+972 Magazine » Dahlia Scheindlin http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Mon, 03 Aug 2015 22:05:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 No, BDS does not unfairly ‘single out’ Israel http://972mag.com/no-bds-does-not-unfairly-single-out-israel/108825/ http://972mag.com/no-bds-does-not-unfairly-single-out-israel/108825/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 15:00:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108825 Ironically, the boycott movement actually expresses some level of faith in Israeli democracy by assuming a little pressure might motivate it to change.

Stock photo boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

When the most recent flotilla set sail for Gaza to protest Israel’s eight-year blockade, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote an open letter to the activists. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, he suggested they had taken a wrong turn on the way to Syria. It’s part of a theme repeated obsessively: “there are worse violations elsewhere, but no one ever protests them. Therefore, protesting the occupation on behalf of Palestinians is hypocritical, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Therefore, it can be ignored.” Nowhere is this argument more prominent than as a response to boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) efforts against Israel.


At first glance, it is a genuinely troubling point. No one who claims to care about human rights should sleep at night knowing what is happening to millions of Syrians who are and have been uprooted, and the hundreds of thousands who have been butchered – for a start.

The problem is not that liberals don’t care. The problem is that the accusations of global indifference are simply false. Whether you support or despise the boycott of Israel, it’s time to stop writing it off as hypocrisy.

Start with sanctions. The U.S. and Europe have both placed sanctions on Iran for human rights violations, not just for nuclear research. International sanctions to end human rights violations began long before the putative “singling out” of Israel, even before the occupation.

In 1965, Britain placed sanctions on Rhodesia; then in 1966, the UN Security Council for the first time in its history authorized international sanctions against the white minority government, for the next 14 years, until Rhodesia created a fairer government and became Zimbabwe. (Israel, incidentally, was one of the countries that did not respect the sanctions – displaying at least moral and political consistency.)

The UN imposed sanctions against Iraq (1990, for its treatment of Kuwaitis during the invasion) and against Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, for its treatment of ethnic minorities. In those cases, sanctions preceded international military intervention, something that has never remotely been on the table in the West’s treatment of Israel.

Numerous other countries perpetrating egregious human rights violations, such as Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone have been placed under international sanction regimes. Including, yes, Syria. The charge of “singling out” Israel is dead wrong.

What about boycott efforts that seem to be catching fire among academics and cultural figures? Why don’t they take aim at North Korea, or at ISIS?

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

First, celebrities probably wish to support what they perceive as the underdog, the party in need of attention, which they can bring. For most of the decades under occupation, Israel’s narrative reigned in the West. Palestinian people were essentially ignored, written off wholesale as terrorists, and their claims and experiences of life under occupation misunderstood, if noticed at all. The last decade of attention to Palestinian reality is essentially a pendulum swing in their direction.

Celebrities may not feel the global attention they command is needed on behalf of ISIS victims. We all agree that being drowned, beheaded, pushed off a building or burned with acid is evil.

Second, it’s attractive to work for a cause where there’s a possibility you can actually make a change. North Korea is an impenetrable fortress that scoffs at arguments of democracy and human rights, if it notices them at all.

But precisely because Israel has a democratic ethos, because it is part of the West and in dialogue with it, activists reasonably believe gains can be made. They’re right. If Israel wants to be more democratic toward all the people it controls, it surely has the political culture in place to do so. The claim to democracy also makes the nearly 50-year occupation so much more offensive.

But there’s an even simpler reason why students, celebrities, academics, and some individuals call to boycott Israel instead of other places: Palestinians asked them to.

The Global BDS movement is certainly problematic. There is a gap between its stated policy goals, and the implication supporters sometimes convey that only erasing Israel will suffice. BDS activists can be aggressive and coercive. Boycott efforts – specifically those in the West Bank –  could hurt Palestinians more than anyone else, by taking jobs away from average people on the front line.

Those are major flaws. But just as Israel expects its supporters to “stand with us” despite Israel’s flaws, some Palestinians are asking people around the world for support despite the flaws of its movement. The South African anti-apartheid movement immolated collaborators. That didn’t stop Western governments and corporations, and everyone in my high school, from proudly joining in the boycott of South Africa. We didn’t hate South African whites and boycotters today are not automatically anti-Semites. They just figure solidarity counts, and boycott is how the Palestinians they encounter have asked them to help.

Anyway, what are the other options? Should supporters of Palestinian freedom protest occupation the way the occupying power wants them to? In fact Israel rejects all forms of protest on this issue. Violence is of course wrong. Diplomatic action is considered an anti-Israel plot. Unarmed grassroots demonstrations in West Bank towns week after week are met with tear gas, blasts of putrid water, arrests and sometimes death. Failed negotiations are invariably and entirely blamed on Palestinians. Boycott is called “economic terrorism” – and, of course, hypocrisy.

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

If the boycott movement is accused of wishing to erase Israel, aggressive “pro-Israel” messagers seek to erase the occupation from our minds. Defenders of Israel’s policies must answer that charge if they expect a reasonable position from BDS.

Otherwise, activists will continue to view Israel as hypocritical: a democracy that holds people in chains. A country that could change, precisely because it is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” In a strange sense (probably one they didn’t intend), their protests show faith that Israel will ultimately honor its democratic values if pushed just a little harder, or if they can point out the internal contradiction to Israelis who simply cannot see it.

Some activists don’t just wish to mouth off opinions. They want something to do, even if it’s not perfect. For any other cause, we would probably find that commendable.

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A death penalty for terrorists would be terrible for Israel http://972mag.com/a-death-penalty-for-terrorists-would-be-terrible-for-israel/108757/ http://972mag.com/a-death-penalty-for-terrorists-would-be-terrible-for-israel/108757/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 10:50:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108757 Not only would the death penalty have no deterrent effect on bona fide terrorists. It’s just plain wrong.

Police investigators stand around the body of a Palestinian man who ran over a group of Israeli pedestrians in Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. Police shot and killed the man shortly after the attack. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Police investigators stand around the body of a Palestinian man who ran over a group of Israeli pedestrians in Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. Police shot and killed the man shortly after the attack. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Update: On Sunday afternoon, Haaretz reports that the Prime Minister postponed the ministerial debate on the death penalty bill for three months – most likely a delaying tactic. He also instructed the formation of a government committee to look into the issue. The bill’s sponsor responded that delaying the debate over the death penalty is proof that Likud isn’t truly part of the “national” camp. Israel’s Justice Minister supports of the bill.

A ministerial committee was expected to decide whether or not Israel’s governing coalition will support a bill allowing the death penalty for terrorists on Sunday. Israel Beitenu, Avigdor Liberman’s party, says that the bill applies to people convicted of “murder in terrorist circumstances,” including in the West Bank. 

The bill fulfills a campaign promise by Liberman’s “Israel Beitenu” party. The current version of the draft law was sponsored by his neophyte legislator Sharon Gal.


The death penalty proposal is only the latest in a long-running tactic of Liberman’s: float outrageous ideas during the campaign season to rally his far-right base and then try and turn them into policies and legislation after the elections. The first example was “no loyalty, no citizenship,” which appeared during the 2009 campaign – a direct attack on Arab citizens. That was eventually translated into a series of bills designed to harangue them, sponsored or co-sponsored by Liberman’s legislators. Some of them passed. We should have known his “death penalty for terrorists” slogan was no stunt either.

Haaretz ticks off some of the obvious and well-known reasons why the law is ill-conceived: research has shown that the death penalty has little deterrent effect, especially when the potential perpetrator is ideologically motivated to commit, for example, a suicide attack. The Western world has largely disavowed the death penalty, with the exception of the U.S. (and I want to believe that even there it is fated to go the way of bans on gay marriage). Further, Israel’s attorney general is set to oppose the draft law, reports Haaretz, such that even if the committee approves the bill as expected, it will face hurdles.

But stranger things have happened and the consequences of this bill actually passing one day must be considered. Those consequences will be terrible – for Israel.

