Analysis News

Is the 'Jewish nation-state' bill good for anyone at all?

A law seeking to prioritize and designate Israel as the Jewish nation-state is exposing the crazies in Israel’s government. This proposed basic law would codify and demarcate the state as something that belongs only to a subset of its citizens.

The cabinet on Sunday passed a preliminary reading of a law — with the weight of a constitutional amendment — that would declare Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. In order to pass the vote, Prime Minister Netanyahu put forward 14 principles on which the basic law’s final wording will be based. Democracy is in there as an afterthought, equality treated weakly by guaranteeing individual rights, and allowing all people to preserve their culture and language.

Here are seven of the main reasons why “Basic Law: Israel – the National State of the Jewish People” is wrong for Israel and should not be passed.

No solutions. The prime minister’s 14 articles do not deal with cost of living and they do not protect the residents of Sderot or the woman whose house was burned yesterday by violent Israeli extremists. It doesn’t lower tuition fees for students or the price of chocolate pudding, connect Negev Bedouin to the water grid or create jobs for factory workers laid off in Arad. It doesn’t address the growing chasm with the Western world and the crisis of relations with the U.S. Yet this is what the government is doing while its citizens wait, and suffer.

Freeze a flawed reality. While the proposed basic law will effect little tangible change, it will go a long way toward anchoring the current situation of de facto discrimination into law. I recently got into a big argument with a foreigner who accused Israel of being racist in its “DNA.” I was heated. “Like all human beings, people can change,” I shot back. “Bad regimes can turn to other directions.”

Now the law is making exclusivity and inequality part of Israel’s legal DNA. Yes we are changing – but not in the right direction.

Clinging to crazy. The debate over the proposed Jewish nation-state law exposes the deepening isolationism of the small clutch of extremists at the country’s helm. They long ago isolated Israel from the Western and Arab worlds. Now, just as the prime minister and his henchmen contradict their own security chiefs when the latter don’t fall into line, this bill pits...

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The mentality of conflict: Six steps to avoiding empathy

From Protective Edge to the Jerusalem implosion, the mentality of conflict has been pushed under a microscope. During that time I’ve noticed a few axioms about how Israelis experience these wars. I imagine other sides in other conflicts may share them too, although they require pretty close scrutiny and insider knowledge – so I won’t venture to generalize.

Here is what I’ve seen. “Our” in this case means “Israeli,” since I am one.

1. All our violence against their civilians is a matter of exceptions and anomalies, by bad apples and extremists. When they attack civilians, this represents the true nature of all their people.

2. They don’t believe our facts, because they want to incite their people. We don’t believe their facts, especially when they are filmed, because they are lying.

3. All our violence is justified as response, punishment, or deterrence from further attack. A good example is everything that happened in Gaza this summer. All their violence – such as everything happening in recent weeks – is unprovoked, arbitrary; because they hate us and want to exterminate us.

4. #3 justifies us supporting attacks on them, including civilians. When they support attacks on civilians, it’s proof that they are barbarians.

5. When they kill our civilians, they must condemn them – even when they do, it’s not enough. When we kill their civilians, condemning or even observing the events is the mark of radical leftists and traitors. It warrants cries of “death to Arabs and leftists,” heard frequently.

6. When they say bad things about us , it’s incitement; when we say bad things about them, it’s true.  Primitive, bloodthirsty, beasts, sexual predators, Islam as a religion of blood and death and worse – these are becoming daily fare.

What I am not saying here: There is no condoning terror and violence against civilians, ever.  There is no condoning incitement to terror and violence against civilians. I have nothing to say in support of such things.

But it is becoming maddening to hear and see the very behavior we fear among them, within ourselves, over and over – and lie that we are not doing it. That we are better, superior, above them. Accusing one side without realizing where we too are guilty is nothing other than a...

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Israeli petition to European lawmakers: Recognize Palestine

Prominent Israelis call on European parliamentarians to formally recognize a Palestinian state. But what kind of impact can European votes have when the real power broker in Israel-Palestine relations is still the U.S.?

