Israelis can try, but they can’t ignore the occupation

Gideon Levy writes: The abduction of three yeshiva students in the West Bank last Thursday was ordered in advance – by Israel. At the time of writing, Saturday, their fate was unknown and concern for their welfare outweighed all other issues connected to their disappearance. But no matter what happens in the end, whether they return home safely or not, God forbid, whether the responsible party turns out to be global jihad or the local kind, the context of the action cannot be ignored.

Perhaps the operation took Israel’s oh-so-sophisticated espionage agencies by surprise, but it could not have been a real surprise to anyone.

Those who stubbornly refuse to release Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have been incarcerated for decades, from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and some of whom Israel has promised to set free; those who imprison detainees without trial for years; those who ignore the hunger strike by 125 “administrative” detainees, some of whom are dying in hospitals; those who intend to feed them using force, and those who planned to pass sweeping laws to prohibit their release – these people cannot pretend to be surprised or shocked by the abductions. They arranged for them in advance.

Israel, which is so worried about the welfare of every one of its citizens, has for years arrogantly ignored the Palestinian concern for the welfare of their prisoners.

Israel holds the copyright to concern for its people, as it does for the worship of the heroes of the national struggle. Meir Har-Zion [a founding member of Unit 101, who in 1953 led a retaliatory raid against a Bedouin tribe after his sister and others were killed while making an illegal trip to Petra] was a national hero; Ahmad Sa’adat [the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] is a base murderer.

Gilad Shalit was all ours, but the fate of Walid Daka, who has been imprisoned in Israel for more than 30 years, for the crime of membership in a militant cell that killed an Israeli soldier – without a single furlough or conjugal visit – is of no interest to anyone here.

No one here cares about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Last week, Israelis were much more interested in Meir Sheetrit’s housekeeper than in 125 hunger strikers who have been slowly starving to death for 53 days now.

Among the thousands of Palestinian prisoners are some base murderers, but also many political prisoners – and all of them are seen as heroes of the Palestinian national struggle. It’s the same in every national struggle. Behind them stands an entire society, which is no less worried about their fate than Israelis are for that of their loved ones. [Continue reading...]

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Methodists to sell shares as a protest over Israeli occupation

The New York Times reports: The pension board of the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, has decided to divest its shares in a British company that supplies security equipment to Israel for use in prisons and in the occupied West Bank.

The move comes as Israel has been trying to fend off resolutions by academic institutions, businesses and church groups to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

The Methodist Church’s investment in the company, G4S, involves only about $110,000 worth of stock holdings, said David Wildman, executive secretary for human rights and racial justice for the church’s General Board of Global Ministries. But the action is intended to have a larger symbolic impact, adding to the pressure on Israel to stop building settlements and end the occupation. [Continue reading...]

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How J Street ended up supporting the occupation

Larry Derfner writes: What is J Street doing? Why is it acting in concert with right-wing Zionist organizations like AIPAC and StandWithUs in fighting against boycott, sanctions and divestment, while offering no alternative of its own for ending the occupation?

Because the truth is that J Street offers no alternative anymore; now that the Kerry talks have failed, and all the secretary of state has to show for them is a footprint on his pants seat courtesy of the Netanyahu government, America is through trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And everybody seems to acknowledge this except J Street. Which is not a surprise, because without America in the peace process, J Street’s reason for being is gone.

That’s tough; the organization is going to have to change or close shop. And I hope it does change successfully by finding a new way to advance the two-state solution. Moreover, I hope it finds a less antagonistic way than BDS to accomplish this. And if it does find such a way, I will join J Street in a minute, because as an Israeli I don’t particularly enjoy supporting the boycott of Israel – but I do it because I see no other way anymore to end the occupation and allow the two-state solution to come into being. And nobody else has come up with another way, either. So as far as anyone can see, it’s either BDS or occupation forever.

Yet J Street, by default, has thrown in on the side of occupation forever. With nothing left to offer except hollow pep talks about the peace process, it’s fighting BDS – together with the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation American Zionist right. [Continue reading..]

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Stories from an occupation: the Israelis who broke silence

Peter Beaumont reports: The young soldier stopped to listen to the man reading on the stage in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, outside the tall façade of Charles Bronfman Auditorium. The reader was Yossi Sarid, a former education and environment minister. His text is the testimony of a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces, one of 350 soldiers, politicians, journalists and activists who on Friday – the anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land in 1967 – recited first-hand soldiers’ accounts for 10 hours straight in Habima Square, all of them collected by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.

