+972 Magazine » Dahlia Scheindlin http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 17 Sep 2014 17:18:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as ‘political’ http://972mag.com/refusal-by-elite-idf-reservists-angrily-dismissed-as-political/96687/ http://972mag.com/refusal-by-elite-idf-reservists-angrily-dismissed-as-political/96687/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 18:25:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96687 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 first of all at the signatories themselves. On her Facebook page she essentially argued that they were arrogant for writing as if they are superior in Israeli society based on the prestige of the unit. Noting that they gain invaluable skills and enjoy shining career possibilities, they ought to be grateful rather than critical, she wrote.

Yachimovich did not seem to consider that the reservists might have felt a responsibility precisely because they are privileged, to consider those less fortunate; or that they may resent building their promising careers on what they view as the destruction of another society.

The reactions from Labor highlight a growing chasm between those who consider themselves left wing on social issues and because they support a two-state solution, and those whose “leftism” is expressed by urgency and action.

Thus friends who often take critical liberal and left-wing perspectives, wrote emotional posts on social media explaining their disapproval. Often the main accusation was that this refusal is “political.” Indeed, the response of both the IDF spokesperson and that of fellow reservists in 8200 who are opposed to refusal, quoted in Walla, was that that refusing duty is an unacceptable politicization of their army service. The Unit 8200 reservists against refusal stated:

Political refusal has no place in the army and in our unit specifically. From the moment we reserve soldiers are called to the flag, we put aside our political opinions and orientations and we come to serve the state.

***

Notwithstanding the real concern of mutiny or anarchy should an army act independently of political will, there is something quixotic about dismissing an act of refusal because it is political.

That’s what an act of refusal is, unless it is purely personal or religious. Refusal in this case is a statement of something that is already abundantly clear: The IDF’s role in this conflict is deeply political. Israelis are drafted into service as soldier-citizens, it is impossible to extricate politics from service, or draw a phantom boundary between them.

The soldiers sought no personal gain, no political points. If they were a party, they would have lost all their votes (this is probably what terrifies Labor and accounts for the over-protestations). If their identities become known, since little is truly secret in Israel, the glamorous economic, high-tech and – as seen clearly through this incident – high-flying political paths open to them might easily be closed.

Essentially, they stood only to lose from withdrawing from a system they believe is destroying both sides.

The exhortations to keep politics to the realm of demonstrations and public discourse smack of insincerity. For those who truly, genuinely want to end the 47-year military rule over millions of Palestinians, one thing is clear: Nothing so far has worked. In that context, demanding that activists limit their activities to those with no impact is merely embracing the occupation itself.

*Correction Appended: A quote has been removed because it was mistakenly cited from a personal Facebook page in which the setting was private.

Related:
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
How can you tell that Israeli refuseniks are are scaring the system?
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation

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IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation http://972mag.com/idfs-start-up-nation-reservists-refuse-to-serve-the-occupation/96636/ http://972mag.com/idfs-start-up-nation-reservists-refuse-to-serve-the-occupation/96636/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 14:50:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96636 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):

We who came out of Unit 8200, men and women reservists past and present, declare that we refuse to take part in activities against Palestinians and refuse to continue serving as instruments to deepen the military rule over the occupied territories.

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):

The refuseniks of 8200 gave different examples of things they do on a routine basis as part of their army service, such as revealing the sexual preferences of Palestinians in order to blackmail them and thereby recruit them as collaborators. That, or by exploiting economic hardships or medical needs of Palestinians who need treatment in Israel. The other main examples deal with … assassinations and bombings of Gaza since Cast Lead, including targets that [the signatories] say were unjustified, caused unnecessary harm to innocents and didn’t contribute to the security of residents of Israel.

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

Some of [the things the unit does] are supposed to protect us from violence, but some of it is just destroying Palestinian society, preventing them from improving their lives in any way…We’re not saying this because we read it in some newspapers or blogs, but because that’s what we had to do in the framework of our roles.

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

They are not exceptions that happened to some of them once or twice – the opposite: in their testimony they were careful to choose examples that are structural aspects of service in the unit, with the knowledge and approval of the chain of command.

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 easily replaced. A reservist who refuses duty can’t be replaced as easily as a combat soldier.

