+972 Magazine » +972 Blog http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 01 Aug 2015 22:19:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Who will pay the price for the Jerusalem Pride stabbing? http://972mag.com/who-will-pay-the-price-for-the-jerusalem-pride-stabbing/109461/ http://972mag.com/who-will-pay-the-price-for-the-jerusalem-pride-stabbing/109461/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 19:36:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109461 After today’s stabbing, it is unthinkable that life will go on as usual. Especially when the people who fuel hate and incitement still roam the city.

By Yael Marom

Blood is seen on the pavement following a mass stabbing attack against the Jerusalem LGBTQ Pride Parade in Jerusalem, July 30, 2015. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Blood is seen on the pavement following a mass stabbing attack against the Jerusalem LGBTQ Pride Parade in Jerusalem, July 30, 2015. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

In Jerusalem, everything has gone back to normal. The streets are full of people and cars, apathetic toward the crime that took place here just a few hours ago, when six people were stabbed during the annual pride parade.

Instead of going out into the streets, instead of demanding that Benzi Gopstein, the head of the racist “Lehava” organization who protested against today’s parade and called it an “abomination,” instead of demanding that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat take responsibility, we will gather in the city center, lick our wounds and comfort the hundreds of young people who bore witness to the horrible act.

I arrived at the Jerusalem Pride Parade just before the stabbing. I even managed to argue with several policemen who were zealously controlling entry to the march, when all of a sudden I saw a group of officers grab the stabber, Yishai Shlissel, and put him into a police car.

Hundreds gather in Jerusalem's Zion Square to demonstrate against the stabbing attack during the Jerusalem Pride Parade just several hours prior, July 30, 2015. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Hundreds gather in Jerusalem’s Zion Square to demonstrate against the stabbing attack during the Jerusalem Pride Parade just several hours prior, July 30, 2015. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Not far from there, six young people laid on the ground, bleeding. Victims of another hate crime, thousands around them crying, yelling, looking for friends and loved ones, trying to locate acquaintances.

At the moment, the attacker is under arrest, unlike Gopstein and the other senior members of Lehava, who have been inciting against the march and accusing gays and lesbians of “trying to destroy the Jewish nation” over the past several days. The same people who always seem to cause others to commit acts of violence, who send young men to burn bi-lingual schools, who send young men to beat up Palestinians for dating Jewish women, and who lead racist riots that eventually culminate in cold-blooded murder while successfully evading any responsibility.

Israeli right-wing activist Benzi Gopstein, leader of the Lehava organization, takes part in a protest near the tram station in East Jerusalem, a day after a Palestinian man killed a baby in a vehicular attack at the same location, October 23, 2014. The sign reads: ‘Jews, Revenge’

Israeli right-wing activist Benzi Gopstein, leader of the Lehava organization, takes part in a protest near the tram station in East Jerusalem, a day after a Palestinian man killed a baby in a vehicular attack at the same location, October 23, 2014. The sign reads: ‘Jews, Revenge’. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli media outlets who provide this man with a platform — a man who has blood on his hands — who provide a platform to his incitement and hate speech, are only collaborating with him.

While we lick our wounds and express our deep concern for the victims, it is unthinkable that life in Jerusalem will go on as usual. This is the time to call on the LGBTQ community across the country — as well as all those who support the community and are willing to stand alongside it in the struggle against violence — to come to Jerusalem, show solidarity and do everything they can to make sure those truly responsible do not evade justice.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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Israel agrees to release Palestinian detainee after 42-day hunger strike http://972mag.com/israel-releases-palestinian-detainee-after-42-day-hunger-strike/109432/ http://972mag.com/israel-releases-palestinian-detainee-after-42-day-hunger-strike/109432/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:54:47 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109432 Oday Stiti was arrested and put in administrative detention late last year. After over 40 days of hunger strike, the state decided not to extend his detention. 

By Noam Rotem

Palestinians living in Israel and Israeli activists protest outside Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, June 5, 2014. At least 6 Palestinian prisoners are currently hospitalized at Ichilov after hunger striking for more than 35 days, and dozens of Palestinian prisoners are in other hospitals in Israel. Most of those on hunger strike are protesting against their administrative detention by Israel. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians living in Israel and Israeli activists protest outside Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, June 5, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Even before the Knesset passed its force-feeding bill early Thursday morning, the state reached an agreement with Oday Stiti, a Palestinian administrative detainee who went on hunger-strike for 42 days.

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Stiti, a 24-year-old administrative detainee from Kafr Qud, a village near Jenin, was arrested on November 16, 2014 under administrative order, after which he went on hunger strike to protest his detention without being sentenced or put on trial. According to his attorney, Stiti was abused and humiliated by his prison guards, who would cook meat outside his cell in order to force an end to his strike.

His attorney further claimed that Stiti was prevented from showering for 12 straight days, and was often transferred from prison to prison, at which point his guards did not allow him to take basic supplies and clothing along with him.

Until recently, says his attorney, the Israel Prison Service’s preliminary condition for entering negotiations was an end to the hunger strike. On Wednesday, however, the two sides reached an agreement according to which Stiti’s administrative detention would not be extended in exchange for an end to his hunger strike. He is scheduled to be released on October 20th.

There are now three remaining Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons: Mohamed Allan, a 33-year-old lawyer from the village Einbus near Nablus, who is currently on his 43rd day of hunger strike; Musa Sufan, who is striking over a lack of medical treatment; and Abdullah Abu Jabar, who is on hunger strike to demand his deportation to Jordan upon completing his prison sentence.

The agreement with Stiti came just hours before the Knesset approved a law early Thursday morning that sanctions the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails. The law passed by a small margin, with 46 lawmakers in favor and 40 opposed.

The so-called “hunger-strike law,” allows a judge to sanction the force-feeding or administration of medical treatment if there is a threat to the inmate’s life. This applies even if the prisoner refuses.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Where have Israel’s leftists gone? The changing face of Labor http://972mag.com/where-have-israels-leftists-gone-the-changing-face-of-labor/109410/ http://972mag.com/where-have-israels-leftists-gone-the-changing-face-of-labor/109410/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 10:04:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109410 The Labor party is convinced that it can somehow disassociate itself with the Left, call itself the ‘center’ and sneak its way back into power with semantic tricks. It will take the entire left-wing camp down with it.

By Tom Cohen

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Last year, a delegation of Knesset members went to visit PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Among the MKs who participated were Hilik Bar of Labor and Tamar Zandberg of Meretz. There had been a terror attack a few days earlier and there was some pressure to cancel the visit. But MK Bar, who was the head of the Knesset’s Two-State Caucus, wasn’t deterred. A bona fide Zionist, an IDF captain in the reserves, he thought he would be immune from the accusations that would be hurled at him.

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The delegation members went to Ramallah, were photographed meeting with the PLO chairman and put out press releases. But MK Bar didn’t foresee the might of the Right’s propaganda machine. A few hours after the delegation returned to Jerusalem, the settler organizations got to work: they bought up ad space in newspapers and accused MK Bar of encouraging terrorism. His Facebook page was flooded with insults, op-eds turned him into Haneen Zoabi and even some members of his own Labor party began attack him.

MK Bar still bears the scars of that visit to Ramallah to this day. He learned his lesson. Ever since, he prefers to stand with the attackers and not those under attack. In the year since, he has joined the Right in its campaign against symbolic recognition of Palestinian statehood, and just last week led a public censure of MK Zandberg in the Knesset. A complete 180. Nobody today would dare say Bar and Meretz are part of the same political camp.