When one of the group’s researchers approached the soldier, they chatted politely out of earshot and then phone numbers were exchanged. Perhaps in the future this young man will give his own account to join the 950 testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence since it was founded 10 years ago.

In that decade, Breaking the Silence has collected a formidable oral history of Israeli soldiers’ highly critical assessments of the world of conflict and occupation. The stories may be specific to Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories but they have a wider meaning, providing an invaluable resource that describes not just the nature of Israel’s occupation but of how occupying soldiers behave more generally. They describe how abuses come from boredom; from the orders of ambitious officers keen to advance in their careers; or from the institutional demands of occupation itself, which desensitises and dehumanises as it creates a distance from the “other”. [Continue reading...]

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Netanyahu brags about defying the U.S. and expanding settlements

Noam Sheizaf writes: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted of his settlement building achievements in a recent meeting with young Likud supporters. Responding to a question from the audience, Netanyahu said: “I was threatened in Washington: ‘not one brick’ [of settlement construction] … after five years, we built a little more than one brick…”

Asked “about peace talks with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu reportedly replied, “about the – what?” to which the audience responded by breaking out into laughter.

Last year was a record year in settlement construction in the West Bank. According to figures released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), there were construction starts on 2,534 housing units last year, not including East Jerusalem – an increase of 123 percent from 2012, and more than any other year since the CBS began compiling data.

Netanyahu’s quotes were posted online by Akiva Lamm, a Likud member from Kiryat Arba, a settlement near Hebron. [Continue reading...]

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Why do Israeli soldiers bully Palestinians?

Amira Hass writes: Why did his commanders send a soldier with a record of violence to bully Palestinians in Hebron? The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit chose to respond to Haaretz’s question with “no comment.” Perhaps that’s because the right answer is: Violence and bullying are what the Israel Defense Forces’ presence in Hebron and the West Bank is really all about. And another right answer: The IDF’s first mission in the West Bank is to ensure the continuation of the settlement enterprise, which means expelling the Palestinians from their land. The violence of the army and the settlers serves this mission. The proof? The hundreds of buildings in Hebron’s Old City that have been emptied of their owners and tenants.

The violent and bullying behavior of David Adamov — the soldier who was videotaped aiming his rifle at a Palestinian teen, setting off a storm in the media, especially the social media — was not exceptional. What was exceptional was that the Israeli public initially believed he was sent to military prison because of his violence toward Palestinians.

By what authority did Adamov and his fellow soldiers detain several Palestinians for two hours at a military checkpoint whose entire purpose is to ensure that members of the Chosen People can march proudly down Shuhada Street and that Palestinians are kept away? This incident predated that of the now-famous video. To this question, too, the IDF Spokesperson declined to respond. In any event, soldiers (and employees of civilian contractors) detain Palestinians freely at every checkpoint and roadblock.

The robbery of the Palestinians’ time by the Israeli authorities – at every level, both military and civilian – is an integral part of the Israeli domination regime.

Why do soldiers bark obscenities at Palestinians? I didn’t ask the IDF Spokesperson this question. Since I first began covering the occupation, nearly a quarter-century ago, I have learned that soldiers must do so in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance in which they operate. After all, 18 and 20-year-olds can think and feel, in short, be responsible for their actions – and here I part ways with the military experts, obviously. Clearly, 18- and 20-year-olds know the Palestinians are human beings just like us. The trash talk and humiliation builds up the dehumanization, until the soldiers are convinced that the Palestinian is different. Commanders don’t want to stop this, because only then can the soldiers fully carry out their mission: to prevent the Palestinian from walking down the street where he lives, to prevent him from living on the street where he and his parents were born, to destroy the livelihoods of many thousands of people.

Humiliation of the Palestinians by every level of the civilian and military apparatus is an inseparable part of building a nation of overlords. [Continue reading...]

The need that Israelis have to dehumanize Palestinians in order to justify their own brutality is, I believe, only one element in the equation. Just as important is each soldier’s struggle to avoid being confronted with his own cowardice.

Nothing poses a greater psychological threat to a heavily armed Israeli soldier than the fearlessness of an unarmed Palestinian. The weapons that are designed to enforce the dominator’s power also underline his weakness. Thus the Israelis need to engage in perpetual acts of provocation in order justify their own fear of Palestinians.

Beneath this rests a flaw in the whole Zionist project: An enterprise that was in part meant to be a demonstration of collective strength has become riddled with fractures revealing collective weakness.