She also saw it as a statement that intelligence – specifically human intelligence which is one of the unit’s major tasks – is equally responsibility for the situation on the ground. “Maybe in the past they thought, if we were combat soldiers, we would be refusing. But now they realize there’s no reason, just because they’re intelligence, that they don’t have responsibility. That’s what’s new here.” They may even play a greater role:

The fact that they provide the technology and information is a greater responsibility in a way, because it’s acknowledging that the gathering of information can’t be separated from what happens on the ground. Sitting in front of a screen is no different from dropping a bomb.

The fact that they are reservists who have served in this unit for years means they cannot be written off as newcomers who may have started out as radical left-wingers; further, the signatories state that they do not intend to refuse tasks related to foreign intelligence.

Indeed, one of the most striking points in the letter is the forceful argument that Israel’s policies with relation to Palestinians are simply unrelated to defense –and they are a matter of choice.

Millions of Palestinians are living under Israeli military rule for 47 years already. This regime negates their basic rights and takes away large portions of land in order to settle Jews who are subject to a different system of laws, justice and enforcement. This reality is not the inevitable result of the state’s efforts to defend itself, but rather it is the result of choice. Settlement expansion has nothing to do with self defense, and the same goes for the limitations on construction and development, economic exploitation of West Bank lands, collective punishment of the residents of Gaza and the route of the separation fence.

Related:
How can you tell that Israeli refuseniks are scaring the system?
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation
Egyptian, Israeli activists make joint call to free conscientious objectors

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One or two states, Israelis and Palestinians are bound together http://972mag.com/one-or-two-states-israelis-and-palestinians-are-bound-together/96533/ http://972mag.com/one-or-two-states-israelis-and-palestinians-are-bound-together/96533/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:48:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96533 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 dear Jewish friends in the Galil who disagree with many of my political views and live in a closed Jewish community, but one that is nestled between two major Arab towns, eating, drinking, celebrating, working, shopping, schooling and playing with Arab co-nationals as equals more than most Tel Avivis? It is my Arab colleague from Haifa, who teases me for being a “lefty,” or is it the Jewish Israelis who killed Mohammed Abu Khdeir?

Palestinian and Jewish men speak at protest against settler violence in Jaffa. December 5, 2008 (Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Palestinian and Jewish men speak at protest against settler violence in Jaffa. December 5, 2008 (Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

The whole self-other question clashes with the New Yorker in me. I was one of two or three Jews in my grade-school class. My best friends were tow-headed, Chinese, Hispanic, Italian and Palestinian – add a hyphenated “American” after each. We used to sit around braiding each other’s hair and having sleepover parties. No people-to-people initiative, just good old-fashioned New York City public schooling.

But this isn’t a cry for a naïve vision of a single bi-national state or American and Canadian civic identity-based Israel.

It is a reminder that whether the conflict here is resolved through one, two, three or ten states, Israel will still never be homogenous. Nor will other states, anywhere, which are fighting for exclusivity of identity. Ethnic homogeneity is a nasty and dangerous sham.

Israel has Jews, and Arabs both Christian and Muslim. There are Arab Jews and European Jews, and Christians who are neither Arabs nor Jews. There are Jews and non-Jews from Africa, there are people from the Philippines and Thailand and Scandinavia. Israel is a better place for it, if we would only treat them as the “self.”

More people are on the move than ever before, and no nation’s borders overlap with the spread of its ethnic group. Countries can continue to fight losing battles against diversity through bad policies, or admit that it is here to stay, and generate the best possible system to nurture all people equally. The same principles should guide Israel and Palestine under any future political system.

For those who say the Left is never proud of Israel, I am: When I see Haredi and Arab children playing together on the beachfront playgrounds, as I jog by in shorts while the heat wanes and the evening descends. Despite deep systemic inequalities, in that moment, I feel we are better together.

So who is really the other? In Georgia last week I told a new colleague what citizenships I held but he wanted to know my ethnicity. In Russian, he asked the interpreter: “He’s Azerbaijani, I’m Armenian – what is she?” Slightly stumped, I recalled that in the U.S., I would mark the box for “Caucasian.” As the interpreter translated my colleague roared with laughter, so I did too.

I hope we laughed because we realized that the label of the “self” – the in-group – doesn’t mean much. We had enough in common although I don’t look remotely like what he considered Caucasian: Our in-group comprises those who wish to end conflicts through diplomacy and political frameworks and respectful human interaction rather than violence.