Hundreds of Palestinians gather to watch the speech by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the bid for Palestine's "nonmember observer state" status at the United Nations, projected on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2012. Hours later, the UN General Assembly voted 138-9 in favor of the upgraded status for Palestine, with 41 nations abstaining. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Palestinians gather to watch the speech by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the bid for Palestine’s “nonmember observer state” status at the United Nations, projected on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2012. Hours later, the UN General Assembly voted 138-9 in favor of the upgraded status for Palestine, with 41 nations abstaining. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Nearly 700 prominent Israelis, including former ambassadors, academics, IDF officers, top playwrights and poets, winners of the Israel Prize and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have signed a letter appealing to the parliaments of various European countries to recognize Palestine in upcoming votes.

We the undersigned, Citizens of Israel who wish it to be a safe and thriving country, are worried by the continued political stalemate and by the occupation and settlements activities which lead to further confrontations with the Palestinians and torpedo the chances for a compromise.

It is clear that the prospects for Israel’s security and existence depend on the existence of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. Israel should recognize the state of Palestine and Palestine should recognize the state of Israel, based on the June 4 1967 borders.

Your initiative for recognizing the state of Palestine will advance the prospects of peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to bring an end to their conflict.

The petition was started just days before a discussion and vote over recognition of the State of Palestine in the UK Parliament in October. “From Thursday night to Sunday morning [before the vote on a Monday – DS], we had over 300 signatures,” explains Alon Liel, formerly an ambassador and later the Director General of the Israel Foreign...

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'He should have been a hero, instead he's a murderer'

The parents of Israelis, killed and killers, are crying because they have lost their loved ones. They were betrayed by the lies.

File photo of Israeli Border Police officers during clashes in the West Bank. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of Israeli Border Police officers during clashes in the West Bank. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Mother of a murderer? 

A border policeman is arrested for shooting a Palestinian teen at a demonstration in Beitunia with live fire; he faces murder charges. On Wednesday his parents are interviewed. Faces blacked out, the unmistakable sounds of betrayal and anguish pour from the shadows.

The mother’s voice shakes, then sobs. She pleads for the nightmare to end. “It’s tearing me to pieces. I can’t believe this is happening to me, to our family” she weeps. The state has abandoned her son. “He risked his life for the state,” she says over and over. “After all he contributed to the IDF, to the state, this is how they reciprocate?” The father begs: “don’t turn him into a scapegoat.” The mother is bewildered. “It’s a knife in his back.”

The parents of a border policeman accused of murdering a Palestinian teen at a demonstration in Beitunia speak to Channel 2 News. The caption reads: ‘I can’t take it anymore. It’s tearing us to pieces. I can’t take it anymore.’ (Screenshot from Channel 2 News)

The parents of a border policeman accused of murdering a Palestinian teen at a demonstration in Beitunia speak to Channel 2 News. The caption reads: ‘I can’t take it anymore. It’s tearing us to pieces. I can’t take it anymore.’ (Screenshot from Channel 2 News)

I am crushed watching them. They are right. They were told their whole lives that donating their sons to the military is the mission of all Israeli families. The cause of supporting the army to support the state spans the globe, uniting this mother in spirit with Hollywood stars who last week donated $33 million to the IDF. This isn’t just “Friends of the IDF,” it’s a family brought together for the cause of sacrificing its children.

Maybe the family wasn’t told those things explicitly. Who has to say it? This holy mission of the...

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The 'Jerusalem Intifada,' the president and the cliff

When the Left is right.

Smoke is seen rising over the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya as Palestinian youth clash with Israeli police, November 5, 2014. Earlier in the day, a Palestinian man drove into a crowd of pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing a Border Police officer and wounding over a dozen others. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Smoke is seen rising over the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya as Palestinian youth clash with Israeli police, November 5, 2014. Earlier in the day, a Palestinian man drove into a crowd of pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing a Border Police officer and wounding over a dozen others. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

For years, Cassandras on the Left warned that the festering captivity of the stateless Palestinian population living under military rule would reach a breaking point. There would be a third intifada, maybe a bloodbath. At the very least, said the Left, there would be a drastic collapse of Israel as we know it — the Israel we dreamed of. Israel would become an isolated pariah state with a cruel elite ruling over a desperate, legally inferior people, or else a neutral political entity with no traces of Jewish anything. They said that the two-state window was closing at least five years back.