Once a year, more or less, the Labor Party undergoes a shift of this sort. Today the party is identified with past social protests, tomorrow it will be with the institution’s economic reformers. Today it wants to end the occupation, tomorrow it will join the Right in its attempts to strengthen the WZO’s Settlement Division, or in its slew of legislative attempts aimed at strengthening the occupation.

The public doesn’t buy it, of course. Does anybody actually believe that Isaac Herzog — who was ready to sacrifice his top spot to Tzipi Livni, all while chasing Meretz voters — has really become the guy who is trying to outflank Netanyahu from the right on the Iran deal? The downpour of ‘Likes’ showered upon Labor MKs whenever they attack the Left is having its effect. Their appetite has been awakened, and the Labor party is suddenly sounding a lot like Avigdor Liberman: it attacks Meretz and the Joint List at every opportunity; its members call Meretz MKs “Haneen Zoabi,” and then join right-wing efforts to have the real Haneen Zoabi kicked out of the Knesset.

Do they not understand that by joining the attacks on the Left they are calling their own legitimacy into question? Do they not understand that they are demolishing the leftist brand that people associate first and foremost with Labor?

The Labor party is convinced that it can somehow disassociate itself with the Left. Instead of believing that the Left will be victorious, it wants to call itself the “center” and sneak its way back into power with semantic tricks. As if the Israeli public is so dense, that if only Labor changed its name the mobs would throng right back into its member rolls. The party has experimented a number of times in recent years with trying to distance itself from anything that smells like diplomatic compromise or peacemaking, including under the leadership of both Ehud Barak and Shelly Yacimovich. The results would be disastrous, not only for the Labor party but also for the whole Left. Dashing into the overcrowded and undefined “center” camp would also make Herzog irrelevant.

If MK Bar and the other Labor hawks aren’t happy with being associated with the Left, then they’re in the wrong party. Labor has indeed turned its back on the Left’s values in recent years, but the public nevertheless continues to view it as a leftist party. Also now, the result of its attacks on the Left will be weakening the entire camp, and nothing else.

Labor losing its way carries an important message for my party, Meretz. The last elections were difficult for Meretz, and it is clearly time for internal reforms and change. But the right-wing delirium consuming the Labor party (which is surely related to its upcoming primaries) proves that a true left-wing party is still necessary, one with consistent ideology, and which isn’t ashamed of its label and doesn’t hide its values.

It would be disastrous if the trauma of the most recent elections leads Meretz into a process that eliminates the party altogether by merging into Labor. The Labor party is an important partner. There are good people there. But it will never constitute a viable alternative to Meretz. The current efforts to court Labor, while it questions our very legitimacy, is especially disappointing.

Tom Cohen is a political activist and a member of the Meretz central committee. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Four things every Israeli needs to know about Jewish BDS activists http://972mag.com/four-things-every-israeli-needs-to-know-about-jewish-bds-activists/109395/ http://972mag.com/four-things-every-israeli-needs-to-know-about-jewish-bds-activists/109395/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 11:39:07 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109395 A recent feature on Israeli television attempted to cast Jewish-American BDS and anti-occupation activists as self-hating Jews. As anti-Semites. How dare you!

By David Harris-Gershon

JVP Boston activists protest the Veolia transportation company for operating bus lines serving settlements in the West Bank. November 14, 2012. (Tess Scheflan/ Activestills.org)

JVP Boston activists protest the Veolia transportation company for operating bus lines serving settlements in the West Bank. November 14, 2012. (Tess Scheflan/ Activestills.org)

A reporter from Israel’s Channel 2, Danny Kushmaro, recently visited Boston on a mission to find American Jews who support BDS and actively oppose Israel’s occupation. One of the key interviews in his resulting item was with Alice Rothschild. In the interview, in lieu of asking questions, he made accusations with statements such as: “You want to boycott me, as a citizen of Israel, and boycott my country.”

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“This is coming out of a desire to move the process forward to a more just solution,” Rothschild responded. “I don’t have anything against you, and I don’t have anything against your country—”

“But you’re boycotting me,” Kushmaro retorted.

“I am not boycotting you—”

“And you don’t boycott other countries, just Israel,” he went on.

“I feel that Israel has lost its way. And it really pains me—”

“And you tell us what is the way? What is the right way?”

“I’m not telling you—”

“You, from convenient Boston? Will tell us what is the right way?”

“I am responsible, because I am funding the occupation,” she explained.

Exposing the Failed Logic

In the segment, which aired on Channel 2′s popular Friday evening show last week, Kushmaro touched upon all four logical pillars — convoluted as they are — often used to attack diaspora Jews who boycott Israel (like Rothschild). The same arguments are also commonly used against those who actively oppose the occupation and find nonviolent protests like BDS to be wholly legitimate (like myself).

Kushmaro has done us a service, by providing the opportunity to expose and undermine them in a single setting.

1) You, from convenient Boston? — The ‘you have no right’ argument

Kushmaro bristles that Rothschild would dare oppose Israel by supporting BDS, suggesting that she has no right to tell Israel what to do. However, as Haggai Matar notes in his brilliant takedown, Kushmaro doesn’t really believe she has no right. Indeed, he and other so-called ‘pro-Israel’ Jews have no problem with AIPAC or right-wing billionaires dictating what Israel should or should not do, no matter how destructive their directives. Kushmaro opposes Rothschild’s politics, not her right to express or actualize them.

And for good reason. The State of Israel, in the country’s Declaration of Independence, implored all diaspora Jews to invest in Israel, to help make it a country “based on freedom, justice and peace” for all its inhabitants:

WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.

This direct appeal to me, as a diaspora Jew, grants me the ‘right’ to invest in Israel’s redemption by opposing the occupation. It grants me the right to boldly claim I own Israel, just as it grants BDS activists like Rothschild the right to oppose an oppressive country. As I will argue below, that does not mean I am inherently part of the project of Israel just by being Jewish – only if I claim this right.

2) You don’t boycott other countries? — The double-standard attack

Kushmaro sought out Rothschild because he believes that she, as an American Jew, has a responsibility to support Israel (in the way he considers correct). However, when she expresses that investment by opposing Israeli policies, he pulls out the double-standard canard: Wait, why are you targeting just Israel?

Here’s the thing: that’s how activism works. As I’ve written previously, activism demands selectivity, which is why the double-standard attack holds absolutely no meaning. See, anyone who chooses to focus upon a cause by definition will be neglecting others. Rothschild—along with almost all American Jewish activists who critique Israel—have chosen their cause because they feel a responsibility to do so. As Jews.

Remarkably, it’s the same responsibility Kushmaro believes they have—to be focused on Israel—which is why he sought to interview them in the first place.

3) Conflating Israel and the Jewish people

The fact that Kushmaro’s segment for Channel 2 even exists is because he conflates Israel with all Jews, believing they are all inextricably bound up with the country as members of the Jewish people, and thus should support it (albeit only in state-sanctioned ways).  Netanyahu routinely employs this conflation, saying he represents the “entire Jewish people” as a way to cast political criticism as anti-Semitic. But automatic conflation between Israel and Jews is a vile and dangerous anti-Semitic trope.

Israel and Judaism are not the same, nor are diaspora Jews inherently a part of Israel—a political state. Despite the country’s appeal at its founding, many American Jews have chosen to reject that appeal since Israel’s birth, and that too is their right. Indeed, large swaths of American Jews today have chosen to distance themselves from Israel, and many could care less about the country, due in large part to the very policies I and other Jewish activists oppose.

