+972 Magazine » +972 Blog http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 01 Jul 2015 14:21:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Interview: Church-based BDS and the Jewish voices beside it http://972mag.com/interview-church-based-bds-and-the-jewish-voices-beside-it/108313/ http://972mag.com/interview-church-based-bds-and-the-jewish-voices-beside-it/108313/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 12:54:39 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108313 As more U.S. churches vote on divestment, Jewish Voice for Peace aims to provide key support to a movement often accused of anti-Semitism. An interview with JVP’s advocacy director Sydney Levy.

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Activestills.org

This week, three more U.S. churches are voting on resolutions to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. A United Church of Christ (UCC) committee unanimously approved a divestment resolution Sunday night with a final vote by the church’s general assembly expected Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio.

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The Episcopal Church is debating no fewer than seven resolutions related to Israel and Palestine this week at their national gathering in Salt Lake City. However the head of the U.S. church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, directly opposes divestment. A vote may come as early as Tuesday. The Mennonite Church USA’s national convention in Kansas City begins tomorrow, with broad institutional support for a resolution to withdraw “investments from corporations known to be profiting from the occupation and/or destruction of life and property in Israel-Palestine.”

While final results in all three church decisions may not be known for several days, one can anticipate the response from major Jewish American organizations. If last year’s divestment vote by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is any indication, expect accusations that the resolutions are “one-sided,” “divisive,” and “demonizing.”

While these same organizations have withheld public comment as of this writing, you can expect more of the same. There is no indication that the collapse of the peace process, the bloodshed in Gaza, and the brazenness of the Netanyahu government have in any way affected their response to the broad movement of boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel.

But there are other voices — Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in particular — who are part of the conversations taking place within and about these church-based efforts. Over the past year, JVP’s Facebook “likes” have grown to more than 212,000—compared to 109,000 for AIPAC and 29,000 for J Street, both of which oppose BDS.

I recently spoke with Sydney Levy, JVP’s advocacy director, who is currently in Cleveland supporting the UCC divestment resolution.

(l-r) Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace, Rev.  Emily West McNeill of the United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network and Anna Baltzer of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. (photo: endtheoccupation.org)

(Left to right) Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace, Rev. Emily West McNeill of the United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network and Anna Baltzer of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. (photo: endtheoccupation.org)

What do you see as JVP’s unique role in supporting these church divestment efforts?

We support divestment from companies that are connected to the oppression of Palestinians. We support those efforts whether they happen on campuses, whether they happen in churches or elsewhere.

The issue with churches that is particularly important for us is that from the Jewish side of the Israel lobby, there is an attempt to basically coopt interfaith relations between Jews and Christians to pretend that the only way to have a normal relationship is if Christians agree not to criticize the Israeli government.

When we go to these churches — and we have a long-standing relations with them — we remind them that in this issue, as with many other issues, Jews are divided. There’s a growing number of Jews who are coming to our side, so it is not fair or appropriate to put on hold all interfaith relations because of Israel. We are showing how you can have interfaith relations based on principle as opposed to conditions of convenience.

Churches have been relatively shy because of their concerns about relations with Jewish communities. Because of their understanding of the issue they have moved slowly. For churches in particular, my hope is that this is a wake-up call. What we are telling them is that now is the time to take action.

International Christian activists join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014.

International Christian activists join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Last year a number of Jewish leaders predicted that the PCUSA’s divestment vote would have ‘devastating’ consequences for interfaith relations. Is there any indication that this has taken place?

When we were in Detroit last year, we were saying to the Presbyterians what I think is true: whatever decision they were going to take — for or against divestment — they were going to have a number of Jews upset at them. So their job is not to please the Jews. Their job is to follow their conscience and to do so based on principle.

The proof is in the pudding. Yes, some people have been upset. On the other hand, other Jews have been very grateful for the Presbyterian resolution, and at the end of the day, the sky has not fallen. That’s an important lesson for all of us to remember: that the backlash is not so great.

Interfaith relations are based on the concept of friendship among different faiths, on standing by each other as friends, understanding that people are acting according to their own ethical values. Whether you agree or disagree with the person, if you believe that the person is acting ethically, you are not stopping your friendship.

How would you advise church leaders or others respond to the accusations leveled at BDS: It’s ‘anti-Semitic,’ ‘one-sided,’ ‘unfairly singles out Israel’, etc.?

There is no church that we have worked with that has not taken these issues seriously; the issue of anti-Semitism weighs heavily on their minds. Both because of the historical tradition of the churches and because in the present, nobody wants to be accused of being bigoted.

What is important to remember is that all of these resolutions coming from churches address specific policies of the state of Israel. They do not target Jewishness or Judaism. They’re very careful because they’ve thought about these issues. I have worked with some of these church leaders and they’re extremely principled people. Painting them with a huge brush and saying all of this is anti-Semitic is so rude and offensive and untrue — I cannot express it in any other terms.

Now we have to explain to the churches that this is not a confusion that comes out of nowhere. When Netanyahu goes to Paris or to Washington, D.C., and he says that he is the prime minster of all the Jews, and that Israel represents all the Jews, that is wrong. That is not true. When he says that, he implies that if you criticize Netanyahu and his government, you are criticizing all the Jews.

I believe that the churches are doing really hard work on this, and that those who are committed not only for human rights for Palestinians and for peace for Israelis are also committed to the fight against anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, Jewish groups that are part of the Israel lobby mischaracterize the resolutions. They characterize them as not being friendly to Jews when really the resolutions are not about Jews—they are about Israeli policies. The Israel lobby is actually making the fight against anti-Semitism less effective when they confuse the issue.

 

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli activist confront heavily armed Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against the occupation and separation wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma'sara, April 5, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli activist confront heavily armed Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against the occupation and separation wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma’sara, April 5, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Why do you see BDS as necessary as opposed to other less confrontational tactics?

Every tactic is important. The question is do they work? Dialogue, for example. Dialogue is important but at the end of the day, having Israelis and Palestinians meet together and dialogue — that is not going to bring peace in Israel and Palestine. That’s just not going to let you go very far unless you solve inherent conditions of inequality that are present. That’s the problem with dialogue—it’s important but it’s not enough.

Then there’s the peace process. The United States government has failed in trying to solve this issue. Every Israeli government since 1967 has been pushing for more settlements in the West Bank — this is part of Israeli policy from labor to Likud. But we are now in a particular government in Israel that is very vocal about it and is more right-wing than other governments, if that is even conceivable.

So under the circumstances, what people already knew becomes more obvious and more verbalized. It’s not just about Netanyahu saying that he did not support a two-state solution, it was him saying that too many Arabs were coming to the polls on election day. Racism in Israel is not new. These are things that we have been discussing for a long time. But now you have them verbalized from the prime minister.