Now, journalists, diplomats, caring outsiders and erstwhile insiders long gone, ask me regularly if we are reaching these breaking points.

Here is what I see around me: in the last decade there have been four full-out wars and now possibly a fifth as the violence accelerates around Jerusalem. Four of those wars are from the last six years alone; the pace of open hostilities is quickening.

Inside Israel, even as the socio-economic and educational status of Palestinian-Arab citizens improves, racist antagonism is worse than at any time since the end of military rule over Arab citizens in 1966. Now the hostility flows from all directions: from elected representatives, government ministers, and some portions of the public as well.

Abroad, western nations that should have been Israel’s best friends are despairing. The Scandinavian and Western European countries who are so close to Israel in terms of a social-democratic ethos and socially liberal values; yet they are the most alienated by Israel’s policy regarding the Palestinians. They know the painful history, they welcomed Israel into all Western clubs despite...

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100 ex-generals to Bibi: Reach a Palestinian, regional accord now

Security makes a comeback in peace. If the generals avoid mistakes of the past and put action behind words, they could have an impact.

File photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu holding a security briefing with IDF generals, July 18, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

File photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu holding a security briefing with IDF generals, July 18, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

Over 100 retired and reserve generals, brigadier-generals and senior police officials, including a former head of the Mossad, have signed and published a plea to Prime Minister Netanyahu to reach a reach a regional-based two-state diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In impassioned language, they state their credentials as fighters in Israel’s wars who “fought powerfully on behalf of the state,” and were “impressed by your [Netanyahu’s - ds] wise leadership during Protective Edge.”

They then state their fear that the operation over the summer,

Retired IDF Gen. Nati Sharoni, one of the signatories, told +972 Magazine that the historic opportunity relates to the fact that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and various Gulf states are prepared to revive the Arab Peace Initiative following Protective Edge. The letter was published in Yedioth Ahronoth, one of the top-circulating Hebrew daily papers, along with a double-spread article interviewing some of the signatories.

The authors called upon the still-painful memory of the surprise 1973 Yom Kippur War, “a war whose source was diplomatic blindness of the leaders of Israel,” they write. “We are terrified that the same blindness will undermine the opportunity before us.”

The generals make two interesting points. First, they emphasize the regional approach, which seems to be gaining traction in Israeli discourse lately. And tucked into the letter is the assertion that the West Bank and Gaza must be dealt with simultaneously and together – in contrast to the government’s de facto policy of separation.

It is not the first time I have heard senior security figures insist that Gaza and the West Bank must be resolved in an integral way for a diplomatic resolution to advance security. (Gen. Sharoni, like many others, avoids the term “peace,” because he doesn’t believe that idealized peace with Arab states will be achieved any time soon.)

But the overriding theme is that a two-state diplomatic resolution is the real means to security in the region....

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Israeli president's apology offers a rare hope for coexistence

With his unprecedented and heartfelt speech in Kafr Qassem commemorating the massacre there, President Rivlin has outlined a future of equality, respect and shared identity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Israeli President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin visited the Palestinian town Kafr Qassem in the Triangle region of Israel on Monday to commemorate the massacre of 49 of its residents by Border Police in 1956. He was the first president to attend the formal memorial ceremony, and only the second president to visit, according to Haaretz.

After nearly 15 years of a severe deterioration in relations between Palestinians and Israeli Jews, the visit stood out as a good-will gesture rarely seen on the part of any Israeli leaders. During the vicious climate of the war over the summer, the Israeli public became more accustomed to its elected officials calling Arab citizens terrorists, traitors, and trojan horses and calling to boycott Arab businesses (shouldn’t this be made illegal?).