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Calls to class far-right Jewish settlers as terrorists after Israeli soldiers attacked

The Guardian reports: Calls are mounting for hardline Jewish settlers to be classified as terrorists after a spate of attacks on Palestinian property in the West Bank and Israel, and threats of violence towards Israeli soldiers.

Last week, the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and the internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, both argued that rightwing extremists should be classified as terrorists following attacks on soldiers at the hardline West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

And on Friday, the Israeli prize laureate author Amos Oz described the hardline Jewish settlers that carry out so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians as neo-Nazis.

“Our neo-Nazi groups enjoy the support of numerous nationalist or even racist legislators, as well as rabbis who give them what is in my view pseudo-religious justification,” the 75-year-old said at an event in Tel Aviv.

It is not the first time that politicians and public figures in Israel have called for the branding of rightwing settlers as terrorists, but recent events have coalesced into something of a perfect storm. [Continue reading...]

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The reasons the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed

This week the Israeli columnist, Nahum Barnea, spoke to senior American officials involved in Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace effort and heard their explanation for the talks’ failure. Barnea writes, “what they told me is the closest thing to an official American version of what happened.”

Let’s go back to the beginning. Was this round not doomed for failure from day one?

“The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement construction. We thought that we couldn’t achieve that because of the current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. We didn’t realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn’t realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks.

“There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.

“At this point, it’s very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed, let alone lead to an agreement. Towards the end, Abbas demanded a three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it pleases. But the Israelis said no.”
[...]
Compare the current round of talks to Henry Kissinger’s efforts after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an effort that led to disengagement agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Egypt. Compare it to James Baker’s effort after the first Gulf War, an effort that led to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.

“At the end of a war there is a sense of urgency,” they said. And then one of them added bitterly: “I guess we need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress.

“20 years after the Oslo Accords, new game rules and facts on the ground were created that are deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very convenient for Israel.”
[...]
Were you surprised when you discovered that the Israelis don’t really care what happens in the negotiations?

“Yes, we were surprised. It surprised us all along the way. When (Moshe) Ya’alon, your defense minister, said that the only thing Kerry wants is to win a Nobel Prize, the insult was great. We were doing this for you and for the Palestinians. Of course, there were also American interests at play.

“A lot of people told us – ‘don’t stop. Keep going.’ We told them: ‘It’s in your hands. Take responsibility for your own fate.’ But, stuck in their own ways, they preferred we do their job for them. Public apathy was one of our biggest problems.

“One of the Palestinians who participated in the talks told an Israeli participant: ‘You don’t see us. We’re transparent, we’re hollow.’ He had a point. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was built, the Palestinians turned into ghosts in the eyes of the Israelis – they couldn’t see them anymore.”

It almost sounds like you wish for an intifada.

“Quite the opposite, it would be a tragedy. The Jewish people are supposed to be smart; it is true that they’re also considered a stubborn nation. You’re supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens Israel’s status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state.”

The world is being self-righteous. It closes its eyes to China’s takeover of Tibet, it stutters at what Russia’s doing to Ukraine.

“Israel is not China. It was founded by a UN resolution. Its prosperity depends on the way it is viewed by the international community.”

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Israel advanced some 14,000 West Bank apartments during talks

JTA reports: Israel promoted plans and tenders for nearly 14,000 housing units in the West Bank during the nine months of peace talks, the activist group Peace Now said.

An average of 50 apartments was built daily in the West Bank throughout the U.S.-backed negotiations launched last summer, the nongovernmental organization said in a report issued Tuesday.

Of the tenders issued for building new apartments, 2,248 were in the West Bank and 2,620 in eastern Jerusalem, according to Peace Now. In addition, tenders for another 1,235 were reissued for units that were not sold in previous tenders. [Continue reading...]

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Group claims Israel pushing ahead with east Jerusalem construction as talks with Palestinians falter

CBS/AP report: A settlement watchdog group says Israel is pushing forward with plans to build more than 700 homes in a Jewish enclave of east Jerusalem.

The move could present another obstacle in the deeply troubled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Hagit Ofran from Peace Now says Israel renewed a call for contractor bids to build the homes this week.

Ofran said Wednesday that Israel’s reissuing of 708 tenders was meant to “make problems” in the faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. [Continue reading...]

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Palestinians forced to demolish own homes

f13-iconAl Jazeera reports: For the past two months, Hamzah Abu Terr has slept on the floor of his home. He gave his bed to his three small children whose room he was forced to destroy earlier this year, to avoid large demolition fines issued by the Israeli municipality.