First, it’s worth reiterating why it will have zero impact on terrorism against Israeli citizens. It’s not only suicide bombers who are willing to die. Lately, there have been more and more low-grade incidents such as stabbings, vehicle attacks and stone-throwing that end with the attacker being killed on the spot, rather than apprehending or incapacitating the suspect. The minister in charge of police in the previous government, a member of Liberman’s party, even gave what many perceived as a green light to police to kill terrorism suspects on the spot last year. Palestinians have no illusions about the fact that even demonstrating carries risk of death.

Anyone plotting a genuine terror attack, even if it is not a suicide bombing, can reasonably count on being killed on the spot. The abstract notion of some lengthy legal process that might drag on for years will be so remote as to deter no one.

The main impact, then, will be on Israel’s own society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the recent elections by conflating leftists with ISIS. In this pithy ad, the key words (and among the only words) are “my brother” – used by the ISIS member to greet the Israeli left-winger. Commentators have long accused human rights organizations in Israel of supporting, or being supported by, terrorists. It has become such a routine accusation that many Israelis now take it for granted.

With such relentless incitement, a law stipulating death penalty for terrorists would surely ratchet up the expectation of punishment for “the Left,” even in its broadest definition (the ad just showed regular people, not activists, as the Left). The same expectation will legitimize increasingly severe limitations on the activity of left-wing organizations beyond the NGO bill.

Then consider Israel’s fetish over its image: hasbara. Play out a scenario in which Israel actually captures a terrorist alive, puts him or her on trial, sentences the perpetrator to death and all appeals are rejected. Imagine the global images that will be flashed over the newswires as Israel takes a person whose life was spent being harassed by the IDF, waiting at checkpoints, locked into a tiny geographic region, maybe jailed as a minor, lost brothers or parents to the conflict, and executes him through lethal injection. Go message that.

These are reasons why the bill is bad for Israel. It is the language that Israel’s automatic defenders must try and understand. But what if I were to say that it is unjust for the perpetrators? That all over the Western world, society has decided that death is an unacceptable, immoral response even to heinous crimes; that even I as a feminist do not support death penalty for rapists and murderers?

The right wing will say I care more about Palestinians than about Jews. They will assume that a moral argument for Palestinians taints or trumps any arguments about Israel and reveals my true pro-Palestinian bias. Sadly, they’re wrong. The law simply has multi-directional ways of being awful.

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Why Netanyahu can’t just wish Palestine away: Analysis of a failed policy http://972mag.com/why-netanyahu-cant-just-wish-palestine-away-analysis-of-a-failed-policy/108584/ http://972mag.com/why-netanyahu-cant-just-wish-palestine-away-analysis-of-a-failed-policy/108584/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 11:58:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108584 Instead of earnestly pursuing peace, consecutive Israeli governments have attempted three policies: separating the Palestinians, erasing borders and boundaries, and attempting to change the world’s perception of reality. All three have failed.

Since Benjamin Netanyahu began his second term as prime minister in 2009, he has resisted reaching a two-state solution but he also claims not to want a single state, with or without a Jewish hegemony. Nobody seems to be willing to simply ask the prime minister: what do you intend for Israel and the Palestinians in five or 10 years from now?

In lieu of a vision, Netanyahu has aggressively pursued three policies: separation between Gaza and the West Bank (and within), the merging of Israel and the West Bank, and messaging the rightness of both — hasbara.

Although these policies are all ostensibly means to some elusive end, they have been implemented with zeal as if they are ends in themselves. Yet all three have failed.

Separation — FAILED

Dozens of Palestinians wait to climb over the separation wall near Qalandiya checkpoint, June 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens of Palestinians wait to climb over the separation wall near Qalandiya checkpoint, June 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel has long pursued the physical, political, economic, cultural and religious separation between Gaza and the West Bank. The hope was that Israelis, the international community and no less important, Palestinians themselves, would view these societies as different entities, requiring different political solutions. The idea of a cohesive Palestinian state was supposed to dissolve.


It didn’t start with Netanyahu; physical movement restrictions between the regions from the early 1990s were compounded by Ariel Sharon’s partial withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The latter created a sense of victory for Hamas and touched off the political rift that paralyzes Palestinian politics to this day. Israelis increasingly view this chopped up society as unsuited to statehood.

But nobody else does. Some Palestinians envision the 1967 territories, others yearn for the whole land (just as Israel loves to generate maps showing the whole land for itself). Under no Palestinian scenario does Palestine not include Gaza.

The international community didn’t read the memo either. In the recent UN report investigating Protective Edge, the commission of inquiry treated the two parts as a contiguous political whole. It acknowledges that Hamas controls Gaza internally but views the latter as part of the state that has acceded to international treaties on human rights. Which is lucky for Israel, because it meant the UN commission of inquiry held Hamas accountable to international human rights law – and for violations of it.

Israel also nurtures separation within the West Bank. Flying checkpoints shift around arbitrarily; the separation wall cuts people off, and settlement activity is designed with separation in mind. The “E-1” region would bisect the West Bank laterally, though not much has happened there yet. Recent activity elsewhere includes a new settlement (with private foreign funding and elaborate efforts at deception) that further connects the settlements south of Jerusalem to Hebron, bisecting the region vertically. Filling the land between the isolated settlement-city of Ariel and the Green line is a new neighborhood now morphing into its own town.

Yet these efforts haven’t dented the desire for Palestinian statehood; they simply make it increasingly impossible to achieve in the old forms. The result is Palestinian rage due to the growing gap between expectation and reality, and increasing awareness of Israel’s policies among international observers. The fact that the West Bank separation (and encroachment) efforts are incremental, small and technical fools no one — except Israelis.

Merger — FAILED

Expansion and building of new settlement units of Beit Arye continues on the lands of the West Bank village of Abud, near Ramallah, September 13, 2013. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org) All Israeli settlements built in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law.

A view of construction of new housing units in the settlement of Beit Arye on the lands of the West Bank village of Abud, near Ramallah, September 13, 2013. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Alongside efforts at separation between Palestinian people and land, Israel works hard to erase lines between its sovereign territory and the West Bank.

The 2011 anti-boycott law allows civil suits against those who call for boycott against any area “under Israel’s control.” Some slick language advisor probably recommended using that term rather than “occupied territories,” hoping listeners will forget that in those areas stateless people have been living under military law for nearly five decades, while Israeli citizens live normally.

No Palestinian can forget that. The White House hasn’t either. An item in the U.S. Trade Bill passed last week would oblige the U.S. to actively discourage boycott efforts of “Israeli-controlled territories.” The administration ultimately supported the bill, but not before voicing a ringing slapdown against the conflation of sovereign Israel with the areas under military occupation.

Perceptions are indeed changing, but in the opposite direction. Chemi Shalev of Haaretz wrote: “The attempt to blur the boundary lines between sovereign Israel and the settlements in the territories ended up emphasizing them.” In other words, the more Israel tries to create facts in the future, the more people know about the present. The myth that Israel “gave back land in the Oslo years,” has been replaced by widespread understanding that Israel controls both the West Bank and has effective control, as the UN report clarifies, over Gaza.

Further, as a result, the international community blurs the lines in one direction: Israel’s resposibility for the lives and human rights of Palestinians. The slow-dawning international realization that occupying powers are responsible for the rights of the occupied population under international law means that Palestinian demands for civil, political, and human rights fall on open ears.

Messaging — FAILED

Bystanders at the 50th annual Israel Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York City, June 1, 2014. (Photo by Lev Radi/Shutterstock.com)

Bystanders at the 50th annual Israel Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York City, June 1, 2014. (Photo by Lev Radi/Shutterstock.com)

Israel’s third policy is to disguise the first two in words unfettered by reality. This yields contradictions and plain weirdness.

One example is the common response to charges of apartheid these days.  It is in these very moments that Israeli messagers (as distinguished from regular “messengers”) re-discover the Green Line.