Why does Kushmaro seek out American Jews, and not Palestinians or Presbyterians as well, when looking to interview BDS activists? Because he believes American Jews are inherently, as part of global Jewry, a part of Israel – even if they choose not to be.

4) Those self-hating anti-Semites

Kushmaro couches his entire segment within a profile of growing anti-Semitism on university campuses in America. However, as Matar rightly asked: “What does anti-Semitism have to do with educated, articulate, and knowledgeable American Jews (some of whom even lived in Israel) who support the boycott?”

Nothing, of course.

Though Kushmaro’s intention is clear: to cast BDS activists and opponents of the occupation who find nonviolent protest to be wholly legitimate as self-hating Jews. As anti-Semites.

Jon Stewart once said, when similar charges were levied against him, “How dare you?

And so I say to Kushmaro, How dare you? Four times over.

David Harris-Gershon is a writer for Tikkun and author of ‘What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

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Why I joined Israeli women fasting for peace, and why I almost quit http://972mag.com/why-i-joined-israeli-women-fasting-for-peace-and-why-i-almost-quit/109240/ http://972mag.com/why-i-joined-israeli-women-fasting-for-peace-and-why-i-almost-quit/109240/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 13:48:47 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109240 Can a peace group be apolitical? Could I be part of a movement that tries to be? Twenty-five hours of fasting and frustration.

By Shoshana London Sappir

Women fasting in the "Women Wage Peace" tent outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. The signs around their necks read: "I'm fasting." (Photo by Shoshana London Sapir)

Women fasting in the “Women Wage Peace” tent outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The signs around their necks read: “I’m fasting.” (Photo by Shoshana London Sappir)

When I was asked to join a communal fast on the anniversary of the July 2014 Gaza war, I thought it was a brilliant idea. A group of women would fast in 25- or 50-hour shifts in front of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Residence for 50 days, coinciding with timing of the 50-day conflict last year, and demanding the government pursue peace. Women Wage Peace, the group that organized the event, gave it the catchy title of “Tzom Eitan” – a play on the official name of the Israeli military operation, “Tzuk Eitan” (“Protective Edge” in English, literally “strong cliff”), but with the word for “fast” replacing the word for “cliff.”

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Having just returned from my 25-hour fast, I would like to share my experience, which was at times uplifting and at times disturbing. At times I was on the verge of quitting, going home and eating. But in the end I stuck it out till the end of my fast, and then some. I spent most of the time in conversation but also in heated arguments. I left feeling physically weak and politically confused.

The action spoke to me on many levels: I thought of it as a political protest with religious undertones. I felt in communion with Gandhi, hunger strikers in prison, and the noble tradition of nonviolent resistance. I loved that the dates coincided with the Muslim fast of Ramadan and the Jewish fast of Tisha b’Av. I signed up.

Armed with my conviction and a big sun hat, I arrived at the designated time and took my place in the protest tent, in the same location where I have attended countless demonstrations against war, occupation, racism, vandalism of churches and mosques, the government’s economic policy over the past 35 years. Over the next 25 hours, however, I would learn that the group that organized the action had very different ideas about its meaning than I did, to the point that I almost quit. But every time my doubts surfaced, so would supporters who dropped in and encouraged me to stay, expressing identification with my message and respect for my action.

Supporters came and went, some for minutes and others for hours, appropriately making the experience feel like sitting shiva. They came from all over the country and even abroad. A rabbi and a musician drove down from northern Israel to deliver a Dvar Torah and a round of We Shall Overcome in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Another woman, whom I had met doing relief work in Palestinian villages in the West Bank, also came by. An elderly friend of my mother’s who lives in the neighborhood sat with us for a bit on her way to the supermarket and then again on her way back.

But while I was getting very strong messages of support from the street, I also received strangely demoralizing messages from none other than the organizers themselves. It began with them vigorously working the phones in an attempt to bring prominent members of the political Right, even the far right, to the tent. When I asked why, they explained they wanted to broaden the movement to include all women who want peace, and were especially interested in reaching out to sectors of Israeli society that disagree with them. I’m not against that in principle but I watched the message being watered down before my eyes and saw how the effort directly diverted resources away from the goal of strengthening the movement’s base: by gaining women from the Right they risked losing women like me. And sure enough, the more I asked the organizers’ about their agenda, the less comfortable I felt.

Several people fasted and a couple of WWP representatives were in charge during each shift. I am still not sure whether the two women on my shift reflected the group’s official line or their own points of view, but for as long as I was there it was they who spoke on behalf of WWP, and we had sharp differences.

Women Wage Peace sit in their protest tent on the first day of their fast. (photo: Michael Salisbury-Corech)

Women Wage Peace sit in their protest tent on the first day of their fast. (photo: Michael Salisbury-Corech)

In an attempt to appeal to the broadest audience possible, they refused to take a stand on any of the core issues that define the struggle for peace as I understand it, and which is what drove me to join them: social justice, human rights, occupation, racism, equality, democracy. The most they would commit to was demanding the government “return to negotiations,” the slogan writ large on our banners, under the title of the fast. It should come as no surprise that many a passerby shouted out, “with whom?” even from moving cars. As for the war we had gathered to commemorate, the discourse was limited to our desire as Israelis to keep our loved ones out of harm’s way, but stopped at recognition of the destruction we had wrought on the Palestinian side.

When visitors from the public or the press asked about the group, I was dismayed to hear WWP people repeatedly describe it as an apolitical women’s movement and emphasize that it was “not leftist.” “God forbid” was not as much said as implied. I asked them, as a leftist, where that left me. Again I was told it was a movement for all women who want peace. I was shocked by how casually they distanced themselves from the Left and adopted a rhetoric that has fueled a campaign of delegitimization and jeopardized the safety of leftist activists.

The low point for me was when the organizers invited the wife of one of the heads of Elad, an organization dedicated to evicting Palestinians from their homes and replacing them with Jews, to join us for a dialogue. Their line of thinking, they explained to me, was that we can find common ground with other women in the desire for peace even if we do not agree on the details. My thinking was that such a group represented a dangerous ideology we should confront head on, not try to engage.

Just as I was on the verge of walking out, along came Rachel Elior, a popular professor of Jewish thought, and an active anti-racism campaigner. I asked what she thought of the organizers courting the far right. She was surprised to hear and couldn’t see how that contributed to the cause of pressuring the government to pursue peace. She thought those groups’ world view was far too contradictory to our cause to be helpful. Because Rachel was there, I stayed and sat next to her in the circle we had formulated in the tent when the Elad lady came. Before I could get into any argument with her, however, A. interrupted me: “That is not what we are here for.” I thought it was. If we were to use this opportunity to enlist this woman to support peace, it seemed reasonable to me to try to discuss the impact of her actions on Palestinians.

The tent outside the Israeli Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. (Photo by Michael Salisbury-Corech)

The tent outside the Israeli Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. (Photo by Michael Salisbury-Corech)

A discussion ensued in which the organizers spoke about being a movement for women of all persuasions united around the wish for peace. Rachel pointed out that every normal human being wishes for peace; the question is on what terms. As an expert on Jewish history, she added, she knows in all the excruciating details how our people suffered under foreign rule, and she could not accept us doing the same to others. Before she left Rachel turned to me and said: despite your misgivings, your being here is important and meaningful. It makes a difference. Please don’t give up, stay the course.