I would like that group to go further and consider that diversity contributes to creative thinking even if it comes from sometimes painful tension. That seeing and knowing people from a range of cultures helps us to define a healthy sense of identity,  clarify our positions, weigh alternate approaches and question our presuppositions, cultivate critical thinking.

It would be hubris for me to tell Scots that they’re wrong about independence economically or politically. But the broader idea that separation is the ultimate human experience can’t be right. The only “other” is those who don’t see humanity in their neighbors. We don’t need to dehumanize them; they do that very well for themselves. But a real self-other dialogue means reaching out to them, not only to our “selves.”

Related:
Israel’s other war: Silencing Palestinian citizens
There’s still room for optimism: A letter to Sayed Kashua

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A Palestinian ultimatum to end occupation? http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-ultimatum-to-end-occupation/96141/ http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-ultimatum-to-end-occupation/96141/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 18:43:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96141 In a diplomatic surprise, the Palestinians have threatened to turn to the International Criminal Court if no date is set for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders – a move that +972 writers predicted more than a year ago.

The PLO will demand that the UN Security Council announce a deadline for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, to the 1967 ceasefire lines, reported Haaretz today. Ma’an News Agency writes that Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah figure and veteran negotiator, has said the bid will be submitted on September 15, 2014. If it is not accepted, he told Ma’an that the PLO will continue with long-rumored plans to pursue accession to the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), so that it can bring claims against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

With every other attempt to shake off Israel’s military rule proving futile, the idea of a simple ultimatum for withdrawal – with or without an agreement – ought not to come as a surprise. In fact, Noam Sheizaf and I not only predicted it, we advocated it over a year ago.

Netanyahu and Abbas in Washington, September 15, 2010 (State Dept. Photo)

Netanyahu and Abbas in Washington, September 15, 2010 (State Dept. Photo)

The move marks the third time in four years that the Palestinians have undertaken a major diplomatic effort for statehood in the 1967 territory. In 2011 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for UN membership, and submitted a bid to the General Assembly, but a vote was never held due to the certainty of a Security Council veto. In late 2012 a vote was finally held in the General Assembly. It passed, granting Palestine the status of non-member observer state in the UN, but made little difference on the ground.

Two further diplomatic attempts to achieve statehood and recognition happened before and after those: In 1988 the PLO first declared its independence along the 1967 ceasefire lines. That marked a major shift away from Fatah rhetoric, which up to then called for a single state from the river to the sea. Most recently, as the Kerry-led negotiations were falling apart, Abbas advanced applications and acceded to a number of international treaties and organizations to make statehood more meaningful on the international level.

The current move is, therefore, an extension of decades of Palestinian diplomatic action to end Israeli military rule. It may be partly designed to remind the world that the Palestinians have employed, and continue to draw on, numerous non-violent, as opposed to military strategies – including diplomacy, but also grassroots demonstrations and boycotts.

It is also a sign to the Palestinian people that Fatah still distinguishes itself from Hamas as the party of political rather than military means. Fatah may be hoping to capitalize on any Palestinian anger at Hamas for the destruction caused by the Gaza war, though it’s not clear how much there is.

Such action also speaks directly to Israel. It implies that joining the ICC and seeking indictments for top Israeli officials is not inevitable. Rather, Fatah is using the idea in an agenda-setting way: accept a deadline, and we will take away the stick of international court proceedings. It is a clever strategy: Either option advances the Palestinian cause; either one will be a painful blow – even if they remain headlines more than reality – to Israel.

Fatah is also taking a risk. The 2011 UN bid was underwhelming for the Palestinian people; even back then some thought the UN route was Fatah’s “last chance” for credibility at home. The second in 2012 was a happy moment but failed to make a dent in the occupation. Another such bust could lose what little residual faith Palestinians still have in Fatah.

However, Hamas is reportedly already considering backing the Fatah-led attempt to join the ICC. Should Hamas back the demand for a UN-decreed deadline, it could put Fatah back in a significant leadership role – at home, and abroad.