But even before the war, the previous Knesset passed laws targeting Arabs and debated mean-spirited bills; and the bigot Avigdor Liberman’s star has only risen. These developments topped a dark decade that began with the killing of 13 Arab citizens in October 2000 during demonstrations – a traumatic turning point in relations back then.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greets an Arab-Israeli elder during a memorial ceremony in honor of the Kafr Qassim massacre October 26, 2014, held in the Arab-Israeli town Kfar Qassem. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greets an Arab-Israeli elder during a memorial ceremony in honor of the Kafr Qassim massacre October 26, 2014, held in the Arab-Israeli town Kfar Qassem. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The Kafr Qassem massacre in 1956 took place amidst escalation on the eastern border with Jordan and the start of the Sinai campaign. A curfew on Arab towns in the Triangle area – much of the Arab population lived under military rule from 1949-1966 – was changed from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone violating the order was to be shot. Many of the residents were farmers were out working their fields when the change to the curfew was announced. Military personnel in the other towns realized that residents would be unaware of the new curfew time and concluded that the order was not logical. But in Kafr Qassem,...

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What Israelis really mean when we talk about the Left

It is a shameful lie to make opposition to 47-year military rule an issue of supporters or traitors of Israel.

Palestinian and Israeil flags (Activestills)

Palestinian and Israeil flags (Activestills)

The war in Gaza yielded a large crop of articles about Liberal Zionism. Suddenly numerous authors felt an urgent need to reject, redefine, defend or deconstruct a term that the vast majority of Israelis have never heard of.

However, Israelis are familiar with the same basic concept, except they call it the “Zionist Left,” or national left. They embrace the label “Zionism,” but unlike diaspora-based writers, don’t spend too much time trying to define it.  I can’t recall anything like the floodtide of English LibZi articles in the Hebrew press any time recently.

That doesn’t bother me; as I’ve written, the term Zionism in Israel today has become a shell gutted of meaning, intended primarily to delegimize anyone who is not one. Finance Minister Yair Lapid took this to new heights when, in reacting to a kerfuffle this week over the cost of Israel’s beloved junk-food chocolate pudding – labeled those who sparked the protest “post-Zionists” and “anti-Zionists.” He was reacting to the (literal? figurative?) name of their Facebook group “Move [lit., ‘make aliyah’ - ds] to Berlin!” where the price of a similar product is lower. I wonder if the authors of the English LibZi articles are aware of this particular iteration of the concept in modern Israel as they search their Zionist identities?

Therefore, what I find more troubling is not the meaning Zionism, but the lack of clarity about what it means to be on the left in Israel.

What do Israelis mean when they talk about the “Left”?

In a lengthy Haaretz feature article about the less-savory aspects of Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog’s political past, I noticed that Israel’s opposition leader was quoted discussing the constellation within Israel that supported Ehud Barak in the 1999 elections:  “This camp, the peace camp, which today they like to call Left…”

Whatever he was implying, I’ll take that as a step in the right direction. At least the person who is supposed to offer an alternative makes a rhetorical link between the Left and peace.

Otherwise, standing on a sidewalk in any given Israeli town, one might not know what many...

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Israel's Left forgot what dissent really means

Dissent means going against the majority when you believe the majority is wrong — and not just to be contrary. That means being unpopular almost by definition; the majority will never send us flowers.

Israel police arrest a left-wing protester during a demonstration against settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (File photo by Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Israel police arrest a left-wing protester during a demonstration against settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (File photo by Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

My colleague Mairav Zonszein has written an eloquent piece in The New York Times decrying the state of dissent in Israel, lamenting the persecutions and constraints on those who criticized the latest Gaza war from the left. She points to a number of disgraceful examples.

The article has generated debate, as observed here. However, much of it breaks down along disappointingly predictable lines: those further to the right, such as Tablet Magazine, attack her observations; those on the far left, like Mondoweiss, defend her. The Right rolls out the knee-jerk defense of everything Israeli: lumping the falsehood of the accusation that Israel stifles dissent right along with the falsehood of any culpability for Israel in the conflict at all.