Israel becomes the only democracy in the Middle East. A land where Arabs can vote and be elected and Arab parliamentarians are free to say mean things about Zionism. So the culture and education ministers are on a rampage against an Arab theater, and the law allows housing discrimination — no country is perfect.

At these moments, there is no West Bank and Gaza at all. The 1967 borders of Israel become perfectly defensible, when they are defending against apartheid.

This week, the absurdities around messaging reached new heights when a survey was released showing massive partisan gaps in support for Israel in the U.S., Israel’s warmest audience. Democrats are losing sympathy and patience, while Republicans toe to the party line — theirs and Israel’s. The survey was conducted by Frank Luntz, messager extraordinaire for The Israel Project. His task at TIP for years and untold sums? To find the sharpest language to change minds. His findings? Israel’s image has reached a new low among U.S. political elites. His solution? More messaging.

Some say Israel is start-up nation of brilliant minds. Judging by the failure of his three main policies on the most towering issue in Israeli and Palestinian life, Netanyahu is not one of them.

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The oddity of finding hope while investigating war crimes http://972mag.com/the-oddity-of-finding-hope-while-investigating-war-crimes/108388/ http://972mag.com/the-oddity-of-finding-hope-while-investigating-war-crimes/108388/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:06:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108388 +972 speaks with Mary McGowan Davis and Doudou Diène, authors of the UNHRC report on potential war crimes in Gaza. The pair discuss possible consequences of the report, and why their investigation gave them hope.

By Dahlia Scheindlin and Natasha Roth

Mary McGowan Davis at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, March 23, 2015. (UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

Mary McGowan Davis at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, March 23, 2015. (UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

The main reaction in Israel to the findings of the United Nation’s commission of inquiry into last summer’s Gaza war was rejection. That response tops a process so fraught with politics, that it seemed unlikely the commission would be able to say anything meaningful at all.

Israel views the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the body that commissioned the report, as hopelessly politicized. Indeed, the charge that it is “obsessed” with Israel carries some weight when considering that resolutions about Israel-Palestine  constitute almost half of the UNHRC’s country-specific resolutions.


The Human Rights Council does have other commissions of inquiry investigating North KoreaSyriaEritrea and Sri Lanka. But with countries such as Congo, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia sitting in judgment of Israel’s human rights record, it is plausible that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sometimes exploited to distract from egregious violations elsewhere. The latest UNHRC-commissioned post-mortem only compounded Israel’s lingering rage against the eponymous Goldstone report, anger so forceful that even its author later expressed qualifications.

Notwithstanding Israel’s knee-jerk defensiveness against any criticism, the UNHRC has in fact lost legitimacy in the eyes of many of the states whose behavior it wishes to change. That raises questions about how functional such a body can really be. In the current case, the Council faced tangible constraints: The original head of the commission of inquiry into Operation Protective Edge, William Schabas, recused himself during the process after relentless Israeli pressure and accusations of bias. He left on the technicality that he had not disclosed a past consulting job with the PLO.

What could the remaining authors, the American judge Mary McGowan Davis and Doudou Diène of Senegal do when starting with such a zero-sum, short-fuse keg of dynamite?

The answer is, quite a lot. Speaking by phone to +972 Magazine from Geneva, the authors of the report admitted that they felt the boot of the political delegitimization of the HRC; Israel not only refused to participate in the inquiry process, it did not even permit the commission members to physically enter Israel or the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s decision was a matter of political principle for Israel, says Diène.

“One could feel that we are a pariah, and it doesn’t make the process any easier,” McGowan Davis recalled.

Doudou Diène at UNHRC in Geneva, June 22, 2015. (UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

Doudou Diène at UNHRC in Geneva, June 22, 2015. (UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

Whether or not in response to this background, the final result was a report that is much harder for Israel to dismiss, despite its ongoing attempts to do so.

The authors began by interpreting their overall mandate to be more inclusive than the HRC resolution that initiated the investigation. That text spoke only of examining possible human rights and war crimes violations in Palestinian areas. Both McGowan Davis and Diène explained that the commission took a conscious decision to interpret this as including potential violations originating from Palestinian areas – violations by Palestinian forces against Israeli civilians, in addition to the reverse.

The report provides such exhaustive treatment of both sides that the commission has been relentlessly accused of misusing symmetry, either for false equation of strength (as Palestinians claim), or false equation of legitimacy between a state and a terror organization (as Israel has repeatedly claimed). Pro-Israel critics charge that the commission failed to give the context of Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza; others say the political reality is an asymmetrical conflict between a sovereign state with an army, and a weaker, stateless people occupied for decades.

McGowan Davis rejected the accusation, explaining that the commision’s legal mandate was solely to examine conduct during the war – or jus in bello – not the question of going to war itself, which is a different legal category: ad bellum.

“That’s why we treated all sides the same,” McGowan Davis expanded. “Everyone is bound by the same rules: proportionality, precautions, and distinguishing civilians from combatants.” In other words, Hamas and Israel were investigated as, quite simply, the two sides fighting in a conflict.

Perhaps unwittingly, the report draws on numerous sources often accused of anti-Israel bias, in counterintuitive ways. Amnesty International, which supporters of Israel view as hostile, is cited for documenting Hamas weaponry used against Israeli civilians. The authors use UN figures showing the numbers of rockets fired at Israeli civilians, which they point out are even higher than official Israeli sources. Documentation of Palestinian groups firing rockets from populated areas is drawn from the international media, which Israel has taken to humiliating.

The more balanced approach, observed even by much of the Israeli media, should open minds to the significant critical findings. Many of those findings challenge Israeli talking points about the war — “hasbara” – head on.

One such criticism that runs headlong into hasbara involves proportionality. Israel repeatedly claimed that its civilian to combatant casualty ratio is better than other conflicts.

Asked whether that is a reasonable yardstick, however, McGowan Davis simply said “No.” She went on to explain, “It’s not the overall ratio, but attack by attack – a house where a bomb is dropped and 20-odd people are killed and maybe there’s a militant of some sort, but when you weigh that against 21 innocent lives, women and children, is that proportionate?”

Relatives walk amidst the rubble of the home of Zaki Wahdan in the city of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza City, November 10, 2014. Eight members of the Wahdan family, mostly women and children were killed. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Relatives walk amidst the rubble of the home of Zaki Wahdan in the city of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza City, November 10, 2014. Eight members of the Wahdan family, mostly women and children were killed. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Yet she was quick to observe the complexity of assessing military targets, which makes it hard to judge proportionality. “That’s difficult. I’m not suggesting otherwise. But it’s not a matter of simply saying, we only killed 500 and someone else killed 5,000.”

Diène was unequivocal: “We concluded that the principle of proportionality was not respected.” He recalled writing to Israel asking for a justification of strikes on densely populated urban areas, in vain. “They did not respond. And as you know, our conclusion [about bombing densely-populated neighborhoods] is that it amounts to a war crime.”

Other tough findings for Israel include the determination that under international law Israel still “effectively controls” Gaza – something most Israelis fail to realize – or that the much-vaunted “warning system” to protect Palestinian civilians was insufficiently effective.

And still, they meticulously documented every possibility, even rumors, that there may have been a military target among civilian casualties. They examined claims of Hamas firing from civilian areas and infrastructure, and wrote of the execution of suspected collaborators. Those make it still harder to discredit the report.

Ignoring the report altogether may further damage Israel’s cause, Diène hinted. Both authors raised doubts that either side would genuinely investigate or change its own conduct in the future. They pointed to the International Criminal Court as a means to strengthen accountability. McGowan Davis hoped the U.S. would not hinder the ICC: “[In the U.S.] there is talk of punitive measures that might be taken towards the ICC, and that’s not what’s called supporting the process.”

A relative of a child killed earlier in a playground in al-Shati refugee camp mourns at a cemetery, Gaza City, July 28, 2014. Reports indicated that 10 people, mostly children, were killed and 40 injured during the attack which took place on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A relative of a child killed earlier in a playground in al-Shati refugee camp mourns at a cemetery, Gaza City, July 28, 2014. Reports indicated that 10 people, mostly children, were killed and 40 injured during the attack which took place on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

In the course of the ICC’s ongoing preliminary examination into the situation, this report will be first formal document it draws on, explains Diène. Israel’s official position will be glaringly absent.