So there is no political process at this moment. We know that the Obama Administration is not engaging in any peace process anymore. The United Nations has failed because of the U.S. vetoes. Governments have failed. The answer is with us.

How do you respond to BDS critics who insist that ‘positive investment’ in Palestine is a better approach?

One does not take the place of the other. When I hear about positive investment — which is investing in the Palestinian economy — that is an important thing to do. But you need to have a Palestinian economy to invest in. You need to have an economy where goods can go in and out, where there are customs, where the economy is not kidnapped by the Israeli economy — and that’s what we’re seeing now.

The churches have already invested money in the Palestinian economy. The Europeans have invested money in solar panels for Palestinian villages that should have had electricity and they don’t because Israel does not connect them to the grid. You know what happens to those solar panels? The Israeli army has destroyed them.

On the other hand, boycott and divestments work. We have seen them working. We have seen that because of the boycott of SodaStream the factory is moving away from the West Bank. We have seen Veolia is minimizing its interests in the Israeli-Palestinian economy in the parts that relate to Palestinian oppression. They got out of the business of segregated buses in the West Bank. They didn’t do it out of the kindness of their hearts. They did it because there were many people across the globe that kept on reminding them that it was shameful and that there were economic consequences for doing that.

Activists protesting Israel's attacks on Gaza stand in front of pro-Israel counter-protesters during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC, August 9, 2014.

Activists protesting Israel’s attacks on Gaza stand in front of pro-Israel counter-protesters during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC, August 9, 2014.

To what factors do you attribute increased support for BDS and JVP over the past year?

Particularly since last year, particularly since the attack on Gaza, what we are seeing in growth in JVP is a reflection of the failure of other Jewish institutions in the United States [that are] trying to sweep what is happening in Israel under the rug, trying to explain it — as if it’s explainable. It’s not working anymore. So you have more and more Jews who are looking for answers.

If other Jewish institutions are going to be using universal language, are going to be addressing Jews in a mature way about what is happening in Israel-Palestine, what is happening with the occupation, they will grow too. But if they keep on hiding this issue or using fear tactics — or in the worst cases, using Islamophobia — then yes, they may grow in some circles, but largely they are going to see JVP continue to grow. We are providing a home to the large number of Jews who are saying that what is happening is not okay.

We want the Jewish community at large to address this issue thinking about Israelis and Palestinians as human beings that are equally endowed with human rights, and not only as a conversation about what is good for the Jews what is good for Israel.

There is a challenge to every American Jew, every Israeli Jew who has questions about BDS, if you believe that Palestinians are being oppressed. If you don’t, then we should have another conversation. But we can go company by company. If we are talking about Caterpillar: there are 20,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem that are under threat of home demolition. That means that at any moment, day or night, a bulldozer can come, they throw your stuff into the street and they bulldoze your house.

If you believe that that is unethical, then what are you doing about it? Dialogue? Are you dialoging with Palestinians about it? Are you waiting for the U.S. government to solve this issue?

Those are questions that the Jewish American community needs to ask itself. We have our answers. People can have other answers. But we cannot just ignore the questions.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is a freelance journalist and member of the Activestills photography collective.

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A vicious cycle of lawlessness in the West Bank http://972mag.com/a-vicious-cycle-of-lawlessness-in-the-west-bank/108337/ http://972mag.com/a-vicious-cycle-of-lawlessness-in-the-west-bank/108337/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 08:30:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108337 The IDF has all but refused to fulfill its obligation to hold Israeli settlers accountable under the law and to protect Palestinians from them.

By Eyal Hareuveni

Settlers throw stones at Palestinians as IDF soldiers stand by in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya. April 30, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Settlers throw stones at Palestinians as IDF soldiers stand by in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya. April 30, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

For nearly 50 years the Israeli army has been treating settler violence against Palestinians as a decree of fate, some sort of force majeure that trumps it in the territories otherwise under its control and responsibility. In other words, the army has dealt with the phenomenon without actually dealing with it.

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International law, however, is quite clear that the occupying power, the Israeli army in this case, has an obligation to preserve the rule of law and public order in those territories. In countless rulings, the Israeli High Court has even emphasized that it is a basic and fundamental obligation — but the IDF paid no heed.

Yesh Din published a new report this month, “Standing Idly By,” documenting the phenomenon of Israeli soldiers doing just that in the face of offenses by Israeli citizens against Palestinians in the West Bank. The report highlights how soldiers don’t detain or arrest Israelis involved in violent incidents, how they don’t secure crime scenes so that evidence can be collected, how they don’t document such incidents and how they don’t file complaints with the police. Numerous government-sanctioned and human rights NGO reports have addressed this phenomenon since the early 1980s, and yet, for some reason, the IDF has not eradicated it.

Read the full report: ‘Standing Idly By

In 2004, in response to an ACRI High Court petition demanding that the army protect Palestinian farmers in the olive harvest, the IDF was forced to answer for its refusal to fulfil its obligations to enforce the law and maintain public order. Then, too, the army tried to pass on its responsibility to the police. The High Court justices weren’t convinced by the army’s arguments. They expressed serious criticism of its “helplessness” and “oversights” in enforcing the law; the justices ordered the army to “immediately correct its distortions.”

However, the army once again dragged its feet. Only in 2009, three years after the ruling on the olive harvest, did the army’s legal advisor for the territories send — for the first time — a fact sheet to commanders clarifying soldiers’ obligation to intervene in crimes committed by Israelis. In 2013, four years after that, the state comptroller found that army’s Central Command had not made any efforts to implement the High Court ruling or the legal advisor’s memo to commanders: soldiers were not trained to fulfil their role in enforcing the law; the very concept of law enforcement wasn’t mentioned in general orders; senior officers testified about the army’s failure to fulfil its obligatory role.

Settlers attack Palestinians in Qusra as IDF soldiers stand by (photo Sa'ad Al-Wadi)

Settlers attack Palestinians in Qusra as IDF soldiers stand by (photo Sa’ad Al-Wadi)

Only in the summer of 2014 did the Central Command enact the procedures for law enforcement against Israeli citizens published by the attorney general in 1998, eight years after the High Court decision. And yet, soldiers still do not know what obligations and authorities they have as law enforcement officers. They still do not act to prevent harm to Palestinians or to ensure that criminals are brought to justice. Dozens of testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence indicate that the prevailing command culture in the army is to not deal with settlers. In one such testimony, an enlisted soldier in the Artillery Corps summarized what he believed he was authorized to do when faced with Israeli law-breakers: “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

The phenomenon of soldiers standing idly by demonstrates one aspect of the colossal failure of the rule of law in the West Bank. According to Yesh Din data, in the rare cases when Palestinians do file police complaints about crimes committed by Israeli citizens, and when police actually open an investigation, the chance of an indictment results in a conviction is a mere 1.9 percent.