Related:
Giving the occupation an expiration date
What Palestinian statehood means for ICC jurisdiction over Israeli crimes

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As violence rises, Muslim moderates must do more http://972mag.com/as-violence-rises-muslim-moderates-must-do-more/95941/ http://972mag.com/as-violence-rises-muslim-moderates-must-do-more/95941/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 19:36:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95941 My colleagues at ‘Let Us Build Pakistan’ and I have discovered various overlapping interests on certain issues and we occasionally cross-post material that we think our audiences would find relevant. Here is one such article I found interesting.

Against the background of a fresh wave of violence in the Middle East, a Muslim writer calls for introspection.

By Asif Zaidi

The following book review in The Telegraph addresses two recently published books mainly defending British Muslims. A friend sent me the article, hoping that it will help me “see the light.” But I believe the review downplays some significant problems.

[A book by Arun Kundnani ] dispels myths, pointing out that “there is no Islamic doctrine of ‘kill the unbelievers’ as anti-Islam propagandists often maintain. Islam, like other religions, provides a broad moral framework for thinking about questions of violence.” Again and again this book challenges your assumptions. It is worth reading for its examination of the word “extremism” alone. Martin Luther King, Kundnani points out, was denounced in this way.

Bowen’s book is at bottom gentle and optimistic. She suggests that over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state…”

In fact, most members of most religious communities in Britain are patriotic and law-abiding but it is only Muslims who require constant reassurances like those in the review above. Why? The answer is simple: because most radicals have been Muslims and people like Anjem Choudary get their mug all over the television. To me, rather than constantly looking for reassurances, Muslims in Britain should be arguing against the likes of Choudary and protesting against incendiary pronouncements and actions. It is normal that in the absence of such posturing, suspicion grows. Not all Catholic priests are pedophiles. But hasn’t the fact that many cardinals turned a blind eye to those who are has drawn more opprobrium than the pedophiles themselves?

ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)

ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)

The silence or acquiescence of the so-called Muslim ‘moderate’ majority reinforces the perception of Muslims as a group of people who cannot, or will not, control their extremist fringes. I think this is an accurate reflection of the reality and see no problem with it. To claim that not all Muslims are terrorists, jihadists, or extremists sounds hollow. Not all men are misogynists or violent towards women, either, but we incessantly reiterate that men have a duty to stand up to sexism and misogyny. In the 1940s most Germans were not Nazis. Similarly, most Hutus did not participate in the killings of Tutsis. But the peaceful majority are irrelevant when a minority are hell bent on waging violence and imposing itself.

We don’t need huge numbers to inflict huge damage. On 9/11, less than a dozen people, in no position of power or authority, caused enough damage to change the entire world for ever. The genocide of the Native Americans or the slaughter of slave ships might be from a different era but the dark heart in mankind beats on and it is the duty of Muslims not to allow it to function under the cloak of Islam.

So to say that “not all Muslims are radical” is a misplaced assertion. The real question is what they are going to do about the ones who are radical. In recent years many Muslims have tended to describe those criticizing Islam as being “Islamophobic.” This is utterly dishonest. Non-Muslims have every right to question the teachings of Islam just as Muslims have every right to scrutinize and question the tenets of other religions. This is an inalienable right and a practice as old as the religion itself. This kind of reaction from Muslims turns lack of knowledge about Islam into a genuine fear of it. Many people question Islam because they support things which are, in truth, incompatible with Islam: abortion, gay rights, and sex before marriage. That does not mean that they do not approve of Muslims. They have also subjected their own religions to the same criticism.

Where is the uproar among the Muslims in the West against the intolerance of minorities in many Muslim countries, the murder of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, denial of education to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, denial of careers to women in Saudi Arabia, death sentences for supposed adulterers in Sudan, executions of homosexuals in Iran, and “honor” killings and forced marriages just about anywhere? These, naturally, are the things that get reported. Should the media report on Muslims going to the mosque, working at the office, having dinner, and enjoying family time on the weekend? These same Muslims who refuse to murmur on these atrocities turn up by the thousands to protest against Google because Google owns YouTube and someone somewhere has posted a video that they feel insults Islam. It does not matter that the video has nothing to do with the U.S., UK, YouTube or Google – their honor has been slighted and, therefore, they must rally to the chant of the Ummah.

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

The author of the book review above fails to point out the total indifference among the British Muslim community towards the innocent Muslims being slaughtered by ISIS in Iraq. Are the nearly 200,000 killed and millions displaced from Syria worth less attention than a supposed slur posted on YouTube?