Their doubts about local capacity for self investigation were compounded by the Israeli Military Advocate General’s decision, just days before the report’s publication, to close its investigation into four Gazan children killed on the beach in an air strike. Both authors were disappointed.

“It was an incredible decision,” Diène says. “It was an emblematic case in which I thought Israel would try to strengthen the credibility of its accountability mechanism. What happened? Where is the reasoning?”

But what truly distinguishes the Human Rights Council report is its unapologetic emotional and humanizing style.

Despite the Israeli government’s non-cooperation McGowan Davis and Diène told +972 Magazine that many private Israeli citizens reached out to tell their stories. The judge felt that these people still had faith in the UN as a forum for justice. Together with Palestinian testimonies, each seem to have experienced both sides of the war very personally. The report treats all suffering extremely seriously, despite the asymmetry of death, lifelong wounds and physical destruction.

Yet the writers were simultaneously struck by the hope for peace and empathy witnesses on both sides expressed. “We spoke to one [Palestinian] man who lost eight members of his family,” McGowan Davis recalled. “What do you say in these situations? … It was hard to experience and take it in.” But she continued, “In the end [the people we spoke to] want peace. They say, ‘I’m concerned about my neighbor on the other side.’ They want peace and they want their leaders to achieve it. It’s extraordinarily humbling as an outsider to come in and hear these things.”

Diène said: “We have heard testimonies from people who have lost relatives, yet have expressed a very deep feeling for the suffering of the other side.” He went on: “The father of Mohammed Abu Khdeir told me that many Israelis came to his house to express their solidarity [after the murder of his son]. …On the other side, the [Israeli] mother of a 4-year-old child that was killed [by a Palestinian rocket] expressed very emotionally her deep thoughts for mothers on the Palestinian side. There was a human side to this war that was not really perceived by the outside world.”

They purposely chose the emotional tone throughout the report, hoping to recall the humanity of each side and generate some hope. It’s not something anyone has come to expect from the international investigations of all-too-regular wars.

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Against ‘hasbara’: Explaining ourselves to death http://972mag.com/against-hasbara-explaining-ourselves-to-death/107603/ http://972mag.com/against-hasbara-explaining-ourselves-to-death/107603/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 10:35:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107603 The Israeli obsession with showing ‘our side’ of the story not only guzzles financial and human resources — it is a conscious attempt to distract the world from policies of occupation. 

A pro-Israel rally, Washington D.C, July 18, 2014 (photo:  Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

A pro-Israel rally, Washington D.C, July 18, 2014 (photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Last week, the CEO of the global French-owned cellular provider Orange made headlines when he told a Cairo press conference that he would like to end his company’s brand-use contract with a local Israeli provider forthwith. Apparently, he felt the profits are hardly worth the resources needed to defend the partnership politically in France.

Within hours the incoming CEO of the Israeli local provider, called “Partner,” had honed his talking points clear and sharp as icicles:

- This is not a problem for Partner alone, it is a national problem.

- We are not a subsidiary of Orange or France Telecom, we are a fully Israeli company, so this will have no impact on our business.

- We have received amazing words of solidarity from government ministers and even our biggest competitors, the other cellphone companies.

At this point, I forgot momentarily about the occupation and trembled in fear that customers too would rally to support the cellphone company whom I will never forgive for years of client abuse.

But most Israelis never thought about Palestinian life in Gaza or the West Bank to begin with. As the country is increasingly abuzz with the growing specter of boycotts, the word “occupation,” or any word about Israeli policy, never comes up. The first-aid response is hasbara, and many Israelis now view it as a solution in itself.

An Orange-branded cellular store in Tel Aviv, June 5, 2015. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Orange-branded cellular store in Tel Aviv, June 5, 2015. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Translated formally as “public diplomacy” or more cynically as “propaganda,” hasbara refers to “explaining” (based on its Hebrew root) in a way that is designed to show Israel’s side. Not my side as an Israeli, but the side the government and most mainstream institutions and individuals want the world to hear.

Public diplomacy, of course, is integral to all governments in the 21st century. The difference between authoritarian societies and democracies lies mainly in the degree of such communication and the freedom to see behind it. It is common to say that in a post-modern media environment, narrative and image are all-powerful. Ironically, post-modernism could have empowered people by exposing hidden narrative and information bias to average news consumers (with apologies for violent reductionism).

Instead, more commonly, it is elites who utilize these lessons. Many seem to believe that images can replace truth altogether. Working in political campaigns, I know it is no use fighting the zeitgiest; “spin” is a reality of modern political communications everywhere.

But Israel has created a monster. The word “narrative” is so now overused that it has almost entirely replaced facts, which people either no longer believe, nor care to seek out. Back in 2000, the Muhammed A-Dura killing and video sparked a trend of hasbara types dissecting all video documentation of injury to Palestinians in order to find evidence that it is doctored. They call such videos “Pallywood,” and use their claims of doctored tapes to fuel the fire of the hasbara. These elaborate efforts have failed to disprove any Israeli abuses, but as +972 Magazine’s Larry Derfner pointed out, they have damaged the credibility of Palestinian grievances among various audiences.

Footage of the Muhammad al-Dura shooting (Screenshot: France 2)

Footage of the Muhammad al-Dura shooting. The controversy over the incident sparked a trend by hasbarists to dissect all video documentation of Palestinians to prove it has been tampered with. (Screenshot: France 2)

And yet when Prime Minister Netanyahu took office again in 2009, he began a diatribe against “delegitimization” of Israel. The charge applied to both criticism of Israeli policy and political activity against it. The Palestinians’ UN statehood bid, for example, a diplomatic action designed to advance political independence, was considered delegitimization. Netanyahu said it so often that this cumbersome English word, tough for Israelis to pronounce, became a household mantra. It was conveyed as a poison – and hasbara was the antidote.

Netanyahu re-established the “Ministry of Hasbara,” which had existed only briefly in 1960s and 70s. In addition, there is a national headquarters for hasbara within the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). In recent years the Foreign Ministry is largely a de facto instrument of hasbara. Add to that the Government Press Office (also part of the PMO) and the IDF spokesperson’s unit, and there at least five separate bodies paid by taxpayers, dealing with the issue. This may not be exhaustive.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, Israeli government hasbara has been matched by massively funded private organizations from abroad. Two of the most prominent are The Israel Project (TIP) which was established in 2003, the height of the second Intifada (and two years after the a-Dura killing), and StandWithUs.

Read: StandWithUs to take cash, messaging from Israeli gov’t

TIP was founded to tell Israel’s story through a sophisticated, high-level strategy. It coddles journalists and provides top-message training to politicians, with elaborate polling data from numerous countries about how to spin Israel. Its current budget is $11 million.

StandWithUs, another North American hasbara NGO, has a budget of about $8 million, and a similar mission. Its members are known for attack-dog argumentation strategy and aggressive social media battles in which they gang up against those who criticize Israel in ways they do not accept. It is a tactic they share with far-right groups such as NGO Monitor. The latter, along with media watchdogs, tracks every word published. They bully authors for critical attitudes, harangue and seek to discredit them over minutia.

The hasbara groups deny that they whitewash Israel’s problems. They openly discuss the conflict, Palestinians, and even Israel’s role and policy. In a way, this deepens the deception. The combination of positive hasbara backed by the dark side of media thought-patrol implicitly says: you are free to talk about any facts – but only in our way.

‘The media is against Israel’

All countries have their national narratives, but lately it feels like Israel’s are ossifying. It can be maddening to hear mantras repeated over and over by a people who are proud of their hyper-developed skills of disagreement. Some of the most common collective notions include:

 “Israel has always wanted peace; the Palestinians have always rejected it.”

“In the present, Israel has tried to negotiate for a two-state solution, but the Palestinians don’t want it.”