Back in 1983, the Israeli-government sanctioned Karp Commission already described the justice system, army and police’s failure to enforce the rule of law in the occupied territories as a vicious cycle. In order to break out of that unjust cycle the army must establish clear orders that clearly detail soldiers’ obligations when encountering crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians. It must also codify standing idly by as a crime in the military’s criminal code.

The author is a researcher for Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights and the author of the report, ‘Standing Idly By.’

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If nuclear deal fails, we can kiss Iran’s moderates goodbye http://972mag.com/if-nuclear-deal-fails-we-can-kiss-irans-moderates-goodbye/108310/ http://972mag.com/if-nuclear-deal-fails-we-can-kiss-irans-moderates-goodbye/108310/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 16:58:07 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108310 Should Iran and the West fail to come to an agreement, the battle will no longer be between the right and left, but rather between democratic forces and totalitarian ones.

By Ahmad Rafat

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (World Economic Forum)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (World Economic Forum)

There is no doubt that the negotiators, whom these days are working to achieve a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear plan, do not want to drive a stake through these talks. Even France, which has been playing “bad cop” to the U.S.’s “good cop” in these meetings, is interested in reaching an agreement. It seems that the only country that stands nothing to gain is Russia (which protects the interests of Iran), although for reasons that extend beyond the scope of this article, it cannot publicly express its reservations regarding the deal.

A number of questions on this issue have arisen, and each one deserves its own analysis: should a comprehensive agreement be reached, what will be the consequences? Should talks fail, what will be the fallout? What are the pros and cons of each of these scenarios?

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The answers to these questions greatly depend on the geographical origin and political outlook of the person answering, and in practice may vary greatly. The response of an Iranian who opposes the Islamic Republic will be inherently different than that of someone from Tehran’s political echelon. The same can be said about a Russian diplomat whose response will likely be the exact opposite than that of an American diplomat. And we must take into account, of course, that the response of an Democratic American diplomat will be different than that of a Republican.

I write this only to clarify that the following analysis is the work of a journalist whose opinion differs from that of the Islamic Republic and who has worked for many years on issues of human rights, and thus analyzes the aforementioned questions from this angle.

The historical significance of a comprehensive agreement, which will put an end to the perpetual crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear plan, is clear to all. But will this deal—if it is indeed signed, and more importantly if it does not turn into shreds within a few months time—truly solve the international community vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic? What about the countries in the region? Or most of all: the citizens of Iran themselves? There is no doubt that the answer to these questions are negative.

The Iranian authorities have stated time and again that the deal cannot and need not set the stage for normalizing relations with the United States—”the Great Satan.” Due to the capacities of civil society both within and outside the country, the Iranian regime knows well that normalizing relations with the United States, and the international community more generally, could lead to a major crisis inside Iran.

The only incentive that has led Iran to sit at the negotiating table and hold direct talks with the U.S. is the desire to put an end to the sanctions that have paralyzed the economy. It would be a mistake to assume that the architects of the talks were President Rouhani or his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The talks with the U.S. began months before Rouhani was elected president, during the rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by order of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and with the mediation of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz Stand With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy Salehi Before Meeting in Switzerland, March 16, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz Stand With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy Salehi Before Meeting in Switzerland, March 16, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

But the most important question of all is the following: if, by removing sanctions, Iran is able to get hold of its confiscated oil dollars, will it continue to play by the rules of the game as laid out in the agreement?

And another important question: will this deal bring about any changes in the Islamic Republic’s regional policies?

There is no doubt that Iran’s nuclear plan is crucial in the context of its insidious, regional policies. Even today, when Iran has yet to develop a bomb, the West cannot properly deal with the Islamic Republic’s hegemonic proclivities in the region. In fact, Iran has a central role in every one of the region’s many crises. From Iraq to Syria, from Gaza to Yemen, from Afghanistan to Lebanon, Iran is omnipresent. That isn’t to say that other countries in the region, such as Israel, Qatar or Saudi Arabia do not play a decisive role themselves.

Will Iran’s government, which uses its depleted budget to provide billions in loans to Syria, sends weapons to Yemen and provides Hamas with missiles (through Hezbollah), cease its wasteful adventurousness after receiving its oil money? Without a doubt, the answer to this question is negative.

We are speaking about a regime in which certain regions, such as the Baluchestan district—which according to government sources has a poverty rate of 70 percent—recently provided Venezuela—a country on an entirely different continent—$3 billion in aid. Will the Islamic Republic lessen its influence on Latin America—the backyard of the United States—after the nuclear deal is signed? The answer to this question is also negative.

Read: Why the Lausanne deal protects both Israel and Iran

As a human rights activist, I cannot ignore the history of the Islamic Republic, which includes one of the most tragic and dark periods in the modern history of Iran. When the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, was resigned to accept the UN Security Council’s truce that put an end to the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, he executed nearly 5,000 opponents of the regime who at the time were serving their sentences in prison. Every time the Iranian regime has had to soften its foreign policy, it has in turn increased the pressure on its internal dissidents. There is no reason to assume that things will be different this time around, meaning that the opponents of the Islamic Republic will have to pay the price for Iran’s compromise vis-a-vis the international community.

This policy has many reasons behind it. One of the main ones is the desire to create an atmosphere of fear inside the country, so that opponents don’t get the impression that external concessions will also mean internal concessions.

Now let us analyze the possibility that the talks fail and no deal is reached. In this case, there is no doubt that parts of the regime—specifically the ones who are considered “moderates” or “reformists”—will have to leave political arena and place the reins in the hands of the fundamentalists and the extremists. This scenario is far more dangerous than the first: Iran’s pyromania-style foreign policy will only deepen, internal repression will grow, and the role of Russia and China in entrenching the crisis vis-a-vis the West will become clearer. It would be safe to assume that the Iranian regime will become Russia’s main ally and form a new bloc against the West and the United States.

Russia is undoubtedly hoping to re-create a bi-polar geopolitical reality. Should the talks fail, Iran will become Putin’s natural ally—one that can garner support in the Muslim world. This time, it won’t be a battle between right and left, but rather democratic forces against totalitarian ones.

Ahmad Rafat is a journalist and Iranian television producer. He lives outside of Iran. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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The only real danger of Gaza flotillas http://972mag.com/the-only-real-danger-of-gaza-flotillas/108294/ http://972mag.com/the-only-real-danger-of-gaza-flotillas/108294/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 12:52:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108294 Activists on the Freedom Flotilla must understand that the blockade on Gaza is constantly evolving, and that the tactics of yesteryear may no longer be relevant. Putting the spotlight on humanitarian supplies allows Israel to divert attention from the worst parts of the blockade.