There is a reason that much of the world feels that the Muslim community is not concerned with justice, peace or progress – it is concerned with honor and with the past. And that means that they don’t care how many people die (Muslim or non-Muslim) in wars and jihads and intifadas, as long as Muslim pride is restored. If that means rioting when someone records a film, so be it. If that means murdering your daughter because she’s got a non-Muslim girlfriend, so be it. And if that means keeping Palestinians in refugee camps for three generations in rich Muslim client states of the West then so be it. It is this attitude, and no imaginary Islamophobia, that is responsible for a number of young westerners, fueled by dreams of Jihad, flying off to Syria and holy war. Of course not every Muslim is a jihadist, but it is also a fact that for every young Muslim guy who actually makes it out to the front in Syria or Iraq, it seems there are many more who sympathize with them.

According to a reliable study Muslim extremism claims 38 times more Muslim lives than non-Muslims, without accounting for Muslim wars (Iran-Iraq) and major uprisings. ISIS has crucified a number of moderate Syrian rebels – and pro-Assad fighters. As always, the terrorists are Saudi-inspired and are far more of a menace to Muslims than the West is. Therefore, to say “the West is far more responsible for Muslim terrorism than they are” shows a lamentable lack of knowledge of the history of Islam and its relations with surrounding civilizations.

In every Western or non-Muslim country where I have been, most people show no signs of animus against Muslims in general. I don’t think Muslims in the West need the reassurances that the Telegraph article and the books reviewed seek to provide. On the contrary, I think it is a shame that much-needed discussions about radical Islam immediately turn into people shouting “not all Muslims are like that” and drowning out genuine concerns.

I can express my disgust for abuse in the Catholic Church in any setting, and it is correctly assumed that I am not rebuking Christians in general. I can voice concerns about Zionism and Israeli occupation, and it is – or should be – understood that I am not rebuking Jews in general. So when others talk about the dangers of radical Islam, it should be obvious that they are not rebuking Muslims in general without explanations.

Grow up and do something about your own state of affairs. To begin with, get out of the victimhood you enjoy so much. Shut down the Salafist and the Wahabbi factories of extremism paid for by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and encourage your people to stop kids who are being radicalized. Come out in droves and condemn all female genital manipulation, all forced marriages, all tribal laws, all Jihadist militancy, all sectarianism, and all discrimination against women.

Asif Zaidi is a regular writer on the Pakistani blog Let Us Build Pakistan, where a version of this post originally appeared.

Related:
No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas
Moderate Islam meets Auschwitz

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Wedding crashers: Do anti-miscegenation protesters hate or love Judaism? http://972mag.com/wedding-crashers-do-anti-miscegenation-protesters-hate-or-love-judaism/95680/ http://972mag.com/wedding-crashers-do-anti-miscegenation-protesters-hate-or-love-judaism/95680/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:29:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95680 With chants of “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead” in the background, the 30-something couple spoke earnestly, their faces worried. “As far as I’m concerned,” said the woman, an economist who didn’t want to be named, “I came to a funeral. The father is in mourning. I’m here to support the family in their pain with our presence.”

They have come to a grimy parking lot outside a tacky mall in Rishon LeZion, deep in the center of Israel, to protest the wedding of an Arab Muslim Israeli and an Israeli woman born Jewish, who converted to Islam. The wedding is in a hall about 200 meters away from the protest, as per a court order. About 200 protestors have gathered in the thick, hot air. The couple talking to me come from Rishon; they say they are secular.

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

The band of youth who have been chanting close by start jumping, in formation, screaming: “There are no classes in Gaza/because there are no kids in Gaza!” – referring to the hundreds of children killed by Israeli forces during Operation Protective Edge – and “Jews have souls; Arabs are sons of bitches!” The secular husband gestures towards them. “I don’t agree with that ‘death to Arab’ stuff. It’s too bad this has become a platform for extremism.” He bounces a giggling, pigtailed toddler. “We are here to give the bride’s family hope, to remind them: it’s reversible.”