“There is no Palestinian partner – they are divided and ruled by corrupt terrorists or Islamist terrorists.”

“The conflict cannot be solved now. We’ll just have to wait for some other time in the future when they’re ready.”

“The status quo is not good but it is better than any other option.”

“The media is against Israel”

“Inadequate hasbara is one of the core reasons our situation is bad – if we improved our communications, the world would stop pressuring us.”

“Hasbara is a national strategic priority (or threat, if not done well).”

“The Palestinians have top-quality hasbara, which functions like a well-oiled machine, and that is how they have hijacked the narrative.”

“If we show the world good things Israel does, they will forgive us for the occupation.”

Those core themes are now axiomatic in Israeli life. They are not debated over dinner but they are the factual starting point for all other discussions.

The national fervor has given rise to numerous hasbara programs designed to train individuals how to think and communicate in a pro-Israel manner. The programs are geared for young people, both Israelis and foreigners, whether they are considering careers in PR or just becoming adults on any path. They are being taught to communicate positively about Israel, to research and process information to support the correct opinion, and how to interact about Israel in ways designed exclusively to convince.

According to StandWithUs, the organization has: “graduated 1,000 Israeli Fellows – students who have completed their IDF service and are trained by StandWithUs to tell Israel’s story from an Israeli perspective.”

The Hasbara Fellowship is another one. It was founded by members of the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, a long-standing Jewish proselytizing group that seeks to turn secular Jews ultra-Orthodox. In 2008 Jeffrey Goldberg called them “the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today.”

Its brochure states that Hasbara Fellows are taught about: “Israel’s positive contributions to world, Israel’s free and democratic society, Israel’s strategic threats [against Israel – ds], and incitement in Palestinian schoolbooks and media.”

Fellows are “exposed to a variety of perspectives on the Israeli political spectrum.” But in an article about the program, founder Elliot Mathias explained that students are exposed B’Tselem in order to rebuff its claims: “‘These are arguments that anti-Israel students often use, and it’s important that our students hear it and know how to deal with these situations,’ Mathias wrote.”

A Palestinian B'Tselem volunteer documenting a protest in the south Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

A Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer documenting a protest in the south Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

The right-wing outfit Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) has aimed even younger, with a proposal to the Ministry of Education for a high school program on public diplomacy based on “Love of Zion” and Zionist values. IZS is the group that has conducted a political-monitoring operation against Israeli academic departments to bolster the attack on academia a few years ago by Im Tirzu. Presumably, the educational hasbara program it proposes will reflect the spirit of its agenda.

It is certainly good for young people to learn communication skills, such as rhetoric and debate. Those skills rest on the ability to analyze arguments from different sides and gather new information. But hasbara teaches people about one side, on one issue. It doesn’t just teach specific opinions – it teaches people how to think.

Uncritical thinking

In hasbara-world, young people are taught to determine right facts about Israel, selectively, and to discredit, then suppress all the other ones. They are taught that there is one right interpretation of facts. Bottom lines can’t be criticized at all, such as Israel’s designation as Zionist.

What is a fact, anyway? In this approach, the test is not empirical, but the other way around: if it’s good for Israel, it’s a fact. If not, it must wrong.

brilliant recent article about Armenians who have raised genocide recognition above all other national pursuits explains the danger:

To label 1915 as a genocide…was our highest calling…as an adult, I came to question those orthodoxies, which came from the Armenian summer camps, youth groups and other community activities…I described how such views sometimes seemed inextricable from racism against Turks; and that when it came to intellectual life, we had lost the freedom to ask questions and pursue ideas that were not framed by the political project of genocide recognition.

Hasbara-ists may be exposed to “a range” of political perspectives, but not in order to listen. They speak to B’Tselem prepared only to refute it; how can they possibly encounter Palestinians? They listen in order to not listen.

Hasbara also taints the good: Kavana, or the intention deep in our hearts, is an important concept in Israeli society and in Judaism. What happens to a cultural, scientific, social-improvement pursuit when it is done for some other kavana – when its real goal is to improve Israel’s image rather than the thing itself?

The Armenian author cited above observed that the Armenian obsession to stake out its identity in Soviet Russia began to taint creative pursuits in poetry, architecture, science.

Without realizing it, these people are impoverishing their hearts and souls by ceasing to take any real enjoyment in poetry, architecture and science, seeing in them only a way of establishing their national supremacy.

Israel may not be quite there. But we have become accustomed to sickly-sweet news items about Israeli acheivements. Wan congratulatory articles extol great Israeli technology, cultural or humanitarian achievements in some sad hope that if we convince ourselves that they annul bad policies, the world will believe it too. That way we won’t have to change anything.

Listening to the Israeli media boast about Israel’s superior level of humanitarian aid to Nepal relative to other countries, one wonders how far we are from caring about our image more than the bodies still being counted.

It’s the occupation, stupid

Israelis’ first reaction to boycott-like efforts is defensiveness and backlash. While this raises doubts about the effectiveness of boycott as a tactic, it is reasonable to think Israelis would finally feel the consequences of ongoing occupation.

But the reaction to every negative development is to demand better and better hasbara as a replacement for better policy. During last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, I heard a Tel Aviv hipster in the supermarket telling someone that the real tragedy is that Israel’s side of the story is not being told well. Back around the time of Operation Cast Lead, an academic colleague fumed that Israel’s poor hasbara is a “war crime” in itself.

All countries care about their image. But the hasbara obsession guzzles financial and human resources. It is a conscious distraction from policy debates that only serves to perpetuate terrible policies. And that’s just in the present. In the future, even if Israelis wish to change their minds, think in new ways, or question what isn’t working – they may no longer know how to do so.

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Why can’t Israelis just be nice to each other? http://972mag.com/racism-facebook-trigger-suicide-and-soul-searching/107123/ http://972mag.com/racism-facebook-trigger-suicide-and-soul-searching/107123/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 17:42:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107123 A manager at the Interior Ministry commits suicide days after being publicly shamed on Facebook for alleged racism against a black Israeli woman. What will it take for us to start treating each other like human beings first?

Last week, a black Israeli woman went to a branch of the Interior Ministry with her small children to renew a passport. She got stuck in various lines, and the versions about what happened (hers, or this one from an eyewitness) differ only in nuances. Frustrated, she spoke to the manager, telling him that she had been given the runaround on the lines because the clerk was racist. He got offended and, according to her, brusquely rejected her accusation (“get out of my face”). According to the manager, he was merely being firm.


On Wednesday, she wrote an angry Facebook post and asked people to share it. By Friday 6,000 people did so, Channel 10 interviewed her and another popular TV host picked up the story. On Saturday, the manager wrote a lengthy Facebook post expressing how hurt he was at being labeled a racist.

Then he committed suicide.

For a couple of days, Israelis spoke of little else. Everyone knows the rage that wells up when we receive foul treatment from bureaucrats or customer-service agents. There was the race aspect, dovetailing on terrible treatment of Ethiopian-Israelis demonstrating against discrimination recently.

When it turned out that the dead manager was a longtime Shin Bet agent before retiring in his 40s and moving to the Interior Ministry, the political angle exploded. Ugly responses from the Left said “I won’t shed a tear for him” — that his role in propping up the occupation was unforgivable, or that he must have been suicidal because all those terrible deeds at the Shin Bet ate away at his conscience.

Some on the right predictably decreed that the woman had manipulated her racial victimhood. Mainstream media covered the fact that he was active in organizations promoting Arab integration and in the center-left Council on Peace and Security. Those who knew him felt he was simply the wrong target for the accusation of racism.

Protesters sit in the road at a demonstration by Israelis of Ethiopian descent against police in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, May 3, 2015. (Activestills.org)

Protesters sit in the road at a demonstration by Israelis of Ethiopian descent against police in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, May 3, 2015. (Activestills.org)

But sometimes it is not about Israel. Often people are simply not nice enough to one other. I used to think the local version — gruffness or open hostility — was a charming idiosyncrasy, since it harked back to the romantic Israeli mythology. Now I think it’s just inexcusable — here, or anywhere.