The Left jumps to affirm any critique of Israel, as packaging all criticism together will serve the mission of proving Israel’s culpability in the conflict.

But freedom of expression is a separate issue, and Israelis should analyze it substantively, not as an automatic extension of their “left” or “right”-ness.

Read Mairav’s response to the criticism

No, Israel is not China, not Iran, and not even Azerbaijan. But the Right should take no comfort in that; the Right must not use such unsavory comparisons to justify or trivialize those terrible things that did happen.

But I think some on the Left have mis-characterized these real issues in a distracting way. If Israel was a society that completely controlled or stifled expression, censoring or shutting down websites, closing newspapers or arresting journalists, it would crush both criticism of and information about the conflict. There might be no protest against Israeli policy at all. Although existing criticism has not ended the occupation so far – at least we know that there is a vocal, organized and articulate community of Israelis searching for...

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All Israelis are implicated in the occupation

Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service.

The debate over refuseniks from IDF intelligence unit 8200 unleashed acrimonious debates all week. While I have already observed some of them, here are a few more that stand out.

Carolina Landsmann has one of the most powerful opinion pieces I’ve read in a long time, in Haaretz. It may yet appear in English, but for now the excerpts here are my translation. Like one former member of Unit 8200 who spoke to me, Landsmann says their act of refusal is a statement that intelligence work and the system of occupation are directly linked, cutting into the belief that only those who hold the guns are responsible.

She then takes this insight to its next logical step. In blunt language, she writes that the refuseniks point to a perspective built into Israeli thinking that is

All of Israeli society, writes Landsmann, supports this system. I find this one of the most essential and accurate observations of Israeli reality that is rarely understood.

Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service. She concludes with disturbing clarity, “No one can say ‘I have no part in it.’”

I don’t believe Landsmann means that all Israelis are evil, and I reject that idea myself. But the fact that all social and political structures of society support the occupation is true and must be internalized. Not in order to blame individuals; to help them know that stopping this means identifying their personal contribution, through whichever social system they belong, and changing it. The refusal letter, she hopes, may be the first steps of this profound mental shift.

Ironically, the far right has said this repeatedly. They argue that settlers are unfairly demonized, when in fact all of Israel, people and government alike, supports settlements.

Once, at a Nakba commemoration event at Tel Aviv University, I spotted far-right Hebron settler leader Baruch Marzel wearing a T-shirt reading “Solidarity: Sheikh Munis,” the original Arabic name of the Palestinian village where the university now stands. For a fleeting instant I wondered if the world had turned upside down. But simultaneously I knew it was mockery, an extension of the...

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Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as 'political'

Following the public refusal of 43 reservists of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit, politicians and other veterans of the unit have openly denounced the reservists, viewing their refusal as an unacceptable politicization of their army service.

Political leaders both from the government and the opposition condemned 43 reservists from Israel’s prestigious 8200 intelligence unit who stated their refusal to take part in intelligence-gathering activities that, they claim, deepen Israel’s military rule over Palestinians. Unlike the issue of refusal during Protective Edge, which was hardly noticed or covered during the war, the 8200 letter grabbed headlines over the weekend, appeared on most major news Internet sites, and was one of the lead stories in television news.

Prime Minister Netanyahu encouraged the unit to continue its important work for the security of Israeli citizens. Haaretz reports that Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon called the letter “an attempt to harm the unit and its activities.” He said the move was a deplorable attempt to assist the “campaign of delegitimization” against Israel and the IDF.

Yariv Levin, the Likud chairman of the governing coalition, repeated a common accusation from the Right equating opposition to the occupation with support for terrorism. In a comment likely to elicit guffaws from Palestinians living under Israeli military rule, Levin, a veteran of unit 8200, told Maariv, “One who refuses to assist in guarding his country crosses the border between those who support Israeli democracy and the freedom it represents, to the terror-supporting Palestinian side, and attacks the innocent citizens of Israel.”

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

However, the members of the opposition and people associated with the mainstream Left also clamored to decry the reservists’ refusal.

Both the current leader of the opposition Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog, also a 8200 veteran, and the former head of the Labor Party Shelly Yachimovich condemned the letter at length.