The ingredients are all there for an explosion. Large placards with elaborate slogans, such as “what future can there be for someone who forgot her past?” are spread on the ground for participants who might want one. A 15-year old girl in a long skirt holds a huge canvas sign speaking of shame. The core of the protest is a group of wild-eyed teenage boys, dotted with far-right stalwarts such as former MK Michael Ben Ari and Kahanist Hebron settler Baruch Marzel. A left-wing counter-protest in support of the wedding is taking place across the way; one of them murmurs that the anti-wedding group is from La Familia, the thuggish sports fans widely thought to have been behind the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, in July.

Mahmoud Mansour celebrates in Jaffa before heading to out to his wedding reception. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Mahmoud Mansour celebrates in Jaffa before heading to out to his wedding reception. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Many of the protestors are wrapped in Israeli flags, draped over black T-shirts of “Lehava: The Jewish honor guard.” Lehava is a self-anointed “anti-assimilation” movement. The previous week, the group posted Mahmoud and Morel’s wedding invitation on the Internet, exhorting followers to come demonstrate. Mahmoud and Morel sought a court injunction.

Emotions rose: On the day of the wedding, the court ruled that the demonstration would be permitted at a distance of 200 meters from the hall, and the activists would not be allowed to communicate with the couple for 90 days. President Reuven Rivlin condemned the demonstration as racist incitement, and writing on his Faceboook page, gave the couple his blessing.

Fearing violence, earlier reports said the couple was forced to hire 33 security guards at their own expense – for NIS 15,000 (over $4,000). In addition, the parking lot is full of police who push the demonstrators back when they try to get closer to the wedding hall. Still they advance; within an hour, Lehava activists are just across the street from the entrance. An angry counter-protestor demands that a policeman enforce the 200-meter distance. The policeman responds that he does not have a copy of the court order on him, although it has been widely reported in the press.

The counter-protest supporting the couple is a gaggle of barely 50 people holding motley clusters of flowers, raggedly cut. They dangle small construction-paper signs saying “Freedom of Love!” decorated with hearts. What they lack in organization, they make up for in joy: they are singing a robust unaccompanied version of “The Flower in my Garden,” an iconic, fast-paced love song played at nearly every (Jewish) wedding in Israel. Whenever a wedding guest walks by, they cheer and clap “Mazal Tov!!” The guests, with women in high heels, head coverings and glitzy jewellery, smile with slight embarrassment and hurry toward a group of burly security men waiting to search them at the door.

Counter-demonstrators show their support for Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka on their wedding day. (photo: Activestills.org)

Counter-demonstrators show their support for Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka on their wedding day. (photo: Activestills.org)

Something about the situation has struck a nerve. Many of these counter-protestors tell me that they are not political and generally don’t go to demonstrations. I run into my neighbor, a 34-year-old man named Uriel who grew up in a Haredi family in Kfar Habad. About a decade ago, he defected from his community and became secular. He says this is his first demonstration ever. Nir, also 34, works for the appliance company Tadiran and says he is usually not an activist, but Lehava’s protest made his blood boil. “Next time it could be against people for the color of their eyes.” Meirav and Assaf, a young couple from Tel Aviv, echo the sentiment. Next, they say, it could be against Ashkenazi and Mizrahi marriages.

Lehava’s theme of “anti-assimilation” appears to be a sanitized label to win legitimacy for an organization known mainly for harassing people. One woman at the counter-protest has a partner from Darfur. She says she has been shoved and hit by Lehava members. When they threatened her with further violence on the Internet, she says she went to the police, who told her there was nothing they could do – she should hire a lawyer.

Those protesting the wedding are concerned about more than assimilation. Some say that the bride herself doesn’t realize her awful mistake. “Somewhere deep in her heart, she knows it is wrong,” says Simcha, a 51-year-old religious woman who immigrated from France in 1981. “You can’t convert to Islam – you’re born a Jew, you have a Jewish soul.” Others tell me that Jewish women have been manipulated, brainwashed or otherwise trapped into converting to be with Muslim men. Simcha says that Muslim men beat women and drag them by the hair.

The bride, Morel Malka, takes part in pre-wedding festivities in Jaffa. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The bride, Morel Malka, takes part in pre-wedding festivities in Jaffa. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Another resounding theme is that the bride’s children, Jewish according to Jewish law, will be raised Arab. That makes them potential terrorists. One sign says: “You wanted a grandchild? You got a Shahid!” (martyr). The wife in an older religious couple from Kochav Yair, a well-heeled suburb in central Israel says, “The children could all turn out to be Hamas! They might be Jews killing Jews, and they wouldn’t even know it.”