It won’t help to wax utopian about human nature. But surely there is something we can do short of overhauling whole institutions of parenting, social interaction, education systems and the particular local culture that contributes to meanness (like, I believe, the Israeli political environment).

A modest suggestion: that we consider our interlocutors as full human beings, with history and vulnerabilities just like us.

Here is a recent anecdote that I thought of — the only real parallel is the aggression.

Not long ago, I was jogging home down a narrow sidewalk on a pleasant spring morning listening to my iPod. At some point, through the music, I became aware of someone’s voice behind me saying “get out of the way.”

I turned around and saw a bicyclist, on the busy sidewalk full of people. “You shouldn’t be biking on the sidewalk,” I told him. He pushed past me and yelled backwards “it’s a shame you exist.” I shot back “do you want to run me over?!” He gave me the finger. It was only as he pulled ahead of me that I saw the child in the kid-seat behind him, who wasn’t visible when the rider was behind me.

My stomach soured and my head rang with the nasty words; my morning was shot. I wondered if I had been unfair. I wondered whether, if he had known I couldn’t hear him at first, he would have been less testy in asking me to move; if I had known first that he was biking with a kid whether I would have been less self-righteous about insisting he ride in the street. And whether if he had known that one spring some years ago, I was knocked over by a cyclist on a sidewalk, which crushed the bone in my wrist, sent me to surgery and put a titanium plate, screws and a suicide scar in my arm, and after two months in a cast and six months of physiotherapy, permanently limited my flexibility, he would have considered riding on the street instead, choosing safe routes.

But we didn’t know those things. Next time there is an altercation, we won’t know the history of the person who we believe has wronged us. Following the suicide, the woman from the Interior Ministry wrote that she has been ill-treated for being brown-skinned for years, and now the first time she decided to write publicly about it, someone was hurt. She expressed terrible sorrow. He didn’t know her history, and she couldn’t have known that he would be suicidal.

But maybe we can guess. If we think of each other first as human beings, we might then remember the experiences and vulnerabilities that go along with that. Perhaps that will help us turn the volume down a notch, especially when we’re heated. And if we can do that for individual interactions, can it get easier on the collective level too?

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Suspending bus segregation won’t solve a thing http://972mag.com/suspending-bus-segregation-wont-solve-a-thing/106929/ http://972mag.com/suspending-bus-segregation-wont-solve-a-thing/106929/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 15:59:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106929 The bus segregation plan is but one policy in a massive system of occupation, which is growing not only geographically but also institutionally, politically and conceptually. 

Palestinian workers pray after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel, January 4, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian workers pray after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel, January 4, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

On Tuesday night the plan to segregate Palestinians and Israelis on buses in the West Bank was put into effect, reported Haaretz. On Wednesday morning the Prime Minister decided to suspend the program, following criticism.


When each development is more awful than the last, perhaps there are no more wise arguments to be made. Instead, I have documented the cycle of attitudes around this week’s example, which reflects, in broad strokes, the deadlocked mentality of the conflict itself.

1. The Israeli Defense Minister justified the separation with the following logic, quoted in Haaretz:

You don’t need to be security expert to realize that 20 Arabs on a bus with a Jewish driver and two or three passengers and one soldier with a gun is a set-up for an attack.

According to this, any Arab majority situation is a security threat to a Jew. Israelis inside the Green Line may soon view any bus with 20 Arabs, 2-3 Jews passengers, a Jewish driver and a soldier as a security threat to Jews, even though the soldier is the only one with a gun. They may then prefer to segregate buses inside Israel too.

2. Those who favor segregation will back it up with any case of Palestinian violence, which they link to the huge, historic and intractable problems. The collective voice will say this:

When they stop killing us, we’ll let them ride the buses together. Just this morning, there was a terror attack in Jerusalem. It is proof that if we hadn’t won in ’48 they would have slaughtered us.

It is true that a Palestinian driver charged into a group in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning in what is presumed to be a terror attack, injuring two police officers. He was shot and killed.

3. Haaretz reports that the former Central (District) Commander had said that mixed buses do not pose a danger. He observed that Palestinians taking the mixed buses into Israel have work permits, and have been deemed safe enough to work among Israeli civilians inside the Green Line.

4. Those who support segregation will ignore #3, those opposed do not believe #2 justifies segregation, or argue that repressive policies contribute to #2. Points 2 and 3 are mutually exclusive for most Israelis.

5. The bus segregation plan is one policy in a massive system of occupation, which is growing not only geographically but also institutionally, politically and conceptually. It is a sprawling multi-ministerial task force with mechanisms so complex that policymakers don’t know how to manage it, hence the slow-motion development, implementation and backtracking on this single policy.

Read more: Segregation does not begin or end on buses

6. The ability of Palestinians to move freely around where they live and work has deteriorated severely and steadily since 1967. For the first 20 years, there was relative mobility around the whole region including Israel; movement has been choked off in stages each decade since the first Intifada broke out in 1987 and at present is more restricted than ever, especially given the situation in Gaza.

7. Associations with apartheid and images of Jim Crow are appearing with greater frequency lately. Recently, Israeli police fired water cannons at black citizens who were demonstrating against discrimination. Images of Birmingham 1963 rose in my mind. An American-Israeli friend thought the comparison exaggerated, and pointed out that the demonstrators had blocked the country’s main highway for hours earlier that day. But rationalizing it didn’t make the association go away.

8. If any foreign media criticizes the segregation plan or caught the story before Netanyahu suspended it, Matti Friedman will say there is a global conspiracy of the foreign press to make Israel look bad. Because writing about suspending a plan for bus segregation makes Israel look good.

9. The organization responsible for implementing the bus segregation is called the “Civil Administration,” which in effect is a body inside the Defense Ministry, responsible for the lives of regular people living under military law. Lately there has been some political wrangling over which party will control it – Jewish Home has formal control in the new government, which it wanted presumably to strengthen Israel’s hold and presence in the West Bank. But Likud prefers de facto control, presumably so that it can strengthen Israel’s hold and presence in the West Bank.

10. Israelis who raise an outcry against segregation on buses will be criticized from the far-Left for hypocrisy and complicity, because they don’t embrace the right of return for Palestinians.

 11. Human rights advocates have promised to take the bus segregation plan to the Supreme Court. In the past, the Court ruled against the route of the separation wall, and ordered the re-integration of Road 443 following a decade of closure for Palestinians. After those rulings, the occupation continued.

 12. Supporters of a two-state solution will say this is a terrible development that highlights the urgency of reviving negotiations for a two-state solution.

 13. More critical supporters of an agreement will say that in the 25 years of two-state negotiations security has gotten worse for Israelis, occupation has gotten worse for Palestinians – and both sides have failed to sign an agreement. They will advocate for new models, such as a confederate political separation with relaxed borders and greater human rights emphasis.

Then the policymakers in the region and in Washington will say that such a thing is a utopian fantasy — a distraction from the pragmatic options already on the table following 25 years of negotiation. This is how they will sound: “We all know the outlines of the solution, it just takes political will.”

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Shhhh, the Nakba made it to prime time http://972mag.com/shhhh-the-nakba-made-it-to-prime-time/106757/ http://972mag.com/shhhh-the-nakba-made-it-to-prime-time/106757/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 13:33:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106757 Israel’s top satire program takes on the Nakba. Sometimes humor can succeed in places where activism or advocacy fall short.

Kitzis reports on the battle of narratives over Independence Day and the Nakba

Kitzis reports on the battle of narratives over Independence Day and the Nakba. Screenshot of ‘Eretz Nehederet.’

The tortured road of the Nakba towards a legitimate place in the Israeli historical memory has some unexpected twists.