So I did.

As time passed the atmosphere became increasingly social and I discovered personal connections with all of the people with whom I had been arguing. We were all too interconnected to be antagonistic. At the end of the day, despite serious misgivings, I decided there was value in sticking it out.

Two of my co-fasters slept over at my house and made it into a sort of slumber party without food. In the morning all three of us felt quite weak but we were only supposed to fast until 11 a.m. One of my friends spent the whole morning laying on the ground in the tent face down.

A religious Jew in full gear sat down with us. He identified himself as Moshe, a far-right-leaning former student of Rabbi Goren and the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva – ground zero of the settlement movement. Our visitor said: “The Torah is the most important thing in my life, and peace is the most important thing in the Torah, so of course peace is the most important thing for me. As a religious Jew I cannot agree with your fasting, because Judaism frowns on fasting outside of the religiously prescribed days. Nor do I agree with your politics at all. However, I am personally so moved and impressed by the fact that you are fasting that I had to come and hear what you had to say.” Moshe went on to express to his objections (“Who are we going to make peace with?” “They all hate us”), but before he left my friend got him to recite out loud with her, from a written page in Hebrew and Aramaic, “The Prayer for Peace.” It was moment of unity on a human level, but did it have political value?

In the last hour of my 25-hour fast, Prof. Charlie Greenbaum, an octogenarian activist for children’s rights, came to show his support and talked to us about the power of fasting from the perspective of social psychology, his field of expertise: From the faster’s point of view, the experience of hardship and suffering increases the sufferer’s commitment to their cause. From the point of view of the public witnessing the fast, the sight of someone willing to make a sacrifice for their cause elicits deep respect and gets people’s attention. Thus, people like Moshe. This opened a discussion about why we were fasting, and I learned that many of the eight or so women who were fasting together at that point felt they were making a radical statement of protest and identification with the suffering of all sides in the conflict.

Through all the ups and downs, I observed just how deep the gulf is between the rhetoric of the movement’s representatives and its rank and file. Movements like Women Waging Peace could be much more effective if they accept that taking a clear stand on the issues will inevitably involve conflict.

On the way home I felt lightheaded and asked the taxi driver if he had any water. He apologized that he didn’t as he was fasting for Ramadan. I told him that I was fasting too and asked if he had seen the protest. We talked about fasting, breaking fasts and protests, and when we got to my house he did not want to take any money, “because you fasted and protested for peace.” I insisted on shoving my money into his clenched hand and wished him: Sawmak makbul, may your fast be well-received.

Shoshana London Sappir is a journalist and translator living in Jerusalem. This post also appears in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Despite the devastation, Gazans see no alternative to Hamas http://972mag.com/despite-the-devastation-gazans-see-no-alternative-to-hamas/109204/ http://972mag.com/despite-the-devastation-gazans-see-no-alternative-to-hamas/109204/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 15:13:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109204 A year after Operation Protective Edge, I traveled from Israel to visit my family in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians are suffering from high rates of unemployment, violence, and drug use.

By Thair Abu-Rass

Abu Alaa sits with his neighbours exchanging jokes on the occupation army. August 12, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Abu Alaa sits with his neighbours exchanging jokes on the occupation army. August 12, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

This past week I experienced one of the most formative events of my life: a three-day visit to Gaza for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Entering the “largest prison in the world,” as Gaza’s residents call it, came after the Israeli authorities’ eased access for family visits between Israel and Gaza.

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I am a quarter Gazan: my grandmother’s family was expelled from the southern village Hirbiya in 1948, where the kibbutzim of Zikim and Karmia lie today. Overnight, my father’s family went from being landowners near Ashkelon to refugees in Jabaliya, Shuja’iyya and Khan Younis. For many years, we were forbidden from visiting our family members in Gaza, and only last week did we finally receive a permit to enter.

The Israeli government has become friendlier with the Hamas government in Gaza, and as a result the former has issued more entry permits into the Strip. According to reports, over 500 Israeli citizens received permits to visit family members during the holiday, leading to the the highest number of Israeli citizens in Gaza since the disengagement in 2005.

Unemployment, drugs, and violence

Israel and Hamas’ relationship is a direct result of the stagnation we have been experiencing since Operation Protective Edge. Israel cannot find an effective way to make the Hamas regime crumble, and the movement itself is struggling to maintain a normal life for the residents of the Strip as a result of war and a shortage of goods.

Israel and Hamas’ new policy is a blessing. However, if both sides are truly interested in long-term calm, they must first deal with the daily struggles of the average Gazan as I witnessed them.

Palestinians salvage materials at night from destroyed homes in the village of Khuza'a, eastern Gaza Strip, November 6, 2014.  Anne Paq/Activestills.org

Palestinians salvage materials at night from destroyed homes in the village of Khuza’a, eastern Gaza Strip, November 6, 2014. Anne Paq/Activestills.org

The most important, strategic challenge is unemployment. Although no official statistics have been published, one can assume that the vast majority of Gaza’s residents, and especially those under 40, are unemployed. In every single home I visited, most of the people were unemployed, and the phenomenon especially affects women. The lack of jobs is a direct result of the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure during the war, and the freeze on funds slated for the Strip’s rehabilitation. Residents are hoping that Qatari and Turkish money will speed up the rehabilitation process, which could also reduce the unemployment rate.

Unemployment has to led to an increase in dangerous social phenomena, including drug use and violence. A large percentage of young Palestinians in Gaza use heavy drugs, and according to residents, Hamas cooperates with drug barons in both Gaza and Egypt in order to kick back profits to the regime. Violence is another issue that many Gaza residents are talking about, and which many believe is a direct result of a siege that creates poverty, unemployment, drug use and a high number of refugees.

When we think about the Gaza Strip, we immediately picture the wholesale destruction of entire neighborhoods, especially those near the border with Israel. Entire neighborhoods were erased, and tens of thousands are still homeless. UNRWA schools have been converted into shelters for refugees from the northeast of the Strip.

WATCH: Whole Gaza neighborhood destroyed in an hour

In Shuja’iyya, Maghazi and Khuza’a, three towns in Gaza’s east where entire neighborhoods were flattened during the war, one can still see signs above the destroyed homes listing the names of the homeowners. The purpose of the signs is to prevent the authorities and criminal gangs to take over the empty homes. Very few families remain in the destroyed homes, fearing that they may not be able to return should they leave.

The war did not skip over highways, medical institutions, schools and cultural centers. In Shuja’iyya, for instance, a school for autistic children was hit by an Israeli airstrike, killing some of the children. Those who survived remained homeless and without the necessary care.

The most prominent symbol of the war and the siege are the daily power outages in the Strip. The average Gazan goes 8-10 hours a day without electricity in his or her home. The power outages take place at random hours, including in the middle of the day, when the heat and humidity become unbearable. The dream of every resident is to buy a battery-powered fan in order to deal with the power situation. Unfortunately, those fans cost NIS 250 in a place where the average citizen makes NIS 30 day.

The next round is just around the corner

Traveling through Gaza, one notices a plethora political signs in the streets. Posters with dead fighters are plastered alongside political slogans and graffiti decorate nearly every corner. Propaganda posters in the public sphere are reminiscent of the communist propaganda in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Each of the Palestinian groups put up signs with the names of their dead fighters and the date of the military actions they took part in. Flags belonging to the different factions fly everywhere.