“I had no choice,” said Hamzah, sitting on the couch at his home in East Jerusalem next to his eldest daughter. “It was either my hands or their bulldozers.”

The single father received a demolition order in 2001, after the extension – a kitchen and bedroom – to his one-room house was deemed illegal by the Jerusalem municipality. He spent the next 12 years fighting the order in Israeli courts, paying more than 100,000 shekels ($28,775) in fees and fines. He even had to sell his now ex-wife’s jewellery.

“I could not fight it anymore. I had to destroy it myself,” Hamzah told Al Jazeera. “The kids can’t understand this: Their father destroyed their room. They were angry, sad… confused.”

This pattern of illegal construction and demolition is common throughout East Jerusalem. According to the United Nations, a set of discriminatory laws, polices and practices applied to Palestinian residents makes building “legally” next to impossible. [Continue reading...]

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Israel advances plans for 2,269 West Bank homes

n13-iconAFP reports: Israel has progressed with plans for more than 2,000 new homes in six West Bank settlements, an official said Thursday, in a move likely to further endanger peace talks.

Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the defence ministry unit responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said a ministry committee had furthered existing plans for 2,269 homes at a meeting last month.

He confirmed claims by anti-settlements Israeli group Peace Now about decisions on two sets of projects, which the watchdog said the committee had examined on February 19.

In the first case, the committee approved for validation 1,015 units in Leshem, Beit El and Almog, meaning the only remaining formality for their final approval is the okay of Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

The same committee approved for deposit 1,254 units in Ariel, Shvut Rachel and Shavei Shomron, meaning those projects will now be published in the media for public comment before returning to the committee for further discussion. [Continue reading...]

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Why Israelis are content to live in a bubble of denial

o13-iconJonathan Cook writes: The 24-hour visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel to Israel this week came as relations between the two countries hit rock bottom. According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine last week, Ms Merkel and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netan­yahu have been drawn into shouting matches when discussing by phone the faltering peace process.

Despite their smiles to the cameras during the visit, tension behind the scenes has been heightened by a diplomatic bust-up earlier this month when Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament and himself German, gave a speech to the Israeli parliament.

In unprecedented scenes, a group of Israeli legislators heckled Mr Schulz, calling him a “liar”, and then staged a walkout, led by the economics minister Naftali Bennett. Rather than apologising, Mr Netanyahu intervened to lambast Mr Schulz for being misinformed.

Mr Schulz, who, like Ms Merkel, is considered a close friend of Israel, used his speech vehemently to oppose growing calls in Europe for a boycott of Israel. So how did he trigger such opprobrium?

Mr Schulz’s main offence was posing a question: was it true, as he had heard in meetings in the West Bank, that Israelis have access to four times more water than Palestinians? He further upset legislators by gently suggesting that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was preventing economic growth there.

Neither statement should have been in the least controversial. Figures from independent bodies such as the World Bank show Israel, which dominates the local water supplies, allocates per capita about 4.4 times more water to its population than to Palestinians.

Equally, it would be hard to imagine that years of denying goods and materials to Gaza, and blocking exports, have not ravaged its economy. The unemployment rate, for example, has increased 6 per cent, to 38.5 per cent, following Israel’s recent decision to prevent the transfer of construction materials to Gaza’s private sector.

But Israelis rarely hear such facts from their politicians or the media. And few are willing to listen when a rare voice like Mr Schulz’s intervenes. Israelis have grown content to live in a large bubble of denial. [Continue reading...]

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Children of the occupation: growing up in Palestine

f13-iconHarriet Sherwood reports: The rough track is an unmarked turning across a primeval landscape of rock and sand under a vast cobalt sky. Our Jeep bounces between boulders and dust-covered gorse bushes before beginning a bone-jolting descent from the high ridge into a deep valley. An Israeli army camp comes into view, then the tiny village of Jinba: two buildings, a few tents, a scattering of animal pens. A pair of military helicopters clatter overhead. The air smells of sheep.

At the end of this track in the southern West Bank, 12-year-old Nawal Jabarin lives in a cave. She was born in the gloom beneath its low, jagged roof, as were two of her brothers, and her father a generation earlier. Along the rock-strewn track that connects Jinba to the nearest paved road, Nawal’s mother gave birth to another baby, unable to reach hospital in time; on the same stretch of flattened earth, Nawal’s father was beaten by Israeli settlers in front of the terrified child.

