+972 Magazine » +972 Blog http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 25 Oct 2014 18:01:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 ‘As U.S. Jews, we need to figure out what leverage we have in ending the occupation’ http://972mag.com/as-u-s-jews-we-need-to-figure-out-what-leverage-we-have-in-ending-the-occupation/98019/ http://972mag.com/as-u-s-jews-we-need-to-figure-out-what-leverage-we-have-in-ending-the-occupation/98019/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 18:01:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98019 Amid the Gaza war this summer a group of young American Jews formed a new group, ‘If Not Now, When?’, which aims to challenge the American Jewish establishment’s unquestioning support for the occupation. +972 sits down with one of its founding members to find out who the group is and what they hope to accomplish.

By Tom Pessah

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

For decades, American Jewry has been dominated by its own “one percent” – a small group of donors and unelected executives who lead organizations like the Jewish Federations of North America, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International.

Recent surveys have shown that American Jews are much more willing to criticize Israeli policies than the leadership of the organizations that claim to represent them. A quarter of Jews aged 18 to 29 believe that the U.S. is too supportive of Israel, according to a Pew survey, but their opposition has been muted.

However, since this past summer young Jews throughout the U.S. have been holding vigils outside the offices of major Jewish establishment organizations, protesting their complicity with war and occupation.

I recently spoke with Yonah Lieberman, an young organizer with “If Not Now, When,” a new movement of young American Jews opposing the occupation and the American Jewish establishment’s complicity and support of it.

Tell me a bit about your background?

I’m 22 years old from in Washington, DC. I went to the University of Michigan and after graduating, was part of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps in Brooklyn. Now I am a community organizer working with low-income tenants to create more affordable housing in New York City.

How did If Not Now, When begin?

It began two weeks into this summer’s violence. People were wallowing in self-pity, reading news articles, unable to function. I couldn’t get any work done at my job because I was so distracted by what was going on in Israel and in Gaza.

The folks involved knew each other from Jewish progressive organizations in New York City and were frustrated no one was doing anything about the war. They sent out a mass email asking for a meeting. I got a call from Daniel May, who had been the director of J Street U (the university organizing branch of J Street) and a mentor for me. “You have to be at this meeting,” he told me.

Our first action was that Thursday, and the next one the next Monday, when people got arrested. We organized a Shabbat protest service, and 300 people showed up. Then there was a Tisha B’Av demonstration, grounded in the framework of the [religious] service. It was in a public atmosphere but without picket signs or shouting. In late August – another big demonstration. Then the tashlich action a few weeks ago.

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

We’ve been meeting weekly since.

We did not know what we were doing, we didn’t intend to create a national movement to change the Jewish community, and yet – that’s what we’re doing.

Tell me more about the members?

There are three types. Some have been working on the issue for years. Second, there are people like me, who had moved on but got back into it over the summer. And then there are the most interesting ones: people who are Jewish and progressive but never thought they’d be taking action against the occupation. It is those people who are leading the movement.

We’re not J Street, and we’re not a front for Jewish Voice for Peace (JPV). We’re just a group of people who came together.

I was active in J Street U; I think it helped shift the conversation. But they got it wrong this time around. They supported the war with sentiments like: “we support Israel’s right for self-defense.”

How did you write the statement that you read at the Tashlich (A religious Jewish custom of casting away one’s sins during the Jewish new year)?

It’s a time of year when people look inward and criticize themselves. So we asked people to answer the question: “how am I complicit in the occupation?”

The statement is a compilation of the responses we got.

How did the movement spread out of New York City?

A lot of American Jews were frustrated about the war and 47 years of occupation and they want to do something about it. We told people there would be a conference call, gave out the number, and we’ve had several calls with 30-40 participants each.

We now have “If Not Now” activists coast to coast, in Washington DC, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New Hampshire, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Seattle.

Folks are coming together and saying, “we’re no longer accepting the complicity of the American Jewish leadership that only asks, ‘what do you want Israel to do?’” They are asking: “Why were you [the American Jewish leadership] so silent for the nine months of the peace process,” which failed. That American Jewish leadership is refusing to take a nuanced view of how the war came about, saying only, “we support Israel and its right to defend itself.”

Why now?

It’s a culmination of several factors but this summer was the last straw.

Since I became aware of Israel-Palestine politics in 2005, there’s been some kind of war or conflict every few years: the Second Lebanon War, the Flotilla, the attacks on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and now this.

People who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s no longer give Israel the benefit of the doubt about why so many civilians are killed. There’s frustration about the total intransigence of the Israeli government, outrage about building more and more settlements and the constant warmongering about Iran and Hamas.

This was the most egregious war, with the highest percent of civilians and children who were killed. We were just sitting and watching the numbers of dead civilians increase.

There’s a sense of urgency we haven’t felt for a long time. We realized that if we don’t act now, we’ll have another war in two years, if not sooner. The occupation could enter its 50th year, its 100th year.

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 If Not Now, When activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 If Not Now, When activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Tell me more about your goals?

A lot of the Jewish leadership says, “war is sad, but it’s inevitable because they hate us.” But it’s outrageous to say war is inevitable when serious diplomacy has never been tried, when there is no serious desire to take bold action.

The reason why Israel feels it can do whatever it wants to do in the name of self defense is that the people who lead the major Jewish American organizations (AIPAC, the ADL, the Federations) have given them the green light. People of my generation reject this green light. We’re saying, “hold on, we need to do something about this.”

As American Jews, we need to figure out what leverage we have. We believe that the American Jewish community is a lynchpin of the occupation because it legitimizes the right-wing groups that want to perpetuate it.

If we get the major organizations to say, “we think the occupation is wrong, it’s bad for Israel, we need to end it,” then people in Israel will no longer have the green light to move into Palestinian homes, like they just did in Silwan. If we stop giving them money this will stop happening. The people building the settlements will have no one in America to give them support. If we can get [ADL director] Abraham Foxman to say that, things will shift.

How are you positioned in relation to groups like J Street, or JVP?

JVP are Jews in solidarity with Palestinians. They’re a hugely important group. But we’re not a solidarity group. We’re also not trying to speak on behalf of Palestinians.

There are a lot of groups out there, and we don’t condemn other types of activists, but we’re unique in that we’re targeting the major Jewish organizations.

We don’t talk about BDS, the one-state solution, the two-state solution – we’re just trying to end the American Jewish leadership’s complicity in the occupation. We bring people from the far left who talk about “one person, one vote” together with people who are Zionists and think Israel should exist.

We come together because we all believe in ending the occupation.

What about Open Hillel?

We support them. We need more open spaces where people can come together and have real conversations.

What responses have you gotten from the Jewish establishment?