By Itamar Sha’altiel

Palestinians drive through a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf neighborhood, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015.

Palestinians drive through a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf neighborhood, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015.

The truth is that after five years it’s getting a little old. Israeli naval commandos once again take over a boat to Gaza, and again, it happens without any fuss. The Israeli defense minister once again claims that there is no blockade on Gaza, and once again the prime minister tells the activists they should be sailing to Syria.

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There is, of course, clearly a blockade on Gaza. It requires massive quantities of unabashed gall to claim otherwise. Israel forbids the entry and departure of boats to and from Gaza; it does not allow it to build an airport; it forbids anybody from entering a 100-meter no-man’s land inside Gaza; it decides what building materials can be imported to Gaza and for which projects; it permits trade with the West Bank, but only on restrictive terms that it sets; and it restricts the entry and exit of people in and out of the Strip. It could be that the Israeli defense minister believes all that is necessary to protect the security of the State of Israel, but let’s be honest — it’s a blockade, clear and simple.

But there is something else that must be said: the current flotilla is driven by actual changes in policy. When Israeli naval commandos took over the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, Israel had been irrationally and disturbingly banning the import of civilian goods and products into Gaza for three full years. Israeli soldiers were in charge of deciding whether or not toilet paper would be allowed into Gaza, whether chocolate would be considered a “luxury” in any given week or whether it would even be allowed in in the first, and there was the infamous ban on the import of coriander. That’s not the case any more. Not since Israeli commandos took over the Marmara. The blockade was altered.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that Israel gets so annoyed by these flotillas. They misrepresent the blockade. I am sure that the organizers of these flotillas are simply doing what they know to be effective. And indeed, these flotillas succeed in making the world talk about Gaza for a week or so — that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

The Marianne, one of the three boats that attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the 'Freedom Flotilla' in June 2015. (photo: Ship to Gaza)

The Marianne, one of the three boats that attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ in late June 2015. (photo: Ship to Gaza)

But Gaza does not need flotillas in order to bring in solar panels, medications or coriander. It’s simply not needed. And attempts to argue otherwise, or even to imply as much, are deceitful and divert the public attention from other, very urgent problems created by Israel’s policy vis-a-vis Gaza. You see, the moment you identify the import of consumer goods as the problem, all the Israeli defense minister has to do is to point out the number of trucks that go into Gaza each day and to declare that there is no blockade. That is nothing more than despicable theatrics and it’s time to stop enabling it.

Israeli policy toward Gaza has changed dramatically over the years, and it is far better today than it was in 2010, or even 2014. Israel is now permitting goods from Gaza to enter the West Bank, and temporarily, even into Israel; the number of people who are allowed to cross through the Israeli-controlled Erez border crossing has nearly tripled; and building materials are being allowed in. All that must be acknowledged.

On the other hand, Israel’s grip over the Strip is tightly-sealed. And while talk can be nice, it is still Israeli politicians who are talking amongst themselves about establishing a port in a territory where, according to their boastful proclamations, the occupation has ended; bringing in building materials is allowed under strict supervision, but for some reason wooden panels are not [Hebrew].

And while Israel allows more people to leave through Erez, crossing from Gaza to the West Bank is limited by a draconian list of criteria, which allows the same person to leave the Strip to visit his sick mother, yet forbids him from leaving the following day to mourn with his brother. The rights of Gaza’s population to study, pray, and meet family members is still viewed as a privilege — a bargaining chip that can be taken away at any moment. Meanwhile, the policy of isolating Gaza from the West Bank is as strong as ever. While this doesn’t seem to line up with the stated intentions of the humanitarian flotilla, it is still important, central and inseparable part of the lives of far too many people. It needs to stop.

Itamar Sha’altiel is the new media director at Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. This article represents his own views. A version of this article was also published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Khader Adnan reaches deal to end hunger strike, will be released http://972mag.com/khader-adnan-reaches-deal-to-end-hunger-strike-will-be-released/108265/ http://972mag.com/khader-adnan-reaches-deal-to-end-hunger-strike-will-be-released/108265/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 22:03:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108265 Adnan has been on hunger strike for over 50 days in protest of being held without charge, trial or being convicted of a crime.

By Yael Marom

The Palestinian former prisoner Khader Adnan works at his bakery in the West Bank Village of Qabatiya near Jenin, June 21, 2013. Adnan is a former administrative detainee in Israeli jails. He was released on April 18, 2012, after being on hunger strike for 66 days. He inspired more than 1,200 Palestinian prisoners to start their own hunger strikes, For the Palestinians, he became the symbol of the hunger strike strategy. (Photo by: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ Activestills.org)

The Palestinian former prisoner Khader Adnan working at his bakery in the West Bank Village of Qabatiya near Jenin, June 21, 2013. Adnan was released in 2012 after a hunger strike but re-arrested in 2014. (Photo by: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ Activestills.org)

Palestinian administrative detainee Khader Adnan will end his 50-plus-day hunger strike after reaching a deal with Israeli authorities that will see him released on July 12, according to members of Knesset who were privy to the negotiations late Sunday night.

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The deal was expected to be signed in the early morning hours on Monday, according to Balad MK Jamal Zahalka. “The strike will be over the moment the deal is signed,” and Adnan will agree to receive medical treatment, MK Zahalka added.

Zahalka and other members of Knesset from the Joint List went to the hospital Sunday night at the behest of Adnan’s family, who were holding a vigil.

Adnan’s health seriously deteriorated in recent days and his family feared he might die at any moment. His father, mother and children arrived at the hospital Sunday evening and declared that they would not leave until an agreement for Adnan’s release was signed.

Adan’s wife was permitted to see him Sunday night in the hospital bed to which he has been shackled for weeks.

Dozens of activists joined the Joint List MKs at the hospital to support the family.

Khader Adnan's father (left), wife (center) and daughter (right) wait outside his room at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Israel, June 29, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Khader Adnan’s father (left), wife (center) and daughter (right) wait outside his room at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Israel, June 29, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

“This is not only a victory for Khader Adnan, the administrative detainee, it is a victory of human spirit up against forces of oppression,” MK Haneen Zoabi said of the agreement.

Under British Mandate-era emergency regulations kept on the books by Israel, authorities can hold Palestinians in administrative detention without charge, trial or conviction—indefinitely.

This was Adnan’s second extended hunger strike against his administrative detention. In 2012, Adnan won his release in a similar deal that ended a hunger strike.

MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (right) speaks with Khader Adnan's wife, Randa (center) and MK Osama Sa'adi at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Israel, June 29, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (right) speaks with Khader Adnan’s wife, Randa (center) and MK Osama Sa’adi at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Israel, June 29, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

He was re-arrested by Israeli authorities last summer in a massive arrest raid conducted in the aftermath of a deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. Authorities accuse him of being an active member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but have not charged him with any related crime.

According to Palestinian prisoner support organization Addameer, Israeli authorities were holding 414 Palestinians in administrative detention as of April 1, 2015, including a number of elected members of the Palestinian parliament.

The Israeli government made a number of concessions to end a mass hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in 2012, including promises to reduce Israel’s use of administrative detention. By admitting that its use could be reduced, Israel’s public security minister seemingly admitted that it was being used unnecessarily.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where a version of this article was originally published in Hebrew. Read it here. Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man contributed to the English version.

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Who’s afraid of Israeli hate crimes? http://972mag.com/whos-afraid-of-israeli-hate-crimes/108233/ http://972mag.com/whos-afraid-of-israeli-hate-crimes/108233/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 15:48:51 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108233 What the government calls ‘nationalist crimes’ are not random acts of violence—they have a clear goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Huda Abu Ranni inspects the damage to her home, which was attacked and burned by suspected Jewish extremists using petrol bombs, in the village of Abu Falah, northeast of Ramallah, on November 23, 2014.

Huda Abu Ranni inspects the damage to her home, which was attacked and burned by suspected Jewish extremists using petrol bombs, in the village of Abu Falah, northeast of Ramallah, on November 23, 2014.

From time to time, this country is shaken by a particularly severe wave of nationalistically-motivated hate crimes against Palestinians, often in the form of arson or desecration of a religious site. After each such incident, we are faced with the usual ritual: senior government or police officials stare into the cameras with a determined gaze; they call the acts unconscionable; they say they take the incident with a full measure of responsibility and severity; they claim that this is not how a Jewish state acts; they promise that zero tolerance will be shown. These rituals usually appear against a backdrop of fear that this time the cup will finally runneth over, shattering the sacred “quiet” in the West Bank. After a short while, however, everything is back to normal.

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We can see just how seriously the government takes hate crimes from the following case. On July 26, 2010, a large group of Israeli marauders, whom eyewitnesses said came from the direction of the settlements of Yitzhar and Har Bracha, allegedly made their way to land belonging to the nearby Palestinian village of Burin. According to witnesses, the marauders burned hundreds of olive trees, some of them older than a century. They then attacked the villagers with stones and, in a few cases, with clubs, after which they stoned the houses of the village. On that same day, some of the victims lodged a complaint with the Israeli police.

In August 2011—more than a year after the incident—the police informed Yesh Din that the case was turned over to the attention of a prosecutor; that is the last the organization heard of the story for two years. In August 2013, the Shomron Prosecution Unit bothered to update Yesh Din that they had closed the case back in December 2012. Three months later, we received the investigation material of a three-year-old incident, and attempted to see whether there is any point in appealing the decision to close the case.

A man inspects Qurans damaged in a suspected arson hate crime against a mosque in the West Bank village of Al Mughayir, November 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A man inspects Qurans damaged in a suspected arson hate crime against a mosque in the West Bank village of Al Mughayir, November 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

To the utter surprise of Yesh Din’s attorneys, who were under the impression that the police closed the case for lack of evidence, the files contained quite a bit of evidence. At the same time and place of the incident, three Border Policemen detained two Israeli civilians–A. and M.–after police officers testified that they saw them throwing stones at Palestinians.

The testimony of a cop, as well as the detention of suspects at the scene, is generally enough cause for prosecutorial action, particularly since the government takes hate crimes seriously, as it repeatedly claims. Therefore, Yesh Din appealed the decision to close the case in December 2013, demanding that A. and M. be prosecuted on suspicion of throwing stones and assaulting an officer. Yesh Din also demanded the continuation of an investigation into the question of who attacked one of our clients with an iron rod and set his olive grove on fire.

This is when events took a surrealistic turn. In response to the appeal, the prosecution claimed that they are well aware that there is enough evidence to indict A. and M., but said it would not do so—since it sees no reason to interfere with the decision of the Police Prosecution Unit, which closed the case for lack of public interest.

According to the prosecution, since both sides engaged in stone throwing; there is no precise information about how the incident began; and there was no equivalent interrogation of Palestinian suspects, there is simply no public interest in putting the Israeli marauders on trial.

To quote Yesh Din’s sarcastic reply, sent in April by Attorney Noa Amrami:

To sum, two Israeli civilians woke up one morning, arrived at the village of Burin and the homes and land of our clients, threw stones at them and beat them. Is there any doubt here as to who is the attacker and who the defender? With all due respect, we are not dealing with a kids’ squabble at school here, but with a criminal, methodical action of terrorizing the villagers of Burin, who suffer from the violence of the Israeli civilians residing in the region.

What the government prefers to call nationalist crimes—what we call ideological crimes—has become a national scourge. This is not an incident of random violence, but rather a form of violence with a clear political goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land so it may be transferred to Israeli civilians. The police’s failure at resolving these crimes is systematic and well documented: out of 1,045 investigation cases reviewed by Yesh Din in 2005-2014, only 7.4 percent turned into indictments. 85.2 percent of the cases were closed due to the police’s investigative failure, usually because the police failed to find suspects or gathering enough evidence to try them.

The village of Burin is a stark example of criminal actions carried out by Israeli civilians: in the years 2005-2013 Yesh Din documented 103 incidents of criminal activity, mostly violent, by Israeli civilians against Palestinians from the village. Yesh Din has documented a series of violent actions–both by Israeli forces and Israeli civilians—toward the villagers. If we were to take the official rhetoric about the need to fight ideological crime seriously, we would expect any incident in Burin be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.

Yet in practice, even when the police detains suspects and the prosecution has enough evidence to indict them, the case is somehow closed. This time the excuse was “lack of public interest.” Bear this in mind during the next press conference when the police make solemn promises to do its best.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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The day they strip me of my citizenship http://972mag.com/on-the-day-they-strip-me-of-my-citizenship/108226/ http://972mag.com/on-the-day-they-strip-me-of-my-citizenship/108226/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 13:45:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108226 When the deputy interior minister demands Palestinian citizens renounce our citizenship, he only exposes the true nature of the Israeli state. After all, without us there is no ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’

By Samah Salaime

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the March of Return, in the lands of the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, April 23, 2015. (photo: Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the March of Return, in the lands of the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, April 23, 2015. (photo: Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

We, the rowdy Arabs who live in the democratic state of the Jewish people, formally apologize for disrupting a Knesset plenum on the Citizenship Law, which denies status in Israel to Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens. So what if the discussion was about our future, our place in society, our fate—we have no right to state our opinions.