A popular Israeli claim says that the Hamas regime is facing an existential risk, and that the siege will lead to the end of the movement. When visiting Gaza, however, one gets the feeling that this is far from the truth. While there is great anger at the current regime, especially when it comes to issues of corruption and mismanagement, Gazans still do not see an alternative to Hamas.

Hamas’ ability to maintain order and internal security in a relatively effective manner, alongside its grip on the local mosques and the internal split inside its rival Fatah movement, have turned the movement into the Strip’s official guardian. While many of Gaza’s residents may wish to replace Hamas rule, not many wish to see the group destroyed.

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised from the lack of religious coercion in Gaza’s public sphere. Although Gazan society is a religious one, and Hamas makes sure to instill Islamic values, the public sphere remains fairly immune.

One can characterize the situation in the Gaza Strip as a humanitarian and political disaster that will come back to haunt Israel. The rise of groups affiliated with ISIL, the increasing unemployment, the lack of hope and the unbudging Hamas rule will lead to another round of violence in the near future. And while Gazans hope Qatar and Turkey’s plan for a long-term calm will succeed, many believe another conflagration is coming.

Thair Abu-Rass is a doctoral student of political science at University of Houston. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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A bad deal? Diplomacy saves Israel from taking military action against Iran http://972mag.com/a-bad-deal-diplomacy-saved-israel-from-military-action-against-iran/109125/ http://972mag.com/a-bad-deal-diplomacy-saved-israel-from-military-action-against-iran/109125/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 14:38:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109125 The Vienna deal prevents the introduction of a new nuclear power in the Middle East, halts the nuclear arms race and saves Israel from using military force on Iran. So why is Prime Minister Netanyahu still so opposed to it?

By Shemuel Meir

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem during the Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony, April 15, 2016. (photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem during the Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony, April 15, 2016. (photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

Let’s set aside the mantras about the Iranian nuclear deal, that it is a “bad deal — an historic mistake.” The agreement signed on July 14 blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon; it not just temporarily freezes its progress. The agreement includes clauses that refer to 10, 15 and 25 years — but blocking Iran’s path to the bomb is permanent. The concessions that Tehran made were bigger than anything any of the commentators in Israel predicted.

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Before getting to the positive consequences on Israel’s security, it should be emphasized that negotiations between Iran and the world powers was about the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons — not other topics that certain actors tried to make the deal about. Our discussion here is about the results of the deal in relation to the goals of the negotiations, e.g. non-proliferation.

The Vienna agreement — known in diplomatic jargon as a JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and not a treaty that requires U.S. Senate ratification — is a multi-faceted agreement regulating Iran’s civilian nuclear program, which prevents the emergence of a new nuclear state. The detailed text and monitoring mechanisms are unprecedented in nuclear history. That is what strategists — as opposed to politicians and media commentators — are referring to when they describe it as an historic agreement. The agreement disperses the cloud of ambiguity that has loomed over the Iranian nuclear program for the past decade. There is no military fissile material — there can be no bomb. At the end of the process laid out in the agreement, Iran will be again a Non-Nuclear Weapon State (NNWS) in the NPT as all the others in this category.

I recommend reading the 159 pages of the report. Very few people in Israel have done so. For the sake of a fact-based discussion instead of the mantras and metaphors that have dominated the discourse in Israel thus far.

Dismantling the heavy water reactor in Arak and the establishment of a smaller reactor in its place. The destruction of the reactor core in Arak (one of two critical targets in the “military option”) and the permanent prohibition of separating plutonium from nuclear fuel waste entirely blocks a path to plutonium weapon. The significance of that is that it blocks the development of a compact nuclear warhead that can be fitted on a missile.

Secretary Kerry Speaks With Hossein Fereydoun and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Before Addressing Reporters in Vienna, July 14, 2015. (State Department photo)

Secretary Kerry Speaks With Hossein Fereydoun and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Before Addressing Reporters in Vienna, July 14, 2015. (State Department photo)

Blocking the second path to a nuclear weapon (and there are only two) through a drastic reduction in the capability to enrich uranium — removing any capability to reach military grade enrichment levels (93 percent). This is accomplished by a dramatic decrease in the number of centrifuges that will be permitted under constant, 24/7 supervision, in only one site, in Natanz: a reduction to 5,000 from the 19,000 Iran has today. Anybody remember the Supreme Leader’s “red lines” on 190,000 centrifuges? But wait, there’s more. Iran will only operate dated, first-generation centrifuges that tend to break down. Serious restrictions will be placed on research and development of new types for at least 10 years.

The necessary step for preventing a breakout to higher enrichment levels is reducing stockpiles of existing enriched uranium and removing it from Iranian territory. This is also a dramatic and positive step: existing stockpiles of roughly 10 tons (which theoretically, is enough for manufacturing eight bombs) will be brought down to 300 kilograms for 15 years. With facts and figures like those, it is hard to see how there could be a covert breakout towards a nuclear weapon.

I’ll get to the invasive inspection regime later.

It’s not just the heavy water reactors in Arak that are being shut down. Also, the fortified enrichment facility in Fordo (the second target of the military option) — where until 2013 uranium was being enriched to 20 percent levels, which would have been the fastest way to a bomb — will be completely taken out of service. The Fordo facility will be converted to an international research site under IAEA supervision, where uranium will not be allowed in the 1,000 research centrifuges that are to remain.

Iran committed and declared — to the United States for the first time — that it will not develop nuclear weapons under any circumstances. The declaratory doctrine is greatly important in the nuclear field. But in order remove any semblance of doubt for those who oppose the deal, the agreement includes a catalog of forbidden acts of research and development that could have military applications. Removing any vagueness in this area is the result of lessons learned from the “Possible Military Dimension” affair of the past and prior to 2003. It’s important to emphasize that the agreement does not give Iran any acquittal or waiver regarding suspected past “military dimension” actions — which will be resolved by the professional echelons of the IAEA. Parallel to the Vienna agreement, Iran and the IAEA also signed a “road map” for addressing suspected “military dimensions” up until December 2015.

The IAEA’s unprecedented intrusive inspection regime is the most impressive part of the agreement and forms the foundation for its preservation. Just like the Cold War inspection and non-proliferation agreements between the United States and the USSR — this is not about trust and goodwill between the sides — it is the strict inspection and verification regimes that will ensure the success of the agreement. In addition to the supervision of uranium enrichment in Natanz, constant supervision via inspectors visits and remote video monitoring will be implemented on the entire nuclear fuel supply chain in Iran — from the uranium mines to the conversion facilities, to the manufacturing and storing of the centrifuges. And, of course, the centrifuges in Natanz. To those who will claim that “Iran is used to deceiving” — remember that Iran actually got very good grades in IAEA reports in the last two years and has strictly adhering to the interim agreement of Nov. 2013.

In order to prevent covert violations of the agreement at undeclared suspect sites, Iran will sign the IAEA Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol is a result of lessons from Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program in Iraq and is meant to block a covert path to the bomb. The Additional Protocol authorizes inspectors to enter any suspect facility, including military bases. In that framework, inspection will be carried out at the Parchin base. Does anyone remember the Supreme Leader’s “red lines” about not letting IAEA inspectors into military bases? The only possible limitation under the agreement — in certain cases, IAEA inspectors may enter suspect military bases after 24 days as part of the managed access mechanism. But Iran cannot stop inspections on the 24th day. The delay is meaningless for the IAEA and the accompanying American intelligence efforts. Just like the forensic investigations we are familiar with from television police shows, it is impossible to destroy evidence of suspect nuclear activity. And to remove any remaining doubts, the intrusive inspections in the framework of the NPT Additional Protocol carry no time limit. Just like James Bond’s diamonds — they are forever.