What about the idea that a woman has a right to choose, that it’s the couple’s private business? Tiferet, the 15-year-old from Beit Shemesh carrying a sign, is shy but firm. “Just because someone jumps off a roof doesn’t mean I’ll let her. She’s not only hurting herself. She’s hurting all of Am Yisrael.”

And there at the heart of the summer circus lies the core: a struggle to define, re-define, own or appropriate Judaism in the state of Israel today. Uriel, the formerly ultra-orthodox man, explains that Judaism is fundamentally racist, while a fellow pro-wedding protester chants “Judaism is not racism.” A Lehava activist shouts at cars looking for parking. “Whoever goes to the wedding is destroying Am Yisrael!” while others insist that assimilation is more dangerous than physical persecution.

Legal scholar Aeyal Gross, in an excellent Haaretz article, argues that the state itself set the stage for such attitudes by denying legal frameworks for religious intermarriage in Israel. Yair Ettinger, also in Haaretz, writes that the real problem in Israel is assimilation through alienation or apathy, not intermarriage. How many Israelis simply detest Judaism for all it has come to represent socially and politically here? In my experience, Uriel, now a sworn atheist, represents many secular people with less dramatic stories.

But last night what might have been a healthy debate looked for all the world like anti-miscegenation activities from some of the ugliest days of American not-so-distant history. Gross writes that the very fact of a public discussion about such a wedding is shameful. Meanwhile, one protestor said, “We want the bride to have a pinch in her heart. We want her to know that she’s missing something.” What? Membership in the community of Lehava?

Deep in their own hearts, the protestors, too, know about secular Israeli alienation from Judaism; but they may not know or recognize their culpability. One older religious woman referenced the “Sh’ma” as she spoke to me, perhaps the most important prayer in the Jewish canon. She paused and said “do you know that sentence?”

Related:
Court to allow anti-Arab protest outside Jewish-Palestinian wedding
Palestinian-Jewish couple hires wedding security for fear of anti-miscegenation group
Jewish anti-miscegenation groups distribute racist, sexist flyers

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IDF reservist sentenced to military prison for refusing draft http://972mag.com/idf-reservist-sentenced-to-military-prison-for-refusing-draft/95227/ http://972mag.com/idf-reservist-sentenced-to-military-prison-for-refusing-draft/95227/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 12:39:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95227 Update: The reservist has since decided to expose his identity. He is Gilad Halpern; the name has been updated here.

An IDF reservist was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport Wednesday upon returning to Israel after fleeing call-up orders to serve in Operation Protective Edge. He was later sentenced to 21 days in military prison.

Gilad Halpern, one of three reservists who spoke to +972 Magazine recently for an article about refusal (before he left the country), spent 15 days abroad following a military order to appear for active duty. When he received the order, just as the ground operation was starting, he communicated with his superiors for several days about his intention to refuse on ideological grounds. But the army insisted he report to his unit, and finally told him he must appear within the hour. Instead, he left the country. An IDF representative came to his house just after he had left the country.

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Augost 1, 2014 after the proposed three-day truce that began at 0500 GMT collapsed amid a deadly new wave of bloodshed and the apparent capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on August 1, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Gilad stayed with friends in the Netherlands, then traveled to France where his family, including his wife and two-year old son, met him. When he returned on Wednesday he was stopped at passport control. Along with the border guards who actually arrested him was a “deserter catcher” – a permanent role within the IDF. It was the same person who had come to his apartment the day he had left.

Because Gilad had communicated his intention to refuse by fax rather than reporting to his unit in person, and then left the country, he was considered AWOL rather than a soldier refusing an order. Gilad says he didn’t realize that the means of communication mattered, and he now believes that had he formally reported and then declared his ideological refusal, the army would have been less likely to give him a severe punishment. He is not an officer, and the IDF might prefer to avoid publicity about incidents of refusal, especially from those in the lower ranks.

From the airport Gilad’s guards took him to a military base in the south. The officers considered transferring his case to a military tribunal, but in the end he was tried the following day by a colonel. Gilad explained that a brief length of desertion warrants a less formal military procedure. Longtime deserters – upwards of a few months – face a full military court proceeding, with an indictment and harsher penalties.