Since you were already there, dear coalition members, and since the cowards of the Zionist Union scurried back into their holes when it came time to vote, you should have just finished us off. You know, since you have such an overwhelming majority in the Knesset.

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But why stop there? You should have also passed a law that forces the Arab MKs to kiss the hands of their Jewish masters at the entrance to the Knesset, and bow down before the ministerial table before taking their seats. Why make do with a mere “thanks?”

Believe me when I say that I did my best not to look through the history books so as to not “compare” to the past. But with every new low by our elected officials, the thought of the racist laws and remarks directed at the entirety of Israel’s Arab population (and those who represent it) with every week passing week—I feel like we all must take a step back, breathe deeply, and dare to look at the difficult past. Perhaps then we will wake up and change direction before it is too late.

On the fast lane to the bottom

I looked through the history books to find out exactly when the Third Reich began to entrench its rule through the democracy that presented it its power on a silver platter. I found, unsurprisingly, that it began by violating civil rights: one by one, discriminatory laws were passed against the Jewish minority in Germany. Everything was done in order to promise a pure demography. An unapologetic policy, which promised a beautiful future at the expense of the minorities. A policy that won the hearts and minds of the majority of the nation—the same German nation that felt victimized and humiliated in the wake of the First World War, and pushed the blame onto the Jews.

One example is the law that forbade marriage between Jews and non-Jewish German citizens. In order to enforce the law, the regime invaded its subjects’ privacy: many couples were forced to break up, ruining countless families. Does this description remind you of the Citizenship Law in Israel? The same one that was being spoken about during the Knesset plenum on Wednesday? Because honestly we cannot find a better analogy.

You will be surprised to hear that the attacks on Germany’s Jews began with an all-out attack on culture: closing newspapers and theaters (in case Culture Minister Miri Regev is reading). Then came separation on trains (in case Minister of Segregated Buses Moshe Ya’alon is reading) and the kidnapping of Jewish men and women who married non-Jews (what exactly is Lehava doing here?).

MK Miri Regev points on a map of the city of Rahat, during a Negev tour by the Israeli Knesset Internal Affairs Committee regarding the Prawer plan, in the Bedouin city of Rahat, November 24, 2013. (Photo: Activestills.org)

MK Miri Regev points on a map of the city of Rahat, during a Negev tour by the Israeli Knesset Internal Affairs Committee regarding the Prawer plan, in the Bedouin city of Rahat, November 24, 2013. (Photo: Activestills.org)

The good news is that we are not there—we have not yet reached the bottom. The bad news is that we are going full-speed in the fast lane.

I am afraid to think about the endgame, and I am aware that the gulf between what is happening here and the Holocaust is enormous. But the political processes and the government’s use of its power to solidify hatred and incite against Arab citizens—not to mention the justifications that Israeli Jews hear from their leaders—permeate the public consciousness. We can no longer say that these are random remarks from people on the street, and we cannot blame Netanyahu for his racist utterances, after which he will apologize and everything goes back to normal. The burning of churches and mosques has become commonplace, and attacks on Palestinians are a thing of the ordinary. These incidents have become part of our daily routine here, and not only during the war on Gaza.

The fear-mongering over Iran, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Yemen, etc.; the hatred and utter dehumanization of Palestinians; the sanctifying of the Jewish people and the celebration of its so-called redemption; and the growing control over natural resources and the media—all of these put together form a perfect recipe for a tyrannical regime.

The masks are off

But I believe there is good in every bad, even when it comes to the violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel: while the Palestinians in Gaza have been besieged for nearly a decade, and while the West Bank has been cut in half, with settlements spreading on every hilltop at our expense, we—Palestinian citizens—continued to do the Jewish people a favor. Without us, there is no “only democracy in the Middle East.” We stayed here after the war and accepted the rules of the game.

But here is the good: now that the masks are off, everyone is playing for real. The leaders in charge no longer need to hide behind remarks that neither they nor the world believe in. We are playing “al Makshouf” as we say in Arabic—the gloves are off and we go after whoever stays.

You must admit that there is a certain ease that comes with this. When a hateful person such as Deputy Interior Minister Yaron Mazuz speaks to the Knesset and says what he wants without apologizing or stuttering, we are no longer surprised by anything.

Israel may win, may occupy with all its power, army, weapons, legislature and government—drunk on its own power and unchecked control. And perhaps it is true that while all the Arab states around us are unraveling, the rest of the world acts hypocritically toward Israel. But if things continue this way, the State of Israel will remain naked for the world to see.

I have no problem returning my blue ID card, which was always intended to tie me, the little woman, to the Big State. The ID that was meant to be a symbol of the contract between myself and the rest of society. My citizenship, as well as everyone else’s—Arabs and Jews, minority and majority, irrespective of religion, race, or sex— is a right, not charity. Providing me with citizenship is an obligation, not a favor. Should my citizenship be taken away, the blame will fall squarely on the state.

Should my citizenship be taken away, I will tattoo my identification number on my left arm, along with 1.2 million other Palestinians. This does not mean that I will disappear from here. I am a daughter of the land, here I will be buried for generations. And despite everything, I still believe in humanity. Despite the establishment and the regime, I still believe that logic will defeat the madness, that humanity will decry racism.

Meanwhile, Israel will go to war by itself—it won’t have any partners in the next one. It certainly doesn’t have me.

Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he/she is a blogger. Read it here.

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Ban Ki-moon and the detention of Palestinian children http://972mag.com/ban-ki-moon-and-the-detention-of-palestinian-children/108155/ http://972mag.com/ban-ki-moon-and-the-detention-of-palestinian-children/108155/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 14:01:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108155 The connection between settlements and the military regime that detains some 1,000 Palestinian each year is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

By Gerard Horton

Palestinian children with Israeli soldiers during the weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh, May 29, 2015. (Natasha Roth)

Palestinian children with Israeli soldiers during the weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh, May 29, 2015. (Natasha Roth)

In recent weeks some media attention has focused on whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon would, or would not, include Israel on the UN’s list of states responsible for violating children’s rights in armed conflict. This follows the receipt of a draft report in which Ban’s special envoy for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended that Israel should be listed, citing as one reason, the high proportion of children killed during last summer’s war in Gaza.

In the end, Ban opted not to include Israel or Hamas on the list following what media sources described as intense pressure from the U.S. and Israel.

The list in question is attached to a report submitted to the Security Council by the secretary-general around this time every year. The report considers 23 conflict situations which heavily impact children, including Israel/Palestine. For the third consecutive year the report has included a section on the treatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank.