A lot of silence.

They have hundreds of young Jews at their doorstep, and there’s so much debate right now about how to get young Jews engaged. After we got arrested, [executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations] Malcolm Hoenlein said we’re doing this because it’s “in.”

In reality, we’re doing it because of the values that were instilled in us by the Jewish community.

What are your plans now?

The challenge is how to maintain the same sense of urgency as we had during the war. We need to build a movement.

We’re organizing Shabbat dinners all across the country where people can get together and share stories. We hope that will keep up the momentum.

Read also:
At Open Hillel conference, Jews demand their spot at the communal table
BDS’s Jewish roots: A lesson for Hillel
‘Open Hillel’ seeks to redefine U.S. Jewish debate on Israel-Palestine

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A Palestinian admirer of ‘Night,’ disenchanted by its author Elie Wiesel http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-admirer-of-night-disenchanted-by-its-author-elie-wiesel/98022/ http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-admirer-of-night-disenchanted-by-its-author-elie-wiesel/98022/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 16:39:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98022 Elie Wiesel, who knows too well the hideousness of racist ideologies, should do better than to blindly succumb to them himself. In this conflict, he is not a messenger for mankind, but a messenger for one ethnic group’s victory over others.

By Amjad Iraqi

Night is one of the most memorable books I have ever read. I was 16 years old when my Jewish-Israeli high school teacher assigned it to my class, and I still remember to this day where I was as I went through its pages. It was a short but powerful story of the horrors of the Holocaust, and my most intimate glimpse yet into one of the darkest periods in human history.

Having left such a strong mark on my learning, it pains me to see that the book’s author and subject, Elie Wiesel, was a signatory to a recent newspaper ad praising the takeovers of dozens of Palestinian homes by Jewish settlers in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Wiesel signed the ad as chair of the public council of Elad, an organization which explicitly aims to transform an ancient multicultural city into a place where one ethnic/religious group would have superior rights and a dominant narrative over others. Wiesel not only serves on this board, but actively promotes its work and ideology locally and abroad without hesitation.

Elie Wiesel (photo: World Economic Forum  / Remy Steinegger)

Elie Wiesel (photo: World Economic Forum / Remy Steinegger)

The Silwan takeovers, which were facilitated by Elad and other settler groups, are not a mere issue of real estate. In principle, everyone should be allowed to live wherever they wish. But that is not what happens under Israeli sovereignty. Here, Jews are given that right, while Palestinians are confined to select spaces and are even losing those spaces rapidly. Nowhere is this more acute than in Jerusalem, where Palestinian lands are confiscated, residencies revoked, houses demolished, and families pressured out of their homes to pave the way for Jewish-only residences and state infrastructures.

These practices are not occurring in Silwan alone. In the “E1” area east of Jerusalem, the Jahalin Bedouin will be forcibly evicted from their lands in order to close the gaps between Israel’s major Jewish settlement blocs. In the Jerusalemite village of Issawiya, Palestinian residents will lose acres of their land for state plans to build a garbage dump and a national park. Even Arab and Armenian Christians living in the Old City face frequent harassment by Jewish settlers, including vandalizing private property and spraying racist slogans on the walls of their buildings. These actions are protected by security forces, praised by government officials and defended by high-profile figures like Wiesel. This racial asymmetry is why Netanyahu’s defense of the Silwan takeover — that he could not possibly tell any Jewish or Arab family not to live where they please — is a farcical argument for him to make.

The ruins of a Palestinian home in the Old City of Jerusalem that Israel demolished. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The ruins of a Palestinian home demolished by Israel in the Old City of Jerusalem. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The events in Silwan are hardly the first time that Wiesel has displayed his allegiance to such groups (for example, he is also an advisory board member of the right-wing NGO Monitor). But seeing him again openly lauding such a movement only increased my existing frustration with his lack of moral compass on this issue. The same man who speaks out against racist attacks in many parts of the world inexplicably becomes a mouthpiece for them in Israel. Because of discriminatory policies like those supported by Wiesel, Jerusalem today has lost much of its preciousness and moral weight. The city’s atmosphere instead is one of hostility and self-righteousness, with ideological obsession taking precedence over multicultural preservation.

Wiesel is thus part of the wider, serious problem behind the city’s deteriorating fate. Beyond the issue of protecting the rights of non-Jews to their homes in Jerusalem, is the need to challenge the very belief that such a historic and holy place can belong to one group more than another. Both Israelis and Palestinians are guilty of this, and it has to stop. The racist objectives that control the city today come from organizations like Elad, the Israeli government, and Israelis from both the Left and Right who believe that Jerusalem should remain the “eternal undivided capital” of the Jewish people alone. On the opposite spectrum is the belief of many Arabs and Muslims in Palestine and the region who think that Jerusalem must be “liberated” under a nationalist or Islamist flag. Meanwhile, the many Palestinians and Israelis who envision Jerusalem as a city of true diversity and equal rights, as it is meant to be, are pushed aside by the noise of nationalism and religious fanaticism — to which Wiesel appears to be contributing.

As such, I have nothing but disappointment for the writer of that powerful book I read in high school. Elie Wiesel, who knows too well the hideousness of racist ideologies, should do better than to blindly succumb to them himself. In this conflict, he is not a messenger for mankind, but a messenger for one ethnic group’s victory over others. The Jewish people deserve their history, safety and identity in this land as much as Christian, Muslim and other Palestinians, especially in the shadows of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. But they do not deserve it by uprooting and oppressing another people to achieve their goals, and by claiming superiority of rights by virtue of their race or faith. That is the very evil that men and women like Wiesel should be fighting against, not promoting. That is one of the most important lessons I took from reading Night. I hope that its author will learn the same.

Amjad Iraqi is a projects & advocacy coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views in this article are the author’s own and do not represent Adalah.

Related:
Elie Wiesel and Amos Yadlin congratulate East Jerusalem settlers
Israel’s very own tunnels of dread in Jerusalem
Jerusalem by the numbers: Poverty, segregation and discrimination

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Hebrew U. threatens Palestinian students with expulsion over political activities http://972mag.com/hebrew-u-threatens-palestinian-students-with-expulsion-for-political-activities/97987/ http://972mag.com/hebrew-u-threatens-palestinian-students-with-expulsion-for-political-activities/97987/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 15:59:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97987 Twelve Palestinian students are facing possible expulsion from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University for participating in an ‘illegal’ political protest. In the past, the university only took steps against particular student groups. Now, it’s switching gears and targeting individual students.

