenades which the military lobs at the protesters, sometimes even before the procession gets out of the built-up area, and which occasionally escalates to the shooting of live bullets; the large number of wounded and detained villagers, including many minors; the raids on the village in the wee hours and large-scale detentions of people in their homes… All of that is essentially a weekly routine already lasting for six or seven years. Usually, the photographs and footage taken among the houses of Nabi Saleh and in the fields on the way  to the spring are virtually the same as those taken last week and those which will be filmed next week. For the news editors in the Israeli media, it is simply not news.
The images which came from Nabi Saleh last week were different. The arrest of a twelve-year old boy and his being wriggled out of the soldier’s hands got attention worldwide. A picture is worth a thousand words, but what exactly did these pictures convey?
photo AFP
The right-wingers of various stripes had no doubts about what they could see in the images from Nabi Saleh: "The shameful photos of an IDF soldier being assaulted and struck by Palestinian women and children convey the army’s weakness and helplessness"/ "It is not the fault of the soldier, but of the political and military leaders who hobble the soldiers and deny them the freedom to act." / "The little Ayrab threw stones like a big terrorist and then when the soldier grabbed him he started crying like a baby. Well done to the soldier who acted with restraint and exhibited his higher morality." / "A soldier should not have to run like a goat among the rocks in order to catch stones throwers, this is futile and shameful. We should instead place snipers at a 300-400 meters distance, to shoot each stone-thrower in the knee.”
 "No soldier had been assaulted in the village of Nabi Saleh. This is an Israeli national psychosis, evidence of the public's growing disconnection from reality that it generates" wrote Rogel Alpher in Haaretz. "Anyone who looks at the video documenting the incident in Nabi Saleh and concludes that a soldier is being attacked suffers a cognitive failure derived comes from a deep moral corruption. The eyes of these Israelis see a soldier brutally trying to arrest  a 12-year old Palestinian boy with his hand in a cast, and some Palestinian women and a girl in a desperate hysterical effort to prevent the detention. That is all. The soldier is armed with a gun and tear gas, the women are not armed. It is obvious that he was not in danger. As soon as he lets go of the child, they let go of him. But these viewers' brains tell them a different story than what they plainly see. "
Suddenly, the focus of the debate shifted from the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian women to another Israeli )not a soldier) who was also present there. It turned out that among the Israeli peace activists at Nabi Saleh was also Herzl Schubert, a longtime history teacher at the ORT school in Ramat Gan. Until this week, few knew his name. But he gained maximum media exposure  as soon as somebody recognized him  in one of the photos  from the demonstration. Within less than twenty-four hours after this discovery, extreme right-wingers launched a full-scale campaign, exerting pressure to get Schubert fired – to that end appealing to Education Minister Bennett, to the ORT educational system, to Right-wing Knesset Members and to the Municipality of Ramat Gan. Ramat Gan Mayor Yisrael Zinger proved receptive, declaring: "If the information presented in the media is correct, then a man who hit IDF soldiers has no business educating this city's children. " (In fact, no evidence was brought of Herzl Schubert assaulting any soldier." Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home Party wrote: “A teacher should serve as a role model, also beyond the frontal teaching hours, and should act accordingly. There should be a thorough investigation of whether Mr. Schubert's deserves to bear the sublime title of Teacher' in the education system of Israel."
Columnist Eran Rolnik had a different answer then the one intended by  Smotrich.  In an article entitled “We are all Herzl Schuberts" he wrote: “In the France of 1968, hundreds of thousands marched through the streets, chanting ‘We are all German Jews’, expressing solidarity with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the student leader persecuted by the French government. In 2015 Israel, the  exceptional person is a history teacher participating in a demonstration against the occupation, who came to the aid of a Palestinian child being attacked by an armed soldier. He is denounced from all sides as a traitor, and the question of his suitability for the job of a teacher is cast  in doubt. It seems to be a further proof that the fate of Israeli democracy will not be determined by the composition of the government coalition, but rather by the willingness of decent people to stand up in opposition to the gravitational pull of fascism. What we urgently need at this time is not the replacement of the Likud Party by the Zionist Unity Party – what democracy needs, first and foremost, are brave educators such as the teacher from Ramat Gan. On the day when we will all be Herzl Schuberts, not afraid to identify with the weak and oppressed, we will understand the true meaning of opposition - even when the chances of ending the occupation seem more slim than ever. To be in opposition at this time means to continue searching for a way to live in this country without giving up our place in history as Jews."
It happened that all this commotion took place just in the week that the new school year began.  The mass media was filled with photos of cute kids arriving for their first day in First Grade. But there had been one recent educational event which  got no mention in the Israeli media. It did get a mention here, on this blog: "On the morning of August 20, the army destroyed the Samra School at Khirbeit Samra in the Jordan Valley, which villagers had constructed with the help of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee and international volunteers. Previously, local children had to go by bus to a school 25 kilometers away in Ein el Beida. All four classrooms were demolished, with educational materials buried under the ruins." The Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee had sent their press release to all the media, but none of the editors saw fit to take it up.
The settler organization Regavim (”Clods of Earth”), which is busily monitoring the situation on the ground, did pay attention. They are happy with the demolition of the Khirbet Samra school, but it is not enough for them - they want more! On Tuesday this week Regavim uncovered a real scandal: the EU is building schools for the Palestinians! Yes, so declared Regavim leader Oved Arad on Tuesday this week: "The European Union established an illegal school in the Hebron Hills. The Europeans are violating Israeli law in order to  strengthen the Palestinian settlement in Area C. We have photos of how the EU is just ignoring Israel law. It is a completely illegal school which should be destroyed immediately. And this is already the second case. Already in  October 2014 we have revealed that the EU had set up an illegal school on Route 60, east of Jerusalem. They did it completely openly, the EU Flag is flying proudly on an illegal school, they just don’t  give a damn about us. This is a breach of Israeli sovereignty, they teach the Palestinian pupils how to take over the land. And it is not only schools, the Europeans also provide the Palestinians turbines to produce electricity from the wind, and they also set up toilet for the Palestinians. All this must be destroyed, immediately, to block the Palestinian-European takeover of Area C."
Would Oved Arad of the Regavim Movement have been considered worthy of bearing the sublime title of Teacher' in the education system of Israel? In the current situation, very possibly he would.