According to the report, the UN has obtained 122 affidavits from children detained by the Israeli military in 2014. The report confirms that the information “has been documented, vetted and verified for accuracy by the United Nations.” According to the secretary-general, the children reported being subjected to “ill-treatment, such as beatings, being hit with sticks, being blindfolded, being kicked and being subjected to verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence.”

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military rule over the West Bank, it is worth considering these allegations in the wider context. According to UN sources, since June 1967, approximately 760,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained by Israeli forces. Some of these individuals were released within hours or days, while others continue to be prosecuted in military courts and imprisoned. The military authorities acknowledge that around 1,000 Palestinian children from the West Bank are currently detained each year, of which those 12 years and above, can be prosecuted in military courts. Most are accused of throwing stones.

Read +972′s full coverage: Children Under Occupation

These recent allegations do not come out of the blue. In 2013, UNICEF published a report following a review of over 400 affidavits in which it concluded that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process.” Again in February 2015, UNICEF warned that “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”

Allegations of this nature have also been raised by the U.S. State Department in its annual global report on human rights for a number of years now.

While these allegations are not new, few ask the question – why? One recent report released by a group of lawyers does ask this question and concludes that there is a clear link between the detention of Palestinians and the policy of successive Israeli governments of transferring parts of its own civilian population into West Bank settlements.

Consider this: there are now about 370,000 Israeli civilians living in the West Bank amongst 2.7 million Palestinians. These figures do not include East Jerusalem. The task of guaranteeing the protection of these Israelis living in what international law considers to be occupied territory falls on the Israeli military. And although there are highly publicized outbreaks of violence from time-to-time, it is important to note that according to the U.S. State Department no settlers were killed in the West Bank as a result of the conflict in 2012. Now how do you suppose any military would go about achieving this remarkable result?

The Israeli military protects its civilians in the West Bank by securing and suppressing the immediate territory around each settlement. This also involves securing the extended network of roads used to link the settlements to each other and back to Israel. Evidence of just how the military goes about this task has been well documented by former Israeli soldiers and members of Breaking the Silence.

Essentially, the military adopts a policy of “making its presence felt” in the Palestinian towns and villages situated in close proximity to settlements or strategic roads. The objective is to ensure that swift punishment follows any act of resistance, big or small (reactive strategy), but more importantly, that the Palestinian communities are subjected to constant intimidation until they understand that resistance to the settlement project is not a viable option (proactive strategy). The effective combination of these reactive and proactive strategies is intended to intimidate the Palestinian population into submission, thereby enabling the settler population to go about their daily lives, by-and-large, with little disturbance.

This strategy was succinctly articulated by one soldier in a testimony describing the tactics used to suppress Palestinian villages in the Nablus region of the West Bank as follows:

A patrol goes in and raises hell inside the villages. A whole company may be sent in on foot in two lines like a military parade in the streets, provoking riots, provoking children. The commander wants more and more friction, just to grind the population, make their lives more and more miserable, and to discourage them from throwing stones, to not even think about throwing stones at the main road. Not to mention Molotov cocktails and other things. Practically speaking it worked. The population was so scared that they shut themselves in. They hardly came out.

It is no coincidence that in 200 cases recently submitted to the UN involving Palestinian children detained in the West Bank, every child lived within a few thousand meters of an Israeli settlement or road used by settlers. Further, it is apparent from the evidence that not only are the settlements a primary driving force behind why children find themselves in military detention; the settlements also provide a network of holding facilities and interrogation centers used to process the children once they are taken into custody.

Is it any wonder then that those supporting settlement activity in occupied territory devote so much of their time and effort into trying to persuade everybody else that the settlements are anything other than the primary driving force behind the conflict? But how many of these individuals actually appreciate or care that their actions are isolating Israel?

Gerard Horton is a lawyer and co-founder of Military Court Watch.

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How I ended up being questioned by the Shin Bet http://972mag.com/how-i-ended-up-being-questioned-by-the-shin-bet/108147/ http://972mag.com/how-i-ended-up-being-questioned-by-the-shin-bet/108147/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 13:11:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108147 An Israeli activist on how she was detained and summoned for a ‘chat’ with Israel’s internal security service which, among other things, wanted to know her thoughts on Zionism — all because she participated in a Gaza flotilla three years ago.

By Reut Mor

Illustrative photo of a plainclothes security officer by Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Illustrative photo of a plainclothes security officer by Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Heading home to Israel this past Sunday from vacation on the beautiful Green island of Aegina, my partner and I thought we would go home, relax and upload a few photos to Facebook. I did not expect our the end of our vacation to turn into three days of detentions, interrogations and run-ins with Israel’s security services, all because three years ago I boarded a boat to Gaza — one that never arrived.

Let’s be clear, I’ve been detained before. In fact, short detentions have turned into a ritual of sorts ever since I participated in an attempt — on the Estelle — to break the siege on Gaza in 2012. But this time was different. It lasted longer than usual and after more than an hour, I was called into a side room where I was handed a summons to a appear at a Tel Aviv police station. The only information written on the summons came in the form of one word, a name: “Rona.” I wasn’t told why I was being summoned, or by whom, just “Rona.”

“Rona from the Shabaq” has become kind of notorious among left-wing activists in Israel. More than a few activists have been summoned to her for “conversations” on an eclectic range of topics. (Shabaq is the Hebrew acronym for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.) With a smile, Rona told me as much when we met on Tuesday at a Tel Aviv police station, where she has hosted, in her own words, “radical left- and right-wing activists.”

I was summoned to appear a day after my return to Israel, but after a Kafka-esque missed connection of sorts with my very own Shin Bet interlocutor, we only finally sat down together the next day. I arrived with my attorney, Anu Lusky, of the Michael Sfard Law Office.

Reut Mor on the 'Estelle,' part of the 2012 flotilla to Gaza. (Courtesy of Reut Mor)

Reut Mor on the ‘Estelle,’ part of the 2012 flotilla to Gaza. (Courtesy of Reut Mor)

Rona had a lot of questions: What was I doing in Greece? Had I been in contact with activists on the current flotilla to Gaza? What are my thoughts on Zionism? What did I do in the army? What year was Combatants for Peace was founded? She also asked whether I still work for the Joint List, and who my clients are in my media consultancy business.

Most of the answers to Rona’s questions can be easily found with a simple Google search. Regarding her other questions dealing with my political views and my thoughts on Zionism, I told her that as somebody whose work is to raise awareness of those very issues among the Israeli public, I would be happy to answer them. However, I was not willing to do so in a situation I was forced into — but that I would be happy to do so over a cup of coffee. She said she would love to — soon.