By Rami Younis

Near the end of September, 12 Palestinian students received a notice from the Hebrew University administration, stating that Dean of Students Udi Shavit had lodged a complaint against them over their participation in an “unauthorized demonstration that goes against regulations,” which took place on July 10, 2014. The notice said that the administration was waiting for a response from the students before it decides whether they will face a disciplinary committee. The students were then given seven days to respond to the claims, despite the fact that the contents of the complaint was never made clear to them. Should they be asked to stand before the committee, they would face possible suspension or expulsion from the university.

The event took place against the backdrop of the Palestinian prisoners hunger strike. At the time, many events and protests took place across the country and the world. The aforementioned event did not include a demonstration. A small number of students gathered spontaneously outside the “Forum” area of the Mt. Scopus campus, and expressed support for the hunger strikers and administrative detainees.

Palestinian students protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoner that are currently on a hunger strike inside Israeli jails, in the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, June 10, 2014. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Palestinian students protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoner that are currently on a hunger strike inside Israeli jails, in the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, June 10, 2014. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

“It was definitely not a protest,” says Khalil Gharra, a 22-year-old philosophy and political science student, and one of the 12 who faces potential expulsion. “I have no idea who organized it. It was most likely a spontaneous gathering of a few people who came to protest against the conditions of Palestinian administrative detainees, and to support them in their hunger strike.”

According to the students, they did not know that the event was unauthorized or that it violated university regulations. “University security personnel arrived and moved us into a small area outside the entrance of the university. They did not inform us that the action was illegal. Actually, the opposite was true. The fact that they even moved us in the first place allowed for the gathering to continue, and gave other students the opportunity to join. This created the feeling that the event was legal and authorized,” says Gharra.

“Only later did the university claim that the event violated regulations and was unauthorized,” he adds.

This isn’t the first time that Hebrew University has been accused of limiting its Palestinian students’ freedom of speech. Gharra, like other students, believes this stems from targeted persecution. “This is a direct continuation of the past two years. The university made the same accusations after the Balad student group organized a cultural event at the Hadassah campus in June 2013. They said that Hanin Zoabi spoke without permission. This was totally false – she didn’t even speak. They just made up a reason to attack the group.”

A heckler shouts at demonstrators protesting against Israeli government attempts to recruit Palestinian Christian citizens of Israel, May 7, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A heckler shouts at demonstrators protesting against Israeli government attempts to recruit Palestinian Christian citizens of Israel, May 7, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

“And it didn’t end there,” Gharra continues. “During a protest against the conscription of Christians into the army, which also took place in the Forum area, the university security called the police. The police arrived in huge numbers, along with undercover policemen dressed as Palestinian students. Students said that they saw security personnel hand out blue hats with the word “security” on them to the Jewish counter-protesters. Twelve students were arrested, including myself, after the police and security personnel used excessive force.”

Things get personal

Riham Nassra, a 24 year-old law student who is also facing possible expulsion, has no doubts: “We’re seeing a new strategy of individual complaints submitted by the dean. Until now, the complaints were submitted against Palestinian student groups, which lead to them being temporarily suspended. Balad was suspended, Hadash were harassed and threatened several times, and Palestinian students continued with their political activities in the student groups.”

What’s the difference between complaints against political student groups and individual complaints against students?

“There’s a big difference. The university saw that the student groups continue to function, while the students continued to demonstrate, so it simply moved toward personal deterrence. It is known that the consequences of facing a disciplinary committee can be disastrous for a student. In many cases it can end in suspension, probation or even expulsion. When you go after a student group, the harm is collective rather than personal. They probably think that personal targeting will serve as a more effective deterrence.”

What is really surprising about this entire story is both how exactly the university knew to identify those same students who were present at the gathering, and how it began taking action against them. Nassra has a feeling that the university is using new methods of harassment.

“They probably came prepared. They let us stay there, and allowed other passersby to join. Then they started implementing methods reminiscent of intelligence services, which do not show respect for an academic institute, in order to identify us.”

Right-wing students demonstrate in support Operation Cast Lead at Hebrew University, Dec. 29, 2008. (photo: Activestills.org)

Right-wing students demonstrate in support Operation Cast Lead at Hebrew University, Dec. 29, 2008. (photo: Activestills.org)

“And you know what? Out of the 16 or 17 students that were there on that day, 12 complaints were lodged against university students. That’s a majority of the people who were there. Most of the other students were likely not from the university, which means the university could not target them. This can definitely be seen as an attempt to cause innocent students to fall into a trap. The university takes no steps against the ‘Im Tirzu’ student group, which has been recognized as a racist group by an Israeli court, and whose members chant racist chants during protests against Arab student groups.”

The students have yet to receive dates for their disciplinary committees.

The university’s conduct raises many questions. Lately we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in harassment and targeting of Arab students in universities and colleges across Israel. However, in this case, at least according to the students, the transition from threatening a political body on campus to directly threatening the academic future of students runs contrary to the values of freedom of expression and freedom to protest. There is no doubt that this story will only harm the university’s reputation, as well as that of the Israeli academy, especially in light of growing international pressure to boycott Israeli universities.

Hebrew University responded to the allegations:

The students were summoned to the disciplinary committee after they organized a protest with no prior authorization, as is required by university procedures – an act that constitutes a violation of the university’s disciplinary rules. The university treats all of its students equally, and calls on every student to respect its regulations. The university will take action against any student who chooses to violate the regulations, regardless of national, religious or other affiliations.

The author is a Palestinian activist and writer. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
Jerusalem police arrest Palestinian activist in his Hebrew U dorm
PHOTOS: Hebrew U. students protest pressure on Christians to join army
At Hebrew University, Arabic textbooks reflect a Zionist reality

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Legal experts cannot erase Israel’s history of torture http://972mag.com/legal-experts-cannot-erase-israels-history-of-torture/97979/ http://972mag.com/legal-experts-cannot-erase-israels-history-of-torture/97979/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:51:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97979 Since 2001 over 850 complaints of torture have been submitted by Palestinians. Not a single criminal investigation has been opened. 

By Dr. Ishai Menuhin

Whenever Israel signs a treaty, international standards require it to come up with creative bypasses and convoluted legal answers for its actions. At the same, the Israeli government finds it difficult to implement the commitments it has taken upon itself in our name. This is because both the General Security Service (GSS) and the broader Israeli security establishment are interested in violating the human rights of those they interrogate, rather than observe international standards and rules.

On Monday, Israeli representatives presented the state’s position before the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva regarding country’s commitment to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel signed in 1966 and ratified in 1991.