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio and Dr. Eléonore Merza Bronstein recently explained that at first, it was mainly Palestinians who wished to commemorate the Nakba. Next came far-left wing Jews in Israel. Following that came the right-wing or oppositional Jewish Israeli approaches, such as “Jewish Nakba,” a phrase coined over the years as a name for the violent expulsion of Jews from Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel. Their piece highlights how defensive efforts to reject the history of the Palestinian Nakba, or turn Jewish history into a political rebuttal, actually acknowledge its importance. The first of these was the childish but notorious “Nakba – Bullshit” campaign by the bully-group Im Tirzu.


However, the recent appearance of the Nakba in popular, mainstream Israeli culture may be the most surprising roadstop of all.

With little blowback or social media shrieks, Israeli television viewers of all ilk were treated to a surprisingly detailed, historically informed re-enaction of the very Nakba most would prefer to ignore. This happened on Channel 2, the highest-rated, mainstream channel in the country. And not only on Channel 2, but on Eretz Nehederet, the most beloved, top-ranking satire show in the land. And that would have been enough, but the show went further, broadcasting the practically subversive skit in its Independence Day episode. Had Channel 2 been a public company, it would have violated the Nakba Law, which stipulates that a public organization observing the Nakba on Independence Day can lose its public funding.

But perhaps what can’t be done through activism or advocacy can be accomplished by humor. When we laugh, we forgo the pain and think about the content of what made us laugh. Maybe that way we forget to be shocked at the choice of content to begin with.

It’s hard for an un-funny writer to re-create humor through description, especially in translation. It’s even harder when the text is so zippy and quippy, slapping silly jokes and gravitas together like candy-coated medicine.

You can watch the episode  here (Eretz Nehederet, Season 12, episode 11, starting around 35 minutes). Otherwise, several highlights stand out that make it so valuable:

Eyal Kitzis – the longtime anchor often dubbed Israel’s Jon Stewart – observes that in recent years, each Independence Day sparks a battle of narratives. This sentence alone would have been inconceivable in a political climate when one’s own history was simply true and there was no such thing as a competing version. The writers of the show are well aware that their audiences are familiar with the problem.

The re-enactment is a flashback to a scene using 1940s versions of well-known characters from the current season: A female Arab pharmacist-poet from the present is now doling out plant-based remedies for malaria to a man in her village, while discreetly inquiring if he has had “unprotected contact with a mosquito.” The hawker who sells awful homemade soups at the shopping mall in the present, and who is in love with the pharmacist, is now the company cook for a Palmach battalion. He fills canteens with soup and rock-hard meatballs solid enough to stop a speeding bullet.

The Palmach shlemiel wanders over to the village and happens upon the pharmacist, collecting plants. They flirt, and as they lean in for an illicit kiss, a mercenary Jewish soldier gallops over to warn them both: She must leave the village ahead of conquering Jewish forces, and the Palmachnik must not waste his time falling in love with her.

The Palestinian woman is shocked that she must leave her home; the mercenary soldier lies and tells her she can return the next day. On the side, he tries to tell the Palmach soldier about the plan to expel the villagers, by order of Ben Gurion. But the Palmach soldier cuts him off and insists that he not spoil the ending. Mocking modern day addictions to TV series, the Palmach soldier explains that he’s only up to the UN partition vote (“Argentina said ‘sustains’” – Israelis love poking fun at their own poor English).

Nakba re-enacted on Israeli prime time

Nakba re-enacted on Israeli prime time

There is no dancing around the issue, no skirting the margins; the skit is the nexus of the Nakba itself. By taking a sly position on the huge historical debate over Ben Gurion’s knowledge or guidance of efforts to remove as many Palestinians as possible under the cover of war, the writers implicate everyone, from lowly soldiers who prefer not to know, and the top who probably does.

The scene, not even three minutes long, also takes place on the very battleground of memory. It is composed of information made available only through exhaustive efforts of historians over decades of research, involving lawsuits against the Israeli government to declassify files and archives. Even still, some of these archives have since been re-classified. Along with the history that increasingly cannot be disputed, there is also little question that the state exerted considerable effort, and still does, to suppress the events. With this episode, Eretz Nehederet has jumped into the ring, on the challenger side.

Typically, Eretz Nehederet has the last word, and it borders on cynicism. The flashback returns to modern-day Israel, where the the village has morphed back into the shopping mall and two woman are wrestling on the ground over a shirt (this actually happened, when H&M opened its doors in Tel Aviv a few years ago).

Cheap shots, to be sure. But if even one or two average viewers – not political activists, not left-wingers and not Im Tirzu types – are left questioning if the present justifies the past, or questioning anything at all, we might do a better job of redressing both.

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How not to be sexually harassed in the IDF http://972mag.com/how-not-to-be-sexually-harassed-in-the-idf/106324/ http://972mag.com/how-not-to-be-sexually-harassed-in-the-idf/106324/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 14:45:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106324 May Fatal is a young soldier who was sexually harassed and perhaps stalked by her superior in the army. That’s nothing new. Sexual harassment in the IDF has been a dirty, loosely kept secret for decades, known to most women and plenty of men in Israel.

Few women ever go public with their experience, and even fewer do so with their own identity.


Last year, Fatal submitted a complaint against her commander Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi, a battalion commander in the Givati combat brigade, within the army system. The case made the press but she remained anonymous. In December, military prosecutors reached a plea bargain with Hajbi: he was removed from IDF service, but avoided criminal charges in a civilian court.

Last week Fatal broke her anonymity by protesting the plea bargain in an impassioned Facebook post. In so doing she became one of the few victims of sexual harassment to reveal herself publicly, rejecting the single initial and pixelated face commonly used to protect anonymity. Many have come to feel that hiding one’s name and blotting out faces on TV conveys that the woman has been shamed and strips her of her identity, making it harder for the public to relate to her.

Fatal’s post generated a series of headlines, analyses and further developments. She was attacked online for having photos of herself in a bathing suit on Facebook, supposed proof of her temptress character. MK Shelly Yachimovich wrote a lengthy response arguing for Fatal — and every woman’s — right to both wear a bathing suit and not be harassed.

Over the weekend, Gili Cohen wrote in Haaretz about  a trend of women revealing their own experiences of harassment in the army, on Facebook and elsewhere, and what it means. The article asks for the umpteenth time what happens when a woman steps forward and complains. Why don’t more women do so? Is the pain worth the price? If more women do it, will the process become less intimidating? This question is becoming central to the debate. A survey published Sunday shows that 98 percent of those who have experienced harassment do not report it to the police.

Cohen quotes Rachel Tevet-Weisel, the Israeli army’s “advisor to the Chief of Staff on women’s issues,” saying she encourages women to step up and speak out. But the advisor’s also had some thoughts about how sexual harassment can be avoided (my translation):

[Tevet Weisel] says that actually in the mixed units this [sexual harassment – ds] happens much less. “In the end, they prove themselves – if they are good fighters or good pilots – and these barriers come down very fast. The differences are erased, they start to work together, and that’s it,” claims Brigadier-General Tevet-Weisel.

In other words, she implies that women can earn their peace of mind and body, and their equality, by serving in a combat unit. And if her performance as a combat soldier or a pilot is outstanding, she has a really good shot at not being molested.

IDF soldiers (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)

The best way for an IDF soldier to avoid sexual harassment? (Photo by IDF Spokesperson)

So much commentary focuses on what women can or can’t wear and what they should or shouldn’t do to redress the situation – or even prevent it. The message that emerges is: ladies, it’s up to you.

What about society, its institutions, the perpetrators themselves?

Cohen does mention some “hasbara” in the army –a PSA the army put out a couple of years ago is one example. (Aside from a fleeting moment showing the female soldier looking sad, the central message is punitive: if you harass her, you might find yourself in court.) It is also true that in recent years, IDF recruits are commonly taught about gender sensitivity and harassment issues in basic training.

But Lili Ben Ami, director of the Center for Women’s Leadership in Jerusalem, a teacher and longtime activist for gender equality, argues that there is no overall institutional plan in the education system, the formative years. She describes an uphill battle with the Education Ministry.