But I wasn’t satisfied with Rona’s questions. I felt I had to explain a few things to her, too. I explained to her that the Gaza flotilla project is a non-violent international movement whose goals are to raise awareness about the situation in Gaza and to challenge the terrible, eight-year-old blockade. The flotilla ships stop in ports across Europe and hold a variety of public events in each port of call. Nothing about them is secret or hidden; the whole point is to create a public discussion. Just like in many other situations, I told Rona, Israel’s response to the campaign is extremely disproportionate — sending dozens, if not hundreds, of naval commandos to intercept the ships.

I also decided to tell Rona, and the other unnamed young woman sitting next her, a little about my experience on the Estelle. I told them how dozens of masked Israeli naval commandos took over the sailboat carrying 30 activists, two of whom were elderly, none of whom were armed and all of whom were well-mannered. I told them how I saw the commandos beating and tasing other activists onboard, including one who is now serving as a minister in the Greek government. I told them how I was given a special “punishment,” one apparently reserved just for women.

I was still on the upper deck when the commandos finished taking control of the ship. One by one, they took the activists and put them in the hull of the ship. Ultimately, I was left alone on the upper deck, surrounded by a group of masked men. Out of nowhere, three female Border Police officers showed up. I heard one of the commandos’ officers tell one the female border policewomen to “give it to me.”

They started performing a full body search — the type that is usually done in private rooms — in front of all of the male commandos. They pulled down my tank top and bra, aggressively unbuttoned my pants, and told me to drop them to my knees. I don’t know how long I stood there like that. It felt like forever until they told me to “get dressed” and brought me to the rest of my friends on the Estelle, who apparently saw the terror on my face because they spontaneously stood and applauded my arrival.

Back in Tel Aviv, Rona made a shocked face. She told me such behavior is truly unnecessary, and then went back to asking completely unnecessary questions.

Let’s be clear about one thing: there is absolutely no connection between this type of Shin Bet harassment and Israel’s state security. It is political persecution and it is preposterous. If being stripped naked in front of dozens of soldiers didn’t make me stop my activism, then a meeting with Rona in the heart of Tel Aviv probably isn’t going to get the job done either.

I am back at home now, wishing the best of luck to all of my friends who are sailing to Gaza right now, people who know that they, too, will soon meet the world’s most moral naval commandos. Stay safe.

Most importantly, I hope that this flotilla, like those that preceded it, manages to create yet another crack in the inhumane blockade on the Gaza Strip. I hope that we all soon understand that security will prevail here only when everybody in the region has hope of living in dignity and fulfilling their dreams. I’m waiting for the day that the doors to the world’s largest prison swing open.

Reut Mor is an independent media consultant. A version of this article also appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Michael Oren’s diplomatic psychobabble http://972mag.com/michael-oren-diplomatic-psychobabble/108136/ http://972mag.com/michael-oren-diplomatic-psychobabble/108136/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:26:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108136 Does the former Israeli ambassador really think that an imaginative psychoanalysis of Obama can explain away Netanyahu’s annexationist policies?

By Aviad Kleinberg

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to then Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, Tel Aviv, April 9, 2013. (State Dept photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to then Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, Tel Aviv, April 9, 2013. (State Dept photo)

Michael Oren blames President Barack Obama for ruining relations with Israel, after the latter broke two sacrosanct rules that Oren himself came up with: that the United States and Israel should not have public disagreements, and that no steps should be taken to publicly embarrass the other side.

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Oren is aware, of course, of the fact that successive Israeli governments (read: Netanyahu’s governments) have openly opposed U.S. policy (for instance vis-a-vis the Iranian nuclear deal), that every so often those governments declare new rounds of settlement building in the West Bank at the least opportune moments (say, for instance, when Vice President Biden visited Israel), and that they initiate rounds of violence against the Palestinians while openly and proudly declaring their oppositional stance. Oren even knows that Israel’s prime minister gave a speech to Congress without coordinating with the Obama administration, and did so in an attempt to drive a stake through the president’s Iran policy.

Oren has some very complex explanations for these all these annoying facts: the settlement announcements were never made by the prime minister himself, the attacks on Washington’s Iran policy are of the utmost importance to Israel — and the speech to Congress? Every Israeli leader would have done the same, and so on and so on. What is it so difficult for Oren to understand? The fact that Obama does not automatically support Israel, primarily that he does not automatically accept its settlement policies? Is it that President Obama dares to meekly protest the Israeli government’s unilateral steps.

That chutzpa — that the United States has policies which it doesn’t submit for Israeli approval — astounds Oren to a degree that he feels the need to explain it. Because neither the historical nor the political tools at Oren’s disposal can explain such madness (how is it possible that Washington doesn’t accept our annexationist policies?), he turns to psychology. Obama’s mother was married to two Muslim men. Oren reveals to us that Obama saw himself as a bridge between his mother and her husbands. Oren also dares to speculate “how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.”

From now on, this is the mantra: he who does not accept Netanyahu’s annexationist policies suffers from deep-rooted psychological problems and is trying to seek acceptance in the eyes of his mother’s former husbands. In case you were wondering, Obama’s largess toward Israel — at least in the eyes of Oren — is a means for camouflaging his hostility toward us (which is expressed though his refusal to accept Netanyahu’s annexationist policies.)

But Oren’s interest in socio-psychology does not end with President Obama’s family history. Oren also has important insights into American Jews. “There were discussions in the White House in which there were six Jews – three Americans and three Israelis, discussing a Palestinian state — and the only non-Jewish person in the room was the president or the vice president.”

Since we now understand the psycho-familial roots of Obama’s hostility toward Israel, we expect those same Jews — who we hope are exempt from trying to seek the acceptance of their deadbeat Muslim dads — to support Netanyahu’s annexationist policies. And here it turns out that the Americans (the Jewish-Americans) did not meet Oren’s expectations.

Obviously, you’ll say, they are Obama’s poodles who were hand-picked to take part in a plot to seek acceptance from deadbeat dads! Actually, you’re wrong. It turns out that somehow, Obama’s advisors managed to reach the same political conclusions without having Muslim fathers.

Is that a problem? Not for Michael Oren, who believes that non-Orthodox and intermarried American Jews serving in the Obama administration “have a hard time understanding the Israeli character.”

So men: if you are Muslims, marry Muslim women. If you’re Jewish, marry a co-religionist, and it better be an Orthodox wedding. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that if you don’t act according to these rules, you may end up being a major problem for the Israeli government.

Michael Oren may be trying to analyze the Israel-U.S. relationship, but sometimes overdoing it only makes things worse. Chill out, Michael. 

Prof. Aviad Kleinberg teaches in the history department at Tel Aviv University and has a weekly column in Yedioth Ahronoth. A Hebrew version of this post first appeared on his blog.

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