Gilad was sentenced to 21 days out of a maximum of 28, which he will serve in Israel’s Military Prison 4 beginning on Sunday. He told +972 Magazine by phone from the base where he is being held near Beersheva:

The verdict is pretty much what I expected, so I was relieved. I have done this as an act of solidarity with the people who really suffered in Gaza and lost a lot, including loved ones, but also with the other reservists. This is my service. They had to leave their lives and families from one day to the next and go down south and spend weeks here, so I’m doing just the same. I’m not just a ‘mishtamet [a deeply pejorative term implying dropout or deadbeat, usually in the context of military service - ds]. This is my service to society.

Related:
Who are the Israelis refusing the call of Protective Edge?
IDF to jail ultra-Orthodox Jew for refusing to serve
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation

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Who are the Israelis refusing the call of Protective Edge? http://972mag.com/refusing-the-call-of-protective-edge/94884/ http://972mag.com/refusing-the-call-of-protective-edge/94884/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 09:03:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94884 On Saturday evening, another anti-war demonstration was held in Tel Aviv. A few hundred people marched and chanted and hoped that rumors of a drawdown were true.

With minimal numbers and attention, the demonstrations have had little impact. But there doesn’t seem much else that those opposed to the war can do.

Soldiers and reservists have another option: civil disobedience, refusal to participate.

Israeli tanks on the Israel-Gaza border. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli tanks on the Israel-Gaza border. (photo: Activestills.org)

It is a huge taboo. The idea of avoiding IDF service in a society whose mythical founding narrative is about protection from existential destruction is anathema even in normal times.

To refuse a draft order in wartime is practically incendiary. When I posted a status asking for contacts to refuseniks, a friend shot back “Why would anyone refuse?”

Refusal then and now

Back in 2005, when some soldiers refused service in order to avoid evacuating settlements from Gaza, I thought about when refusal is seen as legitimate.

To use the potentially explosive tool of refusal effectively, while causing the least damage, certain terms need to be met. Refusal challenges the legitimacy of democratic institutions. Refuseniks need to demonstrate acceptance of those institutions in all other matters to preserve their legitimacy. Next, refuseniks should take full responsibility for their actions – undergoing a deeply personal, decision-making process that should be as free and independent as possible.

I revisited those words now, to assess the thoughts of few individuals who refused to participate in Protective Edge. They asked that details about them be kept vague as a condition for being interviewed. Their names have been changed here.

‘You can’t change things from the inside’

Tamir is a 28-year old who served in a combat unit and as a reserve soldier. He fought in the previous Gaza war, Pillar of Defense, in 2012. But his doubts began already during his regular service. “I wasn’t politically active before being drafted. I thought the occupation wasn’t good, but I thought we had to control the Palestinians so they wouldn’t blow up buses. The army caused me to become political, when I was confronted by the occupation in the West Bank, and also when I served in Gaza and saw what happened there.

He thought that it was important to do reserve duty in order to change things from the inside. But “Little by little I realized it doesn’t matter. You can’t change things from inside, only from the outside, by voting or demonstrations. And then I realized that that doesn’t work either.”

By Pillar of Defense, he confronted a growing gap between the portrayal of army missions versus reality. “What was being described in media was not reflective of reality. What is a  ‘legitimate Hamas target?’ It can be anything that the IDF decides to blow up: a house, an orchard, a junction. They say, we’ll drop leaflets on neighborhoods so that when you go in, you can shoot anywhere, so that we can drop artillery on neighborhoods.”

Palestinian man stands in his destroyed house overlooking the bombed  Shujaiyeh neigborhood, Gaza City, July 26, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Palestinian man stands in his destroyed house overlooking the bombed Shujaiyeh neigborhood, Gaza City, July 26, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

When he was called up for Protective Edge, Tamir told his officers that he would not go, and he told them why. He packed a bag for jail, but they simply let him go. Tamir wonders if they somehow relate to the problem. “They have questions themselves. What are we about to do in Gaza? It’s in their DNA to fulfill orders, but I think they understood.” He says he’s not the only one; he heard about four or five others who refused. Together with refusal from the right, he thinks his superiors are familiar by now with the issue.

Zeev didn’t get off so easily. A 32-year old reservist, he did his mandatory service in the height of the Second Intifada – “my regiment was everywhere possