Saturday, November 28, 2015

So what is to be done?

"This is the fight of Civilization against Barbarism!" declared Prime Minister Netanyahu to his distinguished guest, US Secretary of State John Kerry. "The whole world is under attack by radical Islamists and the forces of terror. Israel is ever at war with these terrorists. The entire international community should support our efforts - it's not just our struggle, it is everybody’s struggle". Do they get the point at last, these Americans and Europeans? Maybe this time they finally realize what they did not understand after September 11 and after Charlie Hebdo? Maybe they will finally accept that Israel stands at the forefront of the West’s Clash of Civilizations with Islamic Barbarism? Will they at last stand foursquare behind us and stop all this stupid nagging about the Palestinians and the occupation and the settlements?

No, also this time it did not happen. True, the American visitor did express complete support for Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists wielding knives or scissors. However, he also asked Israel to make goodwill gesture to help build confidence and calm the situation, for example granting building permits to Palestinian villages which hitherto saw frequent visits by Israeli bulldozers destroying "illegal houses". And when Netanyahu wanted to counter-balance building permits to Palestinians by also legitimizing Israeli construction in "settlement blocs" the immediate response from Washington left no room for doubt: "The answer is – one big NO" followed by "The United States government has never supported of defended the construction of settlements, nor gave them legitimacy. Democratic and Republican Administrations alike regarded the Israeli as acts undermining the two-state solution ".

And what of the Europeans? After all, the ISIS attack on Paris took place exactly forty-eight hours after the EU resolved to label the settlement products offered to European consumers. What is this, have they no regrets? Did they not sober up? Even after what happened in Paris, do they not understand that they should line up with Israel and forget all this settlements nonsense? Alas, no. President Hollande declared that France is at war with ISIS and sent his war planes to join the Russians in the heavy bombing in Syria. Nevertheless, he still expects Israel to emulate France, which already more than fifty years ago gave up its rule in an Arab country called Algeria and removed more than a million French settlers from there. As the British left India and the Dutch quitted Indonesia and the Belgians gave up Congo, they all expect from Israel to grant independence to its colony in the West Bank. In Brussels, Belgium's capital city which was this week paralyzed with apprehension of a new terrorist attack, is located The Belgian Tropical Museum - a museum which a few years ago underwent a thorough change of display and orientation, becoming dedicated to documenting the crimes of Belgian colonialism.

So, the world does not forget the Palestinians and the occupation and the settlements, it always pops up again, and Israeli diplomats and politicians must rush here and there and try to put out the brushfires. Here, the American Anthropological Association decided to boycott Israeli academia as long as it cooperates with the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. And then a Berlin department store which was founded by Jews and confiscated by the Nazis and is now owned by a Thai corporation decided to remove settlement products from the shelves - but it was possible to reverse this by a massive dose of Holocaust evocation and an overwhelming appeal to the German feeling of guilt. And now the British Labor Party decided to boycott the international security company G4S because of their involvement with the incarceration of Palestinians in Israel (as well as "dodgy deals" in other parts of the world…).

But as of now, such things constitute no more than pinpricks from Netanyahu’s point of view. The world has not forgotten the Palestinians - but they are also not really a priority, when politicians and generals and security officials are scurrying among so many other crises. At least in the near future, no one is going to subject Netanyahu to unbearable pressure. During seven years of his presidency, there were several instances in which Obama seemed on the verge of a head-on confrontation with Netanyahu - and he always backed off at the last minute. Only once did the President of the United States go through with it - and that was not over the Palestinians, but about the deal with Iran. In that instance, Obama acted most determined and resolute towards both Netanyahu and Netanyahu's supporters in Congress, utterly routing all opposition. Resting on the laurels of this victory, Obama came to the conclusion that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would not come to an end during his tenure, and that the maximum which could be done would be "damage control".

But apparently, Secretary of State Kerry could not achieve even that much. Netanyahu made it clear that there will be no good will gestures towards the Palestinians until the "Intifada of the Knives" come to an end. And of course, even if all Palestinians were to keep completely calm, a settlement freeze would never be on the agenda. But if the violence were to stop, it is possible that the Prime Minister would care to look in his hat for some gestures to pull out, benefitting Palestinians in their daily lives. What exactly? Well, first of all they should stop their terrorism, violence and incitement, than we'll see.

And what about these pesky Palestinians who do not belong to any organization and are not controlled by anyone, and who one by one, day after day, are ready to take a knife (or a pair of scissors), and take action which would probably end in death or serious injury? Most likely, they had not even paid any attention to the attenuated media reports of the Israeli PM’s meeting with the US secretary of state.

And so, the wheel of bloodshed continues to roll, every day brings its own heroes and heroines, villains and villainesses to their moment in the limelight (and who is a hero and who the villain? That depends, of course, which side of the conflict publishes the story...).

The 18-year-old Mohammed Tarda of Yatir village near Hebron went to the Israeli town of Kiryat Gat, stabbed and wounded four Israelis in the streets. The 13 year old Liam Yutko, who was stabbed, was able to bandage herself and the Israeli meida praised her resourcefulness. The Palestinian 16-year-old Ashaqat Qatanani of Nablus arrived at the Huwara junction south of Nablus and took out a knife, the settler leader Gershon Masika who happened to be there ran her over with his car and knocked her to the ground, and before she could get up a soldier and a settler shot and killed her. The 21-year old Hadar Buchris, who recently moved from Safed in north Israel to one of the Gush Etzion settlements on the West Bank, was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus at the junction near the settlement. The attacker, 34-year old Wissam Tawabte, from the nearby village of Beit Fajar, was immediately shot and killed by soldiers. Newspaper front pages on the next day carried the photo of Buchris during a recent trip to India, a beautiful girl at the beach in Goa. The next day came two Palestinian girls from Kalandia Refugeee Camp, the 14-year-old Norhan Awwad and her 16-year old cousin Hadeel Awwad, went to the Mahane Yehuda Market in central Jerusalem and tried to stab passersby with their scissors. Hadeel was shot by a police officer and killed on the spot, and Norhan seriously injured. "Little girl terrorists" was how the headlines in the Israeli press dismissed the affair. It turned out that Hadeel’s elder brother was two years ago struck in the head by a "rubber bullet" fired by Israeli soldiers and died after nine months in coma. Later that day, the Israeli soldier Ziv Mizachi was stabbed to death at a gas station on Route 443, which links Jerusalem to Tel Aviv by way of the West Bank. It turned out that Ziv's uncle had been killed 12 years ago in the bombing of a Jerusalem restaurant. And so on and so on, event following upon event, day by day and sometimes hour by hour, dead Israelis and wounded Israelis, dead Palestinians and wounded ones (at much bigger numbers). The heroes of one side being the villains of the other, making it very difficult to follow and remember what happened when. And just now, as I sit here at the computer and write this article, a Palestinian car ran over six soldiers at the entrance to the refugee camp of Beit Ummar between Bethlehem and Hebron, the soldiers being injured and the Palestinian driver immediately shot dead. As usual, Israeli media summed up with the usual formulation: "The terrorist was neutralized."

So what is to be done? The Army’s high command decided it is no longer a "wave of terrorism" but "a limited uprising". "Limited", because as yet not all Palestinians are participating, the attacks carried on mainly by individuals who usually do not belong to any organization and who in many cases appear to have decided on the action just a few hours before. It is still possible, according to the army, to "contain" this uprising by undertaking – in parallel with "pinpoint" acts of repression – also some good will to the general Palestinian population. The army also recommends strengthening the Palestinian Authority by providing weapons and armored vehicles. All these recommendations were rejected out of hand by Netanyahu and his ministers.

Unlike the military commanders, who still regard the Palestinian Authority and its security forces as a trusted ally, the government tends to point to the PA as "The Main Inciter" and accuse the Palestinian TV and radio of urging Palestinian youths to go out on the streets with knives in their hands. Reportedly, some of Netanyahu’s ministers "would not be sorry to see the Palestinian Authority collapse." Paradoxically, such expectations on the right-wing flank of the Israeli cabinet intersect with the attitude of growing parts of the Palestinian society, who would like the PA to be dismantled or at least put an end to its security cooperation with the Israeli army, considered to be an act of collaboration with the occupation.

In yesterday’s morning news bulletin on the radio, senior army commanders were quoted as saying that the killing of Palestinians should be minimized, since any such killing is fueling the flames of insurrection and revolt and threatens to turn it into a general conflagration – by its explicit name, an intifada. "When a child tries to stab with scissors and is trembling with fear, it is enough to kick her or at most shoot her in the leg. There is no need to pierce her with ten consecutive bullets" said the unnamed senior commander. But if such is the intention of the senior commanders, they seem unable to make it clear to the lower echelons, the soldiers on the ground.

Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of the B’Tselem Human Rights group, wrote to Netnayhau: "Your government permits – and encourages – the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners. The disparity between words and actions is a stark one. It has been claimed that there has been no change in open-fire regulations and that security forces are employing reasonable force not exceeding that required to thwart perpetrators. It is ostensibly taken for granted that it is unlawful to shoot an injured person who poses no danger. Yet in practice, [your] full support for the documented instances of unlawful killing reflects a completely different reality and grants it legitimacy. During your term of office, a new pseudo-normative reality has effectively emerged, in which a "shoot to kill" approach must always be adopted, no matter the circumstances, even when the suspect no longer poses any danger whatsoever. This reality is a direct consequence of inflammatory statements by senior members of your government, who draw support from your silence. The upshot is that there can only be one outcome in cases that combine an individual with Arab appearance and a knife: execution on the street."

Yesterday afternoon some 300 Israelis and Palestinian held a joint march along the "Tunnel Road", which was built with a huge investment of resources for the use of the Gush Etzion settlers. For an hour they marched to the sound of drums, chanting slogans against settlements and occupation, against violence and in support of Jewish-Arab cooperation. At the concluding rally, next to the military checkpoint, activist Meital Lukov of "Combatants for Peace" said: We are living in a difficult period, innocent people are dying every day and it is hard to see an end to these events. But we must not lose heart. The right thing, the right response, is what we are doing here, To stand together, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. To find a common ground and build a common future, to break the cycle of violence and create a new tomorrow."

Mohammad Barakeh, former Knesset Member and head of the Monitoring Committee, leadership body of Israel’s Arab citizens, noted that the vehicular attack by a Palestinian on soldiers, and the attackers subsequent killing, had taken place a short time before the march, just a few kilometers down the same highway. "We don’t want a single drop of blood to be spilt," Barakeh said, "but he who creates this situation needs to understand that only peace will bring security. The blockade, the checkpoints, the abuse, the settlements — they are the root cause of all that is happening here. We stand together and condemn this extremist government. We stand in support of life in peace – life in peace both for the State of Israel and for the independent Palestinian state to be established."

Photographer: Mustafa Bader