The cave and an adjacent tent are home to 18 people: Nawal’s father, his two wives and 15 children. The family’s 200 sheep are penned outside. An ancient generator that runs on costly diesel provides power for a maximum of three hours a day. Water is fetched from village wells, or delivered by tractor at up to 20 times the cost of piped water. During the winter, bitter winds sweep across the desert landscape, slicing through the tent and forcing the whole family to crowd into the cave for warmth. “In winter, we are stacked on top of one another,” Nawal tells me.

She rarely leaves the village. “I used to ride in my father’s car. But the settlers stopped us. They beat my father before my eyes, cursing, using foul language. They took our things and threw them out of the car.”

Even home is not safe. “The soldiers come in [the cave] to search. I don’t know what they’re looking for,” she says. “Sometimes they open the pens and let the sheep out. In Ramadan, they came and took my brothers. I saw the soldiers beat them with the heel of their guns. They forced us to leave the cave.”

Despite the hardships of her life, Nawal is happy. “This is my homeland, this is where I want to be. It’s hard here, but I like my home and the land and the sheep.” But, she adds, “I will be even happier if we are allowed to stay.”

Nawal is one of a second generation of Palestinians to be born into occupation. Her birth came 34 years after Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during the six-day war. Military law was imposed on the Palestinian population, and soon afterwards Israel began to build colonies on occupied land under military protection. East Jerusalem was annexed in a move declared illegal under international law. [Continue reading...]

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Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes at five-year high

n13-iconReuters reports: Aid agencies working in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem expressed alarm on Friday at a spike in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian property coinciding with renewed U.S.-backed peace negotiations.

The statement by 25 aid organisations said the number of demolitions increased by almost half and the displacement of Palestinians by nearly three-quarters between July 2013, when the talks began, and the end of the year, compared to the same period in 2012.

Of the 663 Palestinian structures torn down last year, the highest number in five years, 122 were built with international donor aid, the groups said.

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The parallels between American slavery and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians

o13-iconEva Illouz writes: [T]he critiques of Israel in the United States are increasingly waged by Jews, not anti-Semites. The initiators and leaders of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement are such respected academics as Judith Butler, Jacqueline Rose, Noam Chomsky, Hilary Rose and Larry Gross, all Jews.

If Israel is indeed singled out among the many nations that have a bad record in human rights, it is because of the personal sense of shame and embarrassment that a large number of Jews in the Western world feel toward a state that, by its policies and ethos, does not represent them anymore. As Peter Beinart has been cogently arguing for some time now, the Jewish people seems to have split into two distinct factions: One that is dominated by such imperatives as “Israeli security,” “Jewish identity” and by the condemnation of “the world’s double standards” and “Arabs’ unreliability”; and a second group of Jews, inside and outside Israel, for whom human rights, freedom, and the rule of law are as visceral and fundamental to their identity as membership to Judaism is for the first group. Supreme irony of history: Israel has splintered the Jewish people around two radically different moral visions of Jews and humanity.

If we are to find an appropriate analogy to understand the rift inside the Jewish people, let us agree that the debate between the two groups is neither ethnic (we belong to the same ethnic group) nor religious (the Judith Butlers of the world are not trying to push a new or different religious dogma, although the rift has a certain, but imperfect, overlap with the religious-secular positions). Nor is the debate a political or ideological one, as Israel is in fact still a democracy. Rather, the poignancy, acrimony and intensity of the debate are about two competing and ultimately incompatible conceptions of morality.
[...]
[W]hat started as a national and military conflict has morphed into a form of domination of Palestinians that now increasingly borders on conditions of slavery. If we understand slavery as a condition of existence and not as ownership and trade of human bodies, the domination that Israel has exercised over Palestinians turns out to have created the matrix of domination that I call a “condition of slavery.”

The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry has documented that between 1967 and 2012, Israeli authorities arrested some 800,000 Palestinians by power of the “military code.” (A more conservative assessment from Israeli sources documented that 700,000 Palestinians were detained between 1967 and 2008.) This number is astounding, especially in light of the fact that this represents as much as 40 percent of the entire male population. When a large part of the adult male population is arrested, it means that the lives of a large number of breadwinners, the heads of a family, are disrupted, alienated and made into the object of the arbitrary power of the army. In fact, which nation would create a Prisoner Affairs Ministry if imprisonment was not such a basic aspect of its life?

These facts also mean that a significant portion of the non-incarcerated population lives under the constant fear and threat of imprisonment. [Continue reading...]

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