Herzog stated that he opposes refusal, and said that the citizens of Israel would pay a price for such calls. But Yachimovich went further, lashing out...

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IDF's 'start-up nation' reservists refuse to serve the occupation

One of the most striking points in the unprecedented refusal letter is the forceful argument that Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Palestinians are simply unrelated to defense –and they are a matter of choice.

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron take part in the search operation for the kidnappers of three Israeli teenagers, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Forty-three members of the IDF’s prestigious and secretive Unit 8200 have signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating their refusal to serve in reserve duty related to military governance over Palestinians. The document, made available by Ynet, expresses their opposition in blunt language (my translation):

8200 is practically a legendary unit within the intelligence corps of the army. It is responsible for both internal and foreign signals intelligence-gathering, alongside the Mossad and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. A large unit with various subdivisions, some members are known for their Arabic language skills, used to monitor life and media in the Arab and Palestinian world. Perhaps its strongest reputation is as Israel’s high-tech incubator, developing the cutting edge technology related to communications, focused on hacking, and encrypting, decoding and transmitting information.

As civilians, its highly educated and largely Ashkenazi graduates, particularly the men, have often leveraged their skills in Israel’s high-tech industry and are commonly thought of as the sparky, plucky drivers of the “start-up nation.”

+972 Magazine’s Haggai Matar, writing in Hebrew on Local Call and citing a Yedioth Ahronoth article, described the incidents that the reservists concluded were unjustified (all excerpts my translation):

Haggai interviewed Daniel, one of the reservists who initiated the letter about one year ago – long before Protective Edge.

Daniel also stressed to Haggai that these incidents are not aberrations:

Collective refusal in this elite unit is unprecedented. Haggai notes that the last group refusal from any unit was a decade ago.

A former member of the unit who agreed to speak with +972 Magazine anonymously, although she was not a signatory (nor was she approached), felt that the move was significant in several ways.

On an operational level, she explained, the skills that 8200 members possess are not...

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One or two states, Israelis and Palestinians are bound together

Whether the conflict here is resolved through one, two, three or ten states, Israel will still never be homogenous. Ethnic homogeneity is a nasty and dangerous sham.

As the referendum over the future of Scotland approaches, poll numbers for the “YES” (pro-independence) have suddenly spiked. Many Brits are now panicking that Scots may really decide they are not “Better Together,” as the cheerful “NO” (or polite, “No, thanks”) campaign has tried to portray.

I am reminded of the ubiquitous OXI (NO) posters that blanketed the Greek side of Cyprus prior to the ill-fated 2004 referendum to reunite the island. Although the Annan Plan envisioned two largely separate communities under the principles of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, they would have been more united than before. But three-quarters of Greek Cypriots rejected the plan. Many were simply not convinced they were ready to live (more) together – even in a limited way.

Last week I attended a workshop about the two-decade-long unresolved conflict between  Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh. The predominant working assumption among some participants – self-defined as advocates of a peaceful solution – was that the sides should seek the greatest possible separation, as living together is bound to cause trouble.

The conviction that separation is more natural for different groups in society runs down to the level of individuals in daily life. Can police be trusted to protect the “other”? Serbs in northern Kosovo think not and the people of Ferguson, Missouri are sure they cannot. Is it okay for people to marry the “other”? Many Israelis and Palestinians say no, and some Israelis even won the right in court to protest such a wedding recently.

Lately I find myself asking, who in the world is this mythical ‘other’? After years of engagement with dialogue and co-existence programs, this summer I suddenly couldn’t tolerate the word “other” at all. Each initiative means well, but they feel so artificial – usually I don’t have many disagreements with the participants. Often, I know them all, sometimes for years. Lightning bolt: they aren’t the other!

Is the “other” my friends in Gaza, who like me, wish to live openly and freely, in peace and constructive, creative human endeavor? Is my “self,” my “in-group” my national representative Moshe Feiglin, who wishes for ethnic cleansing; my foreign minister who calls to boycott Arab shops in Israel? Is the “self” my...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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