“No one has decided that it’s important enough to allocate sufficient funds to it,” Ben Ami says. “There are ad hoc seminars – but there is no policy and they don’t reach the majority.” She cannot fathom why there are programs for all pupils about safe driving but that former Education Minister Shay Piron wouldn’t even grant a meeting about incorporating these issues into the education system’s curriculum. “It is urgent,” she told me. “It is a matter of people’s lives.”

Let me be clear – the discussion around submitting complaints is important, and women should come forth, reclaim the initiative and air the truth.

But people need to understand that this takes an enormous, even overwhelming amount of emotional energy. Hours go into consulting, maybe crying, with friends, family, therapists. A formal complaint is just the start of a lengthy process that, at its best, eats up more mental and emotional strength; at worst, it can create more trauma. Conversations will be repeated endlessly in our heads as we turn over the original painful things that were said and done – then more painful things that might happen as a result.

I admit it: when I should have complained, I didn’t. I was one of those aware, educated, feminist, savvy, “strong” women who used up all my strength to contain the rage and humiliation and sense of betrayal, to work my way out of a depressive phase, and get back to work. I didn’t want to devote any more of myself to the issue.

Just imagine if all that damned energy and thought and emotional investment went into developing the next killer app, mapping a genome, or running for prime minister instead.

Imagine if those who commit the crime, and all of society, share the burden of preventing it, and we free up our talents to meet other challenges.

Individuals and society alike are responsible for prevention, not the victims. Here are some obvious first steps:

• Men can learn to control themselves. After all, they managed to become potty-trained.

• Israeli culture can cut out the military gold standard. Children do not need to be trained from age zero that the greatest possible achievement is to become a combat soldier, with the accompanying sense of machoist entitlement for those who get there. That gold standard means women start from less than zero in terms of social capital. (Women combat soldiers will never be seen as equal, and who wants more of them, anyway?)

• Women do not earn equality by being pilots as good as men, or by being as successful as men at killing people. We are already valuable. Invaluable.

• The IDF does not need an advisor on “women’s affairs.” Women are not a problem. Maybe there should be an advisor on gender relations.

Fatal wrote in her post that the indictment recognized her commander’s devoted service in the IDF, specifically during the recent war, as an argument for leniency of his punishment. So here’s a lesson in no-brainer logic: fighting a war does not excuse terrorizing a woman. It’s painful that I really have to say this.

I personally believe that someone who harasses a subordinate has failed to confront the soul and spirit of that person. If this is a broad social phenomenon, the lack of engagement is everyone’s problem.

Humanizing women wouldn’t be a bad start for men in the army. Who knows, the image of dignified human beings may even rub off on some other people commonly treated as less.

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Are Israelis ready for a confederated two-state solution? http://972mag.com/are-israelis-ready-for-a-confederated-two-state-solution/100920/ http://972mag.com/are-israelis-ready-for-a-confederated-two-state-solution/100920/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 13:37:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100920 A +972 poll puts the details of one such plan to the Israeli public, and finds that a majority supports the general approach.

[Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com]

[Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com]

The new year begins with speculation about the possibility of a change of government in Israel. But it is not at all clear that even a more centrist government can advance a two-state peace process with the Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians are pessimistic about both the potential for successful negotiations or the feasibility of the two-state solution. On this point, the two publics, frankly, are more realistic than various policy circles.

In response, some people this past year began exploring other options, rather than succumb to the status quo. The initiatives center mostly around various confederation-style models, not as pipe dreams but as realistic alternatives.

One such effort by the Israel-Palestine Center for Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI) (as mentioned in +972’s initial poll report, full disclosure: I participate in it) has tried to break through some of the non-negotiable elements of Israeli and Palestinian two-state demands. IPCRI’s “Two States One Space,” is similar to another initiative called “Two States, One Land,” with Israelis and Palestinians who have been working together for about two years. Both visions involve two separate entities with distinct national identities, based on rough geographic definitions. There would be open borders, high cooperation, and phased but broad freedom of residence. The idea is to avoid uprooting most Israeli settlers, and accept Palestinian refugee return claims in a way that avoids trampling Jewish identity in Israel. Jerusalem is united but shared.

Read also: Israelis reject the status quo, fear int’l isolation

Our survey was the first to put these ideas to a quantitative test, with questions developed together with IPCRI. And after hearing all of the specific items in detail, a majority of Israelis – 56 percent – and even an absolute majority of Jews (51 percent) supported the general approach – precisely the same level that currently support the classic two-state formulations such as the Clinton and Geneva plans in Hebrew University surveys.

As we very often see in research about conflict resolution in this region, the whole – public support for the total framework package – is greater than the parts. Support for nearly all of the line items is lower than the 56 percent majority above. But the reactions to those items are surprising in themselves.

Below are the questions and results as they were asked in the survey. To get a thorough reading, we gave a summary of each core principle in a simple sentence and asked for reactions to each one separately. Then we ended by asking about the whole package.

Two separate states with open borders: 42 percent of Israelis accept this — nearly half. Among Jews, one-third accepted it, and over 80 percent of Arabs.

Jewish Israelis can stay in a Palestinian state as residents there and citizens of Israel, and Palestinians can reside in Israel [and] will have Palestinian citizenship. This attempt to break through the issue of settlers was acceptable to one-third of Israelis, including nearly 70 percent of Arabs but just one-quarter (27 percent) of Jews support it. Note that we didn’t specifically use the word “settlers” – which may have tilted Jewish results either way

Right of return for Jews and Palestinians to respective states – with residence subject to agreement of both states. Nearly half of all Israelis – 41 percent of Jews and 80 percent of Arabs – say this is acceptable. This is a striking finding when normally just putting terms “right of return” and “Palestinians” in the same sentence results in roughly 80 percent opposition against that item, by Jews.

Jerusalem – unified and undivided capital of both nations. Nearly half of the Israeli public (45 percent) accepts this and the finding is only slightly lower among Jews (40 percent).

Shared authorities, Israeli security control with Palestinian cooperation like today. This was the easiest for Israelis support – there are no emotions surrounding shared authorities and Israelis understand that the current security arrangements are great for them. Nearly 60 percent say this is acceptable, with only minor variation between Arabs and Jews.

Finally we asked, having heard all these items, do you generally support or oppose the package? Here the respondents were asked not just to accept the package but actively support or oppose it – and the majority (56 percent) support it.

The initiative does not exactly cut across the left-right divide in the Israeli public. The self-identified center and Left were more likely than the Right to support each initiative and the package. But significant portions of the Right were open to even the elements that are normally the most controversial.

Thus, one-third of self-defined right-wingers support the solution regarding right of return (half and three-quarters of the center and Left support it, respectively).

The Jerusalem concept was more polarizing, with just 18 percent of right-wingers expressing support for it – but higher portions among the center and Left (58 percent and 80 percent, respectively) who do.

But nearly one-third (roughly 30 percent) of right-wingers support the overall concept. Among the center the portion is quite remarkable: 69 percent, and on the left, nearly 90 percent – practically a consensus – support the full package.

Respondents made two firm statements through this data: first, when 90 percent of Israelis rejected the “status quo” option out of four possible directions for the conflict (see the full survey report), they meant it: most are willing to open their minds and take risks for the sake of change.

Second, Israelis are not interested in whether a resolution is labeled two states, separation, one state or shared sovereignty. They are willing to open their minds beyond the classic approaches — that are so entrenched in Washington and increasingly dismissed in Europe – to find ways out of the mutually destructive reality.

The survey was designed and analyzed by Dahlia Scheindlin, and data collection was conducted by New Wave Research. The research included a representative sample of 600 adults, Jews and Arabs, who were interviewed in Hebrew and in Arabic. The interviews were conducted through both Internet and phone, from December 11-17. The margin of error is +/-4%, higher for each sub-sample. See the raw data in Hebrew here.

Correction appended: Regarding the question about right of return, a previous version cited “80% opposition against Jews,” rather than opposition against  resolution of the right of return question, by Jews.

Read also:

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