Before getting to the positive contributions to Israel’s security , one should note that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that “a better deal was possible” was baseless. Let’s set aside the prime minister’s mantras and spin. From the very beginning Netanyahu was aiming for a “good deal” with “zero centrifuges” that would completely destroy Iran’s capability to enrich uranium at any level, including for civilian purposes. The neo-conservative Bush Administration (led by Dick Cheney and John Bolton) also thought in terms of “zero centrifuges” and torpedoed the European Union efforts led by Javier Solana. But the Obama Administration went back to the provision 4 of the NPT and the interpretations of the American representatives who formulated the treaty in 1968 which says that: a non-nuclear member state may enrich uranium at low civilian levels on the condition that it opens itself up to intrusive IAEA inspections in order to prevent the development of military applications. Obama did not “appease or surrender” — he simply reverted to the rules of international relations. Obama promised and he delivered an agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu wanted to entirely prevent enrichment capabilities — including civilian uses permitted under the NPT.

The positive consequences for Israel’s security are both many and important. First and foremost, the agreement precludes the introduction of a new nuclear-weapon state in the Middle East. Nuclear weapons are league of its own and the only class that constitutes an “existential threat.” That has now been prevented. The agreement strengthens the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Israel is not a signatory but one of its beneficiaries.

The agreement removes fears of nuclear arms race in the Middle East, primarily by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. A feared domino effect was stopped in its tracks. Indeed, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were among the first to welcome the new agreement with Iran. Along those lines, the theories we heard of new regional alliances between Israel and “disappointed” moderate Arab states in opposition to Iran’s nuclear program — appear to have been nothing more than public relations tactics by both sides. Likewise, the spin about Saudi Arabia buying an “off-the-shelf” nuclear bomb from Pakistan can be put back on the shelf.

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei. (CC BY AslanMedia)

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei. (CC BY AslanMedia)

The deal saved Israel the immediate need to deal with nearly un-solved dilemmas. Can it continue with the Begin doctrine of using military action to prevent suspected new nuclear-armed countries in the region? The Iranian deal achieved the same goal through diplomacy. A preemptive strive on Iran is in no way similar to an aerial commando strike, such as the one on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in June 1981. Beyond operative aspects (waves of repeated aerial attacks over a long period of time at a distance of over 1,000 kilometers from the border), there is one impenetrable, strategic barrier: the U.S. will not allow a non-signatory to the NPT (Israel) to attack a signatory (Iran), especially when, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, Iran ceased suspicious activities vis-a-vis a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has not resumed them since. This is especially true in light of an international agreement that enshrines Iran’s status as a country without a nuclear weapon. An additional dilemma that Israel no longer needs to deal with: there is no need to get into a discussion over “replacing the disc” and ditching the ambiguity and moving toward an overt deterrence.

Our analysis, as opposed to that of the prime minister, leads to the conclusion that from a strategic perspective, Israel should hope that the deal will be durable and sustainable vis-a-vis the aforementioned nuclear parameters. The Vienna deal has a good chance of doing so, since it is a win-win in which both Iran and the guardians of non-proliferation stand to gain. Iran “signed” to the U.S. that it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and in exchange for the intrusive measures of transparency and oversight it asked for its civilian nuclear plan to be recognized. This was not obvious to all before the deal. The second Iranian demand was also met: rescinding all UN Security Council resolutions (even if the sanctions themselves will be removed gradually over a period of months and years) and replacing them with a new Security Council resolution that adopts the agreement. The resolutions on the sanctions are part of Chapter 7 of United Nations Charter that allows in some cases (but not in this case) to use military force. One of the aims of the new Security Council resolution is to remove the file of Iran’s previous violations from the UN table, and to revoke a legal basis for military action against Iran. For the Iranian leadership, this is most crucial point.

An important question to end with: What does Iran want? Israel’s spokespeople and analysts (apart from the military echelon, whose voice is not heard, but does not seem to be partner to the alarmism) is almost axiomatic: “Of course Iran secretly seeks nuclear weapons.” The facts, as well as the aforementioned analysis, say something else. And if Iran strays from the path to civilian nuclear power, it will quickly be detected by the intrusive oversight mechanisms. Paradoxically for some Israelis, in Iran’s eyes strict adherence to the NPT as a NNWS is an insurance certificate. This will allow the Islamic Republic to preserve its rule vis-a-vis the “regime changing” doctrine of America’s neocons. A rational Iranian approach of matching the means to the ends is of utmost importance for the survival of the regime. The Supreme Leader did not halt the country’s suspicious nuclear activity after the U.S. invaded Iraq and brought down Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 for nothing. American deterrence works — and it will always form another layer to preserve the agreement. The task force of U.S.’s Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf and the Tomahawk missiles of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean send a message of deterrence on a daily basis. Whoever believes the U.S. is ditching the Middle East is wrong. The Iranian nuclear deal only strengthens and entrenches America’s role in the region.

Shemuel Meir is a former IDF analyst and associate researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Today he is an independent researcher on nuclear and strategic issues and author of the “Strategic Discourse” blog, which appears in Haaretz. Read this post in Hebrew here.

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Celebrating Eid in Gaza amidst the rubble of war http://972mag.com/celebrating-eid-in-gaza-amidst-the-rubble-of-war/109077/ http://972mag.com/celebrating-eid-in-gaza-amidst-the-rubble-of-war/109077/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 19:53:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109077 Wafaa takes me back to the pile of rubble, but this time, not to show me the destruction. She points to a small shrub at the rubble’s edge, battered, but clearly alive. ‘Ibrahim’s tree,’ she says of the living reminder of her son.

By Jen Marlowe

The Awajah family home was destroyed in the 2009 Gaza war, rebuilt and destroyed again in the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The Awajah family home was destroyed in the 2009 Gaza war, rebuilt and destroyed again in the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

Wafaa Awajah’s family had scarcely taken their seats in a circle of plastic chairs when her brother hitched up his pants to show me the scars on his leg from where he had been injured by an Israeli soldier. Another brother had also sustained injuries from the army; he, too, showed me his wounds. As Wafaa passed around a tray of chilled soft drinks and bowls of nuts and sweets (as is customary during the Eid celebration) a third brother told me of how years ago a settler had hit him with his car–intentionally, he believed–as he was riding his bike on the side of road. A fourth brother had been imprisoned on two occasions, not by the Israeli army, but by Hamas. “For speaking too much,” he told me with a grin, when I asked him why.

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I had arrived to the caravans where the Awajah family now lives in Beit Lahiya, Gaza a few hours earlier, in the midst of the flurry of excitement accompanying the preparation for Eid il-Fitr, the three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan. The children were running around, brushing their hair, putting on their new Eid clothes. Meters away from us was the rubble of their home, destroyed in the 2009 war, finally rebuilt in 2013, and destroyed again in the 2014 war.

The two days I spent with the family were joyful, yet still penetrated by the horror that this family (and so many families in Gaza) have experienced. Little Ibrahim, at the age of three, is obsessed with playing Hamas and soldiers. “Hold the fire! Hold the fire!” his battery operated toy gun barks in scratchy English as the little boy crouches in the sand, taking aim at imaginary Israeli soldiers. His sister pointed to the small statue mounted on the toy gun; it was a soldier in a tank. “That’s the Israelis, not Hamas,” she said. “Only the Israelis have those weapons.” But Ibrahim stubbornly insisted that, tank or no tank, he and his gun were Hamas.

That afternoon, 17-year-old Omsiyat and 13-year-old Hala and I lay on a mattress atop the rubble of their home. The caravans were stifling but here, under a cloth canopy, the breeze eased some of the punishing heat. I wished, not for the first time, that my Arabic was better. I was able to get the gist of what Omsiyat and Hala were telling me, pointing out which section of the rubble represented their bedroom, what their experiences had been during the war, what they think will happen in the future… but so many important details were lost in my lack of Arabic fluency. I don’t know how often these girls process their experiences about the war aloud. I don’t know if there was some benefit to them of vocalizing it, regardless of whether or not I could understand all of it.

“Do you have the film of me crying on top of the wreckage of the home? Can I see it?” Wafaa asked me later that evening. I plugged in my external drive with the footage I had shot six months earlier, when Wafaa had first led me on top of the rubble of their home. 7-year-old Zikriyat sat on her mother’s lap as we watched the unedited footage together. I wasn’t sure how much Zikriyat was understanding of what her mother was saying on the video, words expressing despair and hopelessness. But when Wafaa (on the video) began to cry, Zikriyat burst into tears and buried her face in her mother’s lap. Moments later, Zikriyat pushed herself out of her mother’s arms and ran into the caravan, unable to watch or to hear anymore. “It was because I was crying,” Wafaa said. Wafaa almost never cried; Zikriyat may have never seen her mother’s tears before.

Wafaa took me back to the pile of rubble, but this time, not to show me the destruction. She pointed to a small shrub at the rubble’s edge, battered, but clearly alive. “Ibrahim’s tree,” she said to me. “I couldn’t believe it when Sobhi (her eldest son) found it, after we had cleared away some of the rubble.”

Hanging laundry from rubble in what was once the Awajah family home, destroyed during the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe

Wafaa Awajah hangs laundry from rubble on what was once her family home, destroyed during the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The olive tree had been planted by Awajah’s son Ibrahim, who would have been 15 years now old had he not been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier during the 2009 Gaza assault. (Three-year-old Ibrahim, born in 2011, was named for his brother.) The family had taken shelter under this tree when their first home was destroyed, just hours before the first Ibrahim was killed. When they rebuilt the home, they made sure that Ibrahim’s tree would be exactly next to it. A few days into the 2014 war, the family fled the dangerous border-area in which they lived, and took shelter in Gaza City. They returned at the war’s end, only to find their newly rebuilt home completely demolished. “When I was looking around the rubble, I went to Ibrahim’s tree. When I did not see it, something from inside me fell on the ground,” Wafaa told me on the video 6 months ago. “This is a memory, I left it for Ibrahim. It wasn’t there anymore, they disconnected any tie to Ibrahim with this area.”

But, as the family discovered only recently, a small piece of the tree had survived the demolition, and, though trapped under the rubble for almost a year, had still survived. The physical connection between the Awajah’s slain son and his home had not been totally severed after all.

The Awajah chlldren enjoying a horse-and-buggy ride in Gaza City to celebrate the Eid holiday. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The Awajah chlldren enjoying a horse-and-buggy ride in Gaza City to celebrate the Eid holiday. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The next day, Kamal (the father) took the kids and me to a restaurant in Gaza city to celebrate the 2nd day of the Eid, and then to the Unknown Soldier park in the center of Gaza City. There were children’s rides at the park, rickety and precarious, but rides nonetheless. The younger Awajah kids scrambled up on swings that (via manual power) circled around, and then rode on toy trains, and danced and sang during a horse-and-buggy ride we all took together around the perimeter of the park.

Kamal smiled to see his kids happy, playing. “You see? Ibrahim has forgotten all about Hamas and the Israelis,” he said to me with relief, watching his three-year old laugh and kick his legs gleefully as the swing lifted him in the air and carried him around in a circle.

Jen Marlowe is the Communications Associate for Just Vision and an independent filmmaker, journalist, author, and human rights activist. She is the author of “The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker” and made the short award-winning film “One Family in Gaza.” Follow her on Twitter: @donkeysaddleorg.

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Not so fast: On dismantling Israel’s human rights NGOs http://972mag.com/not-so-fast-on-dismantling-israels-human-rights-ngos/109068/ http://972mag.com/not-so-fast-on-dismantling-israels-human-rights-ngos/109068/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:27:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109068 Small battles can be waged against the injustices of occupation while simultaneously fighting the bigger war against the occupation itself. A response to ‘The case for dismantling Israel’s human rights organizations.’

By Noam Rabinovich

Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to enter Israel wait at the Israeli military checkpoint in the separation wall controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the West Bank wait at an Israeli military checkpoint in the separation wall controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

If I had a Euro for every time I was privy to a conversation about whether Israeli human rights organizations do more harm than good, I would have been able to single-handedly fund the entire Israeli human rights community, much to the chagrin of Israel’s current government.

Snark aside, this question is one of the most poignant and loaded questions faced by human rights organizations in Israel. The concern that these organizations are making the occupation more humane, thus contributing to Israel’s ability to maintain and entrench it, echoes in many staff meetings and lunch conversations at these NGOs (at least the two I worked at). I recall that in several such conversations, I posited that the value of Israeli human rights NGOs can be defined negatively rather than positively; that is, not by what they actually do or contribute, but by what they prevent from happening by virtue of their existence.

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In “The case for dismantling Israel’s human rights organizations,” Noam Rotem argues against this point, asserting that the mere existence of these organizations, irrespective of their achievements and whatever small degree of justice they manage to secure for some (very few), allows the IDF to continue its negligence and non-compliance, alleviating it from its duty to protect Palestinians living under its rule, as it is obligated to do by law. These organizations, Rotem argues, unburden the IDF and the Israeli government from the need to provide recourse for wronged or harmed Palestinians, both in terms of allocating resources (funds and personnel) and in terms of assuming responsibility and acknowledging its legal and moral obligation to the well-being of the occupied population.

This argument is compelling. It is hard to reject the idea that human rights NGOs are shielding Israel from the costs of its policies and actions, and that by providing the appearance of justice and accountability, they often benefit Israel more than they benefit the population they aim to serve. A similar argument is often presented with respect to international humanitarian aid, which serves to provide for the Palestinian population the goods and services that Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated to afford them.

The solution Rotem floats is for human rights organizations to call it quits, to withdraw, to send back the checks to the European Union, suspend their programs and dismantle their operations. Let the IDF fend for itself, let Israel face the consequences of its actions or face the repercussions of failing to do so. While this indeed serves as an interesting thought experiment – will the IDF step up to the challenge and fill the vacuum created, where will Palestinians turn in their quest for justice — it is a situation that can be viewed favorably only by those at a very privileged position. After all, those who would most acutely feel the absence of these organizations (paid staff aside; we’ll manage) are those who rely on them for whatever recourse they are able to provide. In the midst of a theoretical discussion about the risks of making the occupation more humane, it is easy to forget those who actually live under occupation and personally endure its inhumanity, humiliations and injustices.

Palestinian laborers at the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian laborers at the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I will concede it’s a trite argument, one that is too often unleashed in order to close the conversation to those who participate in it from a place of privilege. Rotem does acknowledge some people are indeed helped by the work of human rights organizations — he even commends the work itself and the people who do it. But his call to dismantle these organizations seems too far removed from the immediate consequences such a move would entail.

So yes, it’s a trite argument, but I am going to make it anyway: to the student wishing to travel out of Gaza to reach her studies abroad or the farmer who wishes to work his land, these organizations constitute the only possibility for a solution or remedy, limited and transient as it may be. Certainly, one could discuss ad infinitum the long-term implications of the dependence on these organizations, and about the harm of addressing these small injustices while leaving the systemic injustice of the occupation itself untouched (although most organizations work both to alleviate and address immediate needs, and to combat the more systemic and entrenched elements of Israel’s policies, to varying degrees of success), but these discussions are too often carried out by those in a position of privilege, by those who can argue about these issues theoretically.

To dismantle human rights organizations is to deprive millions of people of any options, meagre as they may be. I am not convinced that the absence of these organizations would create much of an impetus for the IDF to develop and allocate resources to instituting its own mechanisms for accountability and redress. This is a high-stakes gamble, which could leave Palestinians seeking redress for injustices with absolutely no recourse and no prospects for future solutions. The assertion that nothing at all is better than whatever minute degree of justice is currently available cannot be made by those who are unaffected by the injustice.

Indeed, as Rotem warns, this may mean that the occupation will continue in its current form. However, it is not imperatively true that resistance to the occupation cannot exist in various forms, some tactical and some strategic. I remain hopeful that small battles can be waged against the injustices of the occupation, while the bigger war against the occupation itself is being fought. These small battles are not without significance; they shed light on the intricate bureaucracy of occupation and its many incarnations, and they provide ammunition with which to attack the beast. Significantly, in their all-too-frequent failures to achieve justice or accountability, human rights organizations also expose the injustices of the occupation and hold the Israeli government to account for its policies.

Noam Rabinovich works in the international relations department of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, and previously worked for B’Tselem. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and not those of her employer.

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The case for dismantling Israel’s human rights organizations http://972mag.com/the-case-for-dismantling-israels-human-rights-organizations/109019/ http://972mag.com/the-case-for-dismantling-israels-human-rights-organizations/109019/#comments Sat, 18 Jul 2015 14:39:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109019 By doing the army’s job for it, Israeli human rights organizations enable the IDF’s ongoing dereliction of its obligation to protect the occupied Palestinian population.

By Noam Rotem

An Israeli soldier fires tear gas toward Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists during a demonstration in Hebron, March 1, 2013. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

An Israeli soldier fires tear gas toward Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists during a demonstration in Hebron, March 1, 2013. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The Israeli human rights organizations operating in the West Bank are doing noble work. There should be no argument about that. They are on the front lines of injustice every single day. With varying levels of success, they attempt to deliver a modicum of justice to the robbed and beaten Palestinian population.

These organizations invest massive resources into representing and advocating for Palestinians as they face Israeli authorities. From field workers who meet with victims, to research divisions that sort through and make sense of mountains of data and injustices, to attorneys who search for the clauses and sub-sections of the laws that were violated, to media departments that disseminate that information in Israel and across the globe, and countless departments, regiments and brigades in the crumbling army of human rights.

The humanitarian arm of the IDF

The military comparison is intentional. To a certain degree, these organizations serve as the humanitarian arm of the IDF. They give the Palestinian  population assurances, or hope, of a non-violent, bureaucratic resolution — in the name of the occupier. To the Palestinians and the rest of the world, these organizations are the “good guys” in the struggle, somebody to turn to for redress about injustice or the violation of the law. But should NGOs really be responsible for upholding the rule of law, or are they just filling a vacuum created by the negligence of the sovereign — the IDF?

One thing needs to be made crystal clear: as an army occupying a civilian population, the IDF’s fundamental obligation is to protect that population. In reality, the IDF does everything in its power to not fulfill that role; in many ways, the IDF relies on Israeli human rights organizations to fill that role for it. But if occupying a civilian population obligates Israel to protect that population, as is required by international conventions Israel has signed and ratified, then the IDF has outsourced that obligation.

The occupation’s ombudsman

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As an organization, the IDF is very good at protecting itself: that can be seen in the astoundingly low rate of indictments and convictions in cases when the army harms the civilian population in the West Bank or Gaza. There isn’t really any redress for Palestinians harmed by the army to seek. There is no office he can go to and file a complaint over the killing of his son, for example, or about the theft of his agricultural land. That is where the human rights organizations come in.

In reality, the human rights organizations represent the state. Of course they do their work in good faith, as much as possible, but they still represent the state, receiving complaints on its behalf — the occupation’s ombudsman. If they didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be any direct option for an injured Palestinian to demand justice from the state; he or she would be forced to seek it elsewhere.

Palestinians cross the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, July 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Police officer yells through a megaphone to Palestinian women crossing the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, July 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

International support

And of course we can’t ignore the question of money. Paradoxically, the state doesn’t fund these organizations despite the fact that they are doing its job for it. Neither do they receive indirect funding in the form of tax credits, the likes of which are given to most other NGOs in Israel, including those advocating ethnic cleansing or advancing fascist agendas.

With no other alternative, most of the human rights organizations get their funding overseas. In the resultant reality, the international community thereby gives the IDF a rubber stamp — in the form of funding for Israeli human rights organizations, which in turn allows it to continue being derelict in its obligations toward the Palestinian population. The international community is actually helping perpetuate the occupation by funding its humanitarian branch.

What would happen?

Let’s conduct a thought experiment for a moment. Let’s imagine that the Israeli human rights organizations operating in the West Bank just disappeared one day. Daily human rights violations would go on; the people, as is human nature, would continue to seek justice. If there were no Israeli organizations to turn to, maybe stronger Palestinian organizations and bodies would be established, maybe international bodies would establish a stronger presence, maybe the IDF would start taking such matters just a little more seriously — or maybe none of that would happen.

As far as the IDF is concerned, as long as there is a remedy there is no problem — and Israeli human rights organizations supply that remedy. The appearance of justice — and if we’re honest with ourselves, it is indeed only the appearance of justice — is preserved, and as far as Israel and the rest of the world is concerned, everything is kosher.

Small victories

As I said, I have nothing but appreciation for the people working in Israeli human rights organizations. Most of them are people with a real sense of mission, Sisyphean tenacity, and genuinely good, large hearts. Every once in a while their work even leads to success, whether by returning plots of land to their owners or getting closed investigations into the killing of a relative re-opened. These are small victories in small battles, but to the people involved it’s their whole world. And for that, we should tip our hats to them.

On a strategic level, however, their very existence enables the occupation to continue in its current form.

Solutions

Everything said, this is not a diatribe about things having to get worse before they get better. Not at all. There must be solutions for the civilian population — it’s just that those solutions shouldn’t come from Israeli organizations as a part of Israeli colonialism. The occupier “solving problems” for the occupied people is not healthy, and it even helps perpetuate dependance on systems of oppression.

All of the resources invested in the Israeli human rights Band-Aid could be invested in building up Palestinian, or even international infrastructure that can provide the same solutions, or come up with new ones.

Despite all of the inherent complexities of long-term processes and the short-term harm that can result, the human rights organizations must make a brave choice and decide not to participate any longer. Not to be a part of the system. Not to collaborate with the IDF and its commanders in Israel’s continued control over an occupied population.

It’s a painful but necessary decision, to break out of a situation that has gone on for nearly half a century, a situation which we cannot allow to persist.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin was right,” where this post was first published in Hebrew.

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