Palestinian organizer tortured in Israeli jail (activestills)

A Palestinian organizer who was tortured in an Israeli jail (Activestills.org)

Representatives from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) were also present at the meeting. They argued that Israel has failed to meet its commitments, and that no significant change has been seen since the time Israeli representatives stood before the committee, four years ago. Members of PCATI further explained that the Israeli government has not yet enacted a law against torture, despite its stated commitments per the convention, as well that of the Convention Against Torture, to do so. Both the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture (CAT) have repeatedly recommended that Israel enact such a law, which is required by any country that signs the aforementioned conventions. The Israeli government and the Knesset have refrained from doing so.

Legal experts have authored long and creative replies explaining that although there is no law against torture, it is strictly prohibited by sundry sections of Israeli law. Thus, they argue, there is no need for legislation. They have also refrained from implementing the Turkel Commission’s recommendations to enact any such law.

PCATI members also argued that the refusal of the government and the Knesset to introduce protective mechanisms against torture are completely contrary to Israel’s actions in the treaties it has signed and ratified. These include audiovisual documentation of interrogations of security suspects or mechanisms for unannounced visits to interrogation facilities by independent bodies. Audiovisual documentation is also part of the Turkel Commission’s core recommendations. However, respect for the now-disbanded commission is lower than that of the attorney general and GSS legal advisors, both of which who have no interest in documenting interrogators who commit torture, not to mention exposing them to criminal investigation.

Furthermore, members of PCATI drew the committee’s attention to the discriminatory methods used for the examination of complaints. These include an inspector responsible for examining complaints, who can merely recommend the opening or closing of a criminal investigation (a minor change introduced last year makes the inspector, who as noted can only make a recommendation, an employee of the Ministry of Justice rather than of the GSS); a supervisor of the inspector who is authorized only to close complaints and is not empowered to order the opening of a criminal investigation against GSS interrogators; and the attorney general, or a person empowered thereby, who has the sole authority to order the investigation of a GSS interrogator.

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

PCATI also drew the committee’s attention to an appalling statistic: Since 2001 over 850 complaints of torture have been submitted by Palestinians, yet not a single criminal investigation has been opened. The three attorney generals who have served over this period have “successfully” and consistently prevented the investigation of complaints of torture, thereby damaging the rule of law. As opposed to ordinary citizens, it seems that attorney generals are allowed to ignore the rule of law whenever it applies to figures in the security establishment.

As noted, the Israeli government has signed onto numerous international treaties on our behalf, yet it has no interest in observing them. It has declared that we are a country committed to protecting human rights. But the occupation requires the use of prohibited means, and torture “for occupation – each occupation – has its own principles,” as the Israeli writer S. Yizhar noted as early as 1967, “but there are no and have never been lovable occupiers.” It is not possible to be a democracy today without a staunch commitment to human rights. The government’s convoluted replies are given in order to hide its use of torture, and attempt to prevent any meaningful change in Israel’s attitude toward Palestinian human rights.

Dr. Ishai Menuhin is the Executive Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and a chairperson for Amnesty International – Israel. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
‘Protecting Palestinians isn’t part of Israel’s ethos’
What the bones remember: Israeli doctors talk torture
Palestinian kids detail abusive interrogations, arrests

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The struggle for Mizrahi recognition isn’t limited to Israel http://972mag.com/the-struggle-for-mizrahi-recognition-isnt-limited-to-israel/97963/ http://972mag.com/the-struggle-for-mizrahi-recognition-isnt-limited-to-israel/97963/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:42:14 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97963 If Israeli Jewish society is going to move forward dealing with its own racial tensions, it needs British and world Jewry to do the same. Generations of Mizrahi Jews in the UK no longer understand their own history: they have been taught to weep for Krakow but never for Sanaa.

By Leeor Ohayon

Deep in the heart of North East London, where South Tottenham meets Stamford Hill, sits an Adenese Jewish community. Here, I was born and raised, born into a mixed Yemenite-Moroccan family in the middle of a Mizrahi Jewish bubble. Within that bubble, where Hebrew was sung in heavy guttural pronunciations, where cussing was done in Arabic, and where women ululated at bar mitzvahs and weddings, we lived an existence away from the “Fiddler on the Roof”-style clichés that have come to dictate society’s understanding of Jews.

In my community a large percentage were ’67 refugees. The last Jews of Aden, who in 1967 boarded British ships with nothing but the clothes on their back, forced to flee suddenly in the midst of the turmoil of the British colonial exit. An ancient community, 2,000 years old, uprooted overnight, made its way to North East London to join an already established Adenese Jewish community that traced its roots to the heyday of the British Empire. Yet, despite their historical place in the British Jewish landscape, their presence remains forgotten by the mainstream Anglo-Jewish narrative. Similarly, no one speaks of the Iraqi-Jewish merchants who set up thriving communities in London and British Mumbai, nor of the Egyptian-Jews who arrived with the empire, or the Iranian-Jewish presence.

Attending British Jewish schools my entire life, it did not take long for me to realize that my Judaeo-Berber surname, brown skin and Mizrahi identity were undesirable. Better yet, they weren’t “really Jewish.” That undesirability, that categorization of what is Jewish, is chained to a non-pluralist Eurocentric reality which dictates Jewish history and culture, from Israel to the UK.

Judaism, we are told, is uniform: it is socially Eastern European, linguistically Yiddish, ethnically White. Judaism is never Brown, Arabic or Middle Eastern.  Subsequently, the Mizrahi Jew is whitewashed from the Jewish historical narrative, which in turn has allowed for his erasure from both Western and Arab historical, social and political discourse surrounding the Middle East. The non-Jewish world thus understands Judaism and Israeli society through Eurocentric-Ashkenazi paradigms provided for them by the Ashkenazi experience, which has anointed itself as the sole narrative of world Jewry. The Mizrahi Jew is expected to partake in a mainstream historical narrative that sees itself between Warsaw and Minsk, but never Baghdad.

Throughout my Jewish education, lessons fixated on the Gaon of Vilna or the Cholent of Shabbat — never on the Baba Sali of Tafilalt or the sweet buttery Jahnoon of Yemenite Jewry. Efforts to inform teachers that at home our rituals differed, it was dismissed; one teacher conceded to the class that “Sephardis have different traditions” with an added eye roll for emphasis.

All of this served to place myself and other Mizrahi British Jews in a state of continuous confusion, dictating a one-size-fits-all Jewish identity that did not reflect the realities of our homes and traditions. Mizrahi Jews are subsequently pressured to Ashkenize, to avoid appearing “too ethnic,” to understand their Jewish identity as not only inferior but as a historical anomaly not worthy of mention in Jewish environments. From the secular to the religious who have adopted the black hats of religious Ashkenazi tradition, a rich aspect of the Jewish world is being extinguished, for the sake of “blending in” with Ashkenazi Jewry.

A significant aspect of the Ashkenization of Judaism is in part credited to the place the Holocaust holds within the Jewish historical narrative. A tragedy which barely touched Mizrahi Jewry apart from small parts of North Africa, which also remains absent from the culture surrounding Holocaust remembrance. Mizrahi Jews across the world are expected to own the Holocaust as if it is their own. In the process, generations of Mizrahi Jews no longer understand their own history: they have been taught to weep for Krakow but never for Sanaa.

The Mizrahi story has been sacrificed at the altar of collective memory, silently accepting that ancient Judaeo-Islamic civilization is not something worth mourning. We are fed the notion of a rigid dichotomy between the Arab and Jewish worlds, as if either were two separate homogenous blocs with no connection to the other. To belong to an Arabic or Middle Eastern culture and have a Jewish identity is an oxymoron — being Polish and Jewish is not.

That lack of recognition and ensuing racism is a product of a British-Ashkenazi mind-set that regulates Judaism to a race, condensing a socio-religious group according to basic physical features — features that we Mizrahi Jews do not posses, features that are strictly European. As a result the Mizrahi Jew is a humorous concept, he does not “look” Jewish; he is Indian or Arab but never Jewish. Not really a Jew, an anomaly.

The Mizrahi struggle in Israel today is one about cultural recognition, historical justice for the crimes inflicted upon it by the Ashkenazi establishment and a demand for a new pluralism, one that brings the Mizrahi story into the fold. However, the Mizrahi struggle is not solely confined to Israel, it is part of a wider struggle for Mizrahi recognition across the Jewish communities of the West. The Mizrahi identity is subsequently swallowed up by an Ashkenazi collective memory and voice; the Mizrahi is expected to conform to the Ashkenazi hegemon.

If Israeli Jewish society is going to move forward dealing with its own racial tensions, it also requires British and world Jewry to do so. If Western Jewish communities begin to understand the Mizrahi in their midst, to recognize his story and to restore his rightful place in the Jewish collective imagination, then maybe, just maybe Israeli Jewish society might begin taking steps regarding its own Mizrahi population.

Related:
‘But you’re not really Mizrahi’: Rewriting an erased identity
Can a Mizrahi girl fit into Israel’s national story?
Re-learning history: A tribute to North Africa’s Jewish artists

Leeor Ohayon is a documentary photographer from London currently in Israel focusing his photographic work on Mizrahi Jewry. 

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Surviving winter after surviving ISIS: A testimony by a Yazidi refugee http://972mag.com/after-surviving-isis-yazidi-refugees-brace-for-harsh-winter/97920/ http://972mag.com/after-surviving-isis-yazidi-refugees-brace-for-harsh-winter/97920/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 18:43:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97920 Since the beginning of August, an estimated 350,000 Yazidi internally displaced persons (IDP) have been living in villages, towns and various refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Turkey. While most of those who found refuge have taken shelter in local school classrooms, construction sites or under bridges, the IDPs who have been placed in refugee camps were housed in tents, some of which were provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Last week, as the first rains hit Iraqi Kurdistan, the Yazidi refugee camps quickly became mud traps. Should refugees not be put in caravans, these camps could potentially become the site of the next disaster to befall the Yazidis. Saad al-Avdal offers a first-hand account from Khanik, one of the largest and most densely populated refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.

By Saad al-Avdal (translated by Idan Barir)

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

I do not know where or how to begin. I simply do not know. Let me start on August 3, 2014, that black and horrific day, when my family, as well as all the Ezidkhan [a general name for all Yezidi people] fell victim to genocide by the gangs of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to the abduction of women and children and to the ruthless killing of anyone who got in their way. On that day, all of us who escaped their filthy murderous hands, were forced to flee to Mount Sinjar (Shingal) and stay there for a more than a week without the food or water that exceeds the minimum we were able to obtain in order to survive the terrible hunger and thirst.

This was the state of affairs in the particular area on the mountain where I stayed with my family. However, in other parts of the mountain there were people who could not even obtain this bare minimum – a piece of bread and some drinking water. As a result, hundreds, potentially thousands, of children, elderly and sick people died while still on the mountain.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

So as not to tire you with the horror stories from Mount Sinjar, let me describe the rescue story: on August 9 and 10, a group of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) opened a safe corridor to rescue us across the Syrian border. The corridor was located roughly 20 miles north of the mountain, through Syrian territory, back to Iraqi Kurdistan territory. As soon as we got to Iraqi Kurdistan, we all breathed a sigh of relief and had a sense of security. However, soon thereafter, we were all engulfed by a sense of distress as more than 450,000 people were displaced and forced to flee to Iraqi Kurdistan and each of us scattered in different regions of the Kurdish region. Some 15,000 Yazidis remained in Syria and another 50,000 crossed into Turkish soil.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 dead and more than 7,000 abductees have been reported by families in the various refugee camps. These figures are but a reminder of the magnitude of the calamity that has hit the Yazidis.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The refugee camp of Khanik, whose land is muddy and swampy, is now home to more than 700 Yazidi families. True, this is Kurdish territory, but the services provided to refugees are terribly scarce. Last Thursday night, following heavy rains, another disaster befell us when the tents in the camp collapsed and the heavy rain flooded them up to our legs. As a result, several elderly people died in the camp and an ambulance that was called to evacuate them ran over two children, killing them instantly.

Because of the difficult situation, we were forced to flee the camp and to find shelter, once more, in the classrooms of local schools. We therefore find ourselves forced to appeal to governmental organizations, human rights organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, UNICEF and all relevant international organizations. We call on them to intervene immediately in this critical situation in order to save the surviving Yazidis, who have already suffered the bloody fate of 74 Firmanat (genocidal campaigns) throughout their history.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

Every time it starts to rain in our camp, we fear for the lives of our children and our elderly, who are exposed to the bitter cold and the danger of slipping on the muddy ground. We also face the danger of fire, which causes us to refrain from turning on the heating in our tents. If this is the situation in the fall, what will be our fate during the harsh Kurdistan winter, unless international aid organizations supply caravans and winter clothing for the IDPs in the camps?

Our suffering is endless, even if we, the Yazidi people, do all we can to remain steadfast in the face of these calamities.

The author is a Yazidi IDP currently living in the refugee camp of Khanik, near Duhok. Prior to the ISIS invasion of Sinjar in early August, he lived in the village Zorava, north of Mount Sinjar.

Related:
Why Israel must help the Kurds in Iraq
The Kurds must not be abandoned again, this time to ISIS

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For near identical crimes, an Israeli and a Palestinian’s fate couldn’t be more different http://972mag.com/for-near-identical-crimes-an-israeli-and-a-palestinians-fate-couldnt-be-more-different/97869/ http://972mag.com/for-near-identical-crimes-an-israeli-and-a-palestinians-fate-couldnt-be-more-different/97869/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:41:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97869 A Palestinian hit-and-run suspect is sent to prison and winds up dead; a Jewish suspected of a similar but deadlier crime in the West Bank is sent home to his family.

By John Brown* (translated by Sol Salbe)

Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian man, September 27, 2008. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian man. (Illustrative photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Three months ago, on July 25, Raed al Jabari, a 35-year-old a father of five, was driving on Route 60 through the West Bank. He apparently fell asleep at the wheel (having earlier taken painkillers). Near the Gush Etzion Junction he hit a woman standing on the road. The woman was slightly injured. Immediately afterwards, he veered sharply back onto the road and turned himself in to Israeli authorities. There he explained what is outlined above.

Al Jabari was arrested and taken to the Ofer military prison. He was brought to the military court within the complex, where in light of these facts, the military judge released him on NIS 8,000 bail ($2140), having decided that he was not dangerous and his action wasn’t a deliberate terrorist act. But those were the days of Operation Protective Edge, and under the cover of the fighting in Gaza, the IDF greatly intensified its repressive actions in the West Bank. Without any additional evidence, the Military Advocate-General decided not to release him and Al Jabari became a “security prisoner.”

On September 9, Jabari was transferred to the Eshel Prison in Beersheba — inside the Green Line Israel — in flagrant violation of international law, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners outside of occupied territory. According to eyewitness accounts, he refused to get out of the vehicle, but was beaten and eventually got out. A few hours later the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) announced he had been found hanged in his cell. His family wasn’t informed of the death. Only after the case was reported in the media and rumors began to reach the family did they contacted the IPS, which at first claimed it knew nothing of the matter, and then confirmed the details. Israeli news site Walla! News reported at the time: “the prisoner who committed suicide, a 37-year-old Palestinian from Hebron, was arrested two months ago during Operation Brother’s Keeper on suspicion of security offenses.”

The findings of the Israeli autopsy have not been published to this date. The Palestinian doctor who was present has been compelled by the court to desist from publishing the results. He did, nevertheless, recommend an additional Palestinian autopsy. I have been unable to get a hold of even those results. However, following the autopsy, Palestinian minister for prisoners claimed that there were no signs of hanging on the body, but that there were signs of violence.

I don’t know which of the accounts is the true one, and for our purposes it does not matter. Either way this is an IPS failure, which followed the military legal regime’s criminal abuse of a person whose only crime, it is reasonable to assume, was of a minor traffic accident, and whose death would be whitewashed using the usual means.

Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, on the same West Bank road near the village of Sinjil, a Jewish Israeli from the settlement of Yitzhar ran over and killed five-year-old Palestinian Inas Shawkat Dar Khalil, also critically injuring four-year-old Omar Asfour. He fled the scene and didn’t summon help. When he arrived at the major settlement of Ofra, he called the police. They sent him home to his family.

The settler — responsible for the death of a child and the critical injuries of another — wasn’t arrested, he was not taken to a military prison, he wasn’t tried without evidence, he wasn’t beaten up, he wasn’t taken away from his family, and he didn’t become a security prisoner.

A Palestinian under similar circumstances who only lightly injured an Israeli woman, had to endure all of that, and died because of it.

Correction:
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that al Jabari struck the Israeli woman with his car on July 26, when in fact the events took place on July 25, 2014. We regret the error.

John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. Translated from Hebrew by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne Australia.

Related:
How Israel’s High Court chooses occupation over international law
Conviction rate for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts: 99.74%

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How the Israeli media covers massacres: Lessons from 1953 http://972mag.com/how-the-media-covers-massacres-lessons-from-1950/97807/ http://972mag.com/how-the-media-covers-massacres-lessons-from-1950/97807/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 14:14:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97807 The killing was justified, the terrorists hid among the civilian population, the West is anti-Semitic, and on second thought, perhaps the whole thing never actually happened. From the 1953 Qibya massacre to Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli media is the same media, and the lies the same lies.

By John Brown

At 9:30 p.m. on the night of October 14, 1953, soldiers from Israel’s Paratroopers Unit as well as Commando Unit 101 fired mortars at the West Bank villages (then under Jordanian control) of Qibya and Ni’lin. Following the barrage, over 130 soldiers swarmed Qibya, laying down land mines on the outskirts of the village in order to prevent Jordanian troops from accessing it. Israeli forces then destroyed 45 homes and killed 69 people, most of them in cold blood by throwing grenades, including those who attempted to flee for their lives. Many were killed under the rubble of their own homes. Approximately two thirds of those killed were women and children. The soldiers received the following order from then-commander Ariel Sharon: “The intention: Attack and conquer the village of Qibya, with maximum damage to humans and property.” The massacre took place in the wake of the murder of three Israelis in the Israeli town Yehud.

Israeli newspapers quoted Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion when reporting that the massacre was committed by “settlers living on the border, some of them lived through Nazi concentration camps, while others are immigrants from Muslim countries, where the tradition of revenge is strong… and their patience ran out. No one will be more sorry than the Israeli government should it turn out that innocent blood was spilled in the revenge attack. The Israeli government vehemently rejects the outlandish and fantastical versions of the story, which claim that Israeli soldiers took part in the operation against Qibya. We examined the issue, and found that not a single military unit was missing from its base on the night of the attack on Qibya.” The Davar daily added that Ben-Gurion’s speech was delivered “from the heart of every Israeli” and that “Arab states are granting refuge to Nazi criminals.” Ben-Gurion would later repeat that very same lie in the Knesset.

Inhabitants of Qibya coming back in their village after its attack by israeli forces, October 1953. (photo:

Inhabitants of Qibya coming back in their village after its attack by israeli forces, October 1953. (photo: unknown)

The newspaper reports from October 1953 are incredible both in terms of the lies they tell, as well as how similar they are to today’s stories. And all this despite the fact that the editors were well aware of reports from around the world that pointed the finger at the Israeli army. They were also aware of the simple logic that the scope of the killings and damage in the village, along with the coordinated efforts in Ni’ilin must have been the work of a well-trained military unit. And yet the spiritual forefathers of Channel 2′s military correspondent Roni Daniel and his ilk still chose to cover up the massacre while justifying it.

After invoking the Holocaust, they used just about everything in their arsenal to try and debunk the claim. The following quotes can be found in Benny Morris’ article “The Israeli Press and the Qibya Operation, 1953,” as well as the National Library of Israel.

Did it even happen? Perhaps Hamas killed them

On October 18th, the editor-in-chief of the Ma’ariv daily, Dr. Azriel Carlibach, wrote the following: “The Security Council will surely condemn Israel over the Qibya incident. But what actually took place in Qibya? Our main argument is that the incident was never investigated by a neutral and objective party.

“Unlike in Yehud, where UN observers did not even visit the Arab village that ostensibly ‘was erased from the face of the earth.’ They did not check nor count the number of people killed there – and we cannot even speak of fifty victims. And they didn’t even bother themselves to investigate who the attackers were, and whether IDF units were even involved in the incident. All Western governments… unquestionably believed the description of… Radio Ramallah, with its exaggerative, Oriental imagination. The station said that ‘half an IDF battalion’ participated in the operation. Where are their tracks and who saw them? Western powers have knowingly bought into Arab propaganda.”

Everything Carlibach wrote is a lie. The UN visited the village, counted the dead and collected testimonies regarding the IDF’s involvement.. Radio Ramallah’s report was accurate.

Look at what’s happening in Syria

On October 19th, in the wake of global condemnation, the Herut daily published the following: “How many innocent Kenyans were killed in cold blood by armed British soldiers as a response to terrorist attacks? In any event, there is no… basis to the claim that the attack was committed by IDF forces. Would anyone be surprised if it turns out that the Israelis on the border became fed up with seeing those who want them dead crossing the borders?”

The anti-Semitic West

On October 19th, Davar published the following: “Therefore we are astounded by the activity [of world powers], especially during these days in the wake of the great commotion by Arab countries after the explosions and victims in the Arab village over our border. No mention of the mother and her two children who were murdered in Yehud, nor all the others who were killed… those did not upset the politicians.”

The killing was justified since the terrorists hid among the civilian population

On October 18, Ma’ariv wrote that “Qibya served as the headquarters of Hassan Salame, one of the heads of the “gangs” during the Arab Revolt in 1937.” This is a lie. The following day, Ma’ariv published an article on page two titled “Israel’s Hasbara is Lacking.”

The only places one could read trustworthy accounts of the incident were in the Communist Party’s Kol Ha’am newspaper, as well as in Uri Avnery’s Ha’Olam Haze. After publishing his account, Avnery was ambushed and had both of his arms broken.

**

Although the lies were revealed over time, not a single person involved in the massacre or its cover up was ever tried. Some of them, like those from Unit 101, turned into cultural assets. Ariel Sharon became prime minister, and a different commander, Meir Har Zion, became an Israeli hero on whose principles today’s commanders are being raised. It is important to remember this the next time you hear someone talking about how Palestinians glorify their terrorists, especially because the Qibya massacre is up there with the worst of Palestinian terror attacks.

It is difficult to guess whether truthful reporting on the massacre would have changed this ethos. Perhaps not. But there is no doubt that the journalists of the time betrayed their profession – a betrayal that, when it comes to the IDF and its operations, continues until this very day. A betrayal that perpetuated the endless cycle of violence in the region, and has allowed IDF commanders to operate unhindered, without legal or public oversight.

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

The media adopts the lies of the state, allowing crimes to be committed until this very day. It actively labels all those who attempt to report the truth as “traitors” or “delusional liars,” thus creating a public ignorant to its own reality – one that dooms itself to a cycle of bloodletting that ends in military solutions – the same ones that are always deployed in the name of security.

Despite the disinformation, whoever wanted to know what happened in Qibya in ’53 or in Operation Protective Edge could have found out. Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote the following after Qibya:

There is a Jewish aspect to the Qibya incident; it is not a moral problem, but rather an entirely religious one. We must ask ourselves: where does this teenager come from, the one who has no qualms about committing such an atrocity, when was he pushed from within or without to commit revenge? The teen, after all, is not part of the rabble, but rather someone who grew ip and was educated on Zionist principles, alongside human and societal values.

John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
For Palestinian citizens, 1956 massacre is not a distant memory
His finest hours: On Sharon’s murderous legacy

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At Open Hillel conference, Jews demand their spot at the communal table http://972mag.com/demanding-a-place-at-the-jewish-communal-table-five-takeaways-from-first-open-hillel-conference/97789/ http://972mag.com/demanding-a-place-at-the-jewish-communal-table-five-takeaways-from-first-open-hillel-conference/97789/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 16:55:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97789 By demanding their voices be heard, Open Hillel students are making dissent within the Jewish community impossible to deny.

By Sarah Anne Minkin

Hillel is the Jewish home for college students. With more than 550 Hillels worldwide, mainly in North America, it is one of the primary sites where young Jews express, explore, and cultivate their Jewishness. So a few years ago when Hillel International, the parent organization, imposed strict guidelines around engagement with Israel, many students were upset to find themselves facing formal prohibitions.

After years of struggles within Hillels over who was in the “big tent” of Jewish community, the guidelines were supposed to clarify the boundaries of what was acceptable within the Jewish community. They prohibit hosting or cosponsoring an event with any organization or person who support BDS or commit Natan Sharansky’s “3 D’s” – demonizing, delegitimizing, or applying a double standard to the state of Israel.

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

The guidelines epitomize the marginalization and exclusion of dissent from within the confines of formal Jewish community on college campuses. Just look at the attempt to establish a JVP chapter at Brandeis, for instance, or the Breaking the Silence controversies at Penn and other places, or the brouhaha over Jews and Palestinians wanting to co-host former Knesset Chairman Avraham Burg at Harvard.

Frustrated students responded by getting organized. In 2013, under the “Open Hillel” banner, students launched a campaign and petition calling on Hillel to cancel its guidelines. Starting at Harvard, the effort caught on; Swarthmore Hillel declared themselves Open in December 2013, followed by Vassar in February 2014 (timeline here).

Open Hillel held its inaugural conference on October 11-13, gathering more than 350 people, mostly students and young alumni, representing a range of backgrounds, interests, and connections to Israel/Palestine. Some arrived as committed BDS-ers planning campaigns on their campuses. Some oppose BDS and align with J Street. Others arrived without a firm position.

The point of Open Hillel is to flex the muscles of inquiry and analysis rather than constrict debate. This aim will lead some to political action and others to inquire more. But in an age in which conversation is preemptively sterilized – speakers barred, ideas silenced – just convening an open conversation is a political act.

Five takeaways from the conference:

1. Students reject the idea that the Israel they are supposed to “love” is somehow separate from the system of ethnic privilege that they reject. That is, the mainstream approach of featuring Israel “beyond the conflict” does not work with this crowd. They want to unpack the ways in which occupation, discrimination against non-Jewish citizens, and the Nakba are central features of this Israel that they are instructed to support. In pursuing the debate, Open Hillel airs big questions with no clear answers.

2. Israel/Palestine is not just a Jewish issue. Organizers invited Palestinians to lead workshops and asked Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi to give a keynote. Where most Jewish organizations might hold “dialogue” sessions with Palestinians behind closed doors, Open Hillel made it clear that hearing from and engaging with Palestinians is an imperative.

Penny Rosenwasser and Judith Butler speak during a panel at the Open Hillel Conference. (photo courtesy of Open Hillel)

Penny Rosenwasser and Judith Butler speak during a panel at the Open Hillel Conference. (photo courtesy of Open Hillel)

3. Intersectionality is a fact. One student shared that her Hillel director said their campus couldn’t deal with Israel in a more complex way because “then we’d have to deal with race and gender, too.” The Open Hillel conference made clear that race, gender, sexuality, and intermarriage are critical issues in the Jewish community overall and in relation to Israel/Palestine.

That the personal is political is a given. Open Hillel made space for articulating, investigating, and surfacing some of the contradictions, challenges, and implacable struggles of being a Jew in America. These struggles are intertwined with, but not limited to, the debate over Israel/Palestine.

4. Fear matters – but it is does not get the final word. The pain of isolation from Jewish family, friends, and institutions; the threat of being sidelined or cast out of Jewish spaces; the heartbreak at hearing yourself called a self-hating Jew or being told you’re not a Jew at all – these are common experiences among Jews who criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. For many, especially those who work in academia or for Jewish organizations, speaking out can lead to the loss of a job, a grant, a promotion. At the same time, anti-semitism is a real and frightening phenomenon that no one wants to abet.

Yet conference organizers committed to holding an open conference, inviting participants and speakers from opposition organizations (including the Zionist Organization of America), welcoming the press and encouraging tweeting. It is a tactic of the right to try to undermine critics of Israel by spying and reporting, threatening exposure to ensure silent compliance. People who have used these measures were at the conference. But instead of closing the conference off and trying to make it safe behind closed doors, organizers welcomed transparency. This powerful decision declares the legitimacy of dissent.

5. Two parallel and enmeshed struggles are at work here: Ensuring justice in Israel/Palestine and expanding and changing the discourse in the U.S. These are both big battles. The Jewish struggle to open up Jewish spaces to candid, wide-ranging, no-holds-barred conversations about the state of Israel is a key factor in both.

Open Hillel students are forming alternative communities, as every dissenting movement does. But in their demand to be allowed a place at the Jewish communal table, they make dissent within the Jewish community visible and impossible to deny.

Only time will tell how this effort will unfold as these students graduate and move on from their college years. But if this inaugural conference offers any guidance, Open Hillel is creating a community for whom serious debate, challenging conventional wisdom, struggling for justice, and wrestling with Israel are the Jewish values to which these committed Jews subscribe.

*For more on the Open Hillel conference, see these articles by Dina Kraft, Batya Ungar-Sasson, Peter Beinart, and conference organizers Naomi Dann and Evan Goldstein.)

Sarah Anne Minkin is a post-doctoral fellow at University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies.

Related:
‘Open Hillel’ seeks to redefine U.S. Jewish debate on Israel-Palestine
Israelis in the U.S. urge the Jewish community to take a closer look at Gaza

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Israel’s High Court chooses occupation over international law http://972mag.com/israels-high-court-prefers-occupation-over-international-law/97727/ http://972mag.com/israels-high-court-prefers-occupation-over-international-law/97727/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:39:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97727 In at least two major decisions, Israel’s top court has shown it is prepared to uphold grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention amounting to war crimes, and to give its implicit endorsement to unlawful discrimination.

By Gerard Horton

Sitting as the High Court of Justice, Israel’s Supreme Court has heard thousands of petitions submitted on behalf of Palestinians living under military occupation since 1967. This gives rise to an unusual situation whereby the highest civilian court in Israel permits individuals, who could be considered as enemy aliens, to submit petitions challenging the actions of Israel’s military in occupied territory.

Some use this as evidence to argue that adequate domestic remedies are available to Palestinians, which in turn creates the impression that no international judicial scrutiny or intervention is warranted. The strength of this argument needs to be assessed with reference to  a number of the Court’s decisions.

Israel's Supreme Court sits as the High Court of Justice, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Israel’s Supreme Court sits as the High Court of Justice, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills)

In 2010, the Court was petitioned in the case of Yesh Din v Minister of Defense on behalf of Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank who were transferred and detained inside Israel. The transfer and detention of Palestinian prisoners outside the West Bank is permitted under Israeli law (Regulation 6 of the Emergency Regulations) but prohibited under international law (Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).

In upholding an earlier decision (the Sejadia case), the Court held that where primary Israeli legislation and international law directly contradict each other, domestic Israeli law prevails, making the transfer lawful. However, basic international legal principles establish that no state may invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty obligation (Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties reflecting customary law). Accordingly, provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention prevail over Israeli domestic law where the two are in conflict, making the transfer and detention of prisoners outside the West Bank illegal. Be that as it may, approximately 90 percent of Palestinian prisoners continue to be transferred and detained inside Israel.

In 2014, the Court was petitioned in the case of the Ministry of Palestinian Prisoners v Minister of Defense on, inter alia, the legality of applying different time periods within which a suspect in the West Bank must be brought before a judge, depending on whether he or she is Palestinian or an Israeli living in a settlement. The current Israeli legal regime operating in the West Bank applies military law to Palestinians and civilian law, with far greater rights and protections, to Israeli settlers.

Accordingly, the legal basis underpinning the petition was that no state is entitled to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction based on race or nationality. In largely dismissing the appeal, the Court held that the differences in the laws applied to Palestinians and Israeli settlers were “fair and proportional” in the circumstances, in effect giving the Court’s imprimatur to a situation amounting to unlawful discrimination.

While it is true that Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation can access the Israeli civilian judicial system in certain circumstances, this is no guarantee that an effective remedy will be available in accordance with international law. On the contrary, as the two decisions referred to above illustrate, the Court is quite prepared to uphold grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention amounting to war crimes (in the case of transfer and detention inside Israel) and to give its implicit endorsement to unlawful discrimination based on race or nationality.

It should also be noted that although Arabic is an official language of the State of Israel, these decisions are only officially available in Hebrew, making them inaccessible to the overwhelming majority of Palestinians.

Gerard Horton is a lawyer and co-founder of Military Court Watch. Gerard has worked on the issue of children prosecuted in the Israeli military courts for the past seven years and is the author of a number of leading reports on the subject.

Related:
Israel’s High Court legalizes segregated communities
How Israel increases its odds of international prosecution
Israel’s new Supreme Court: Liberalism don’t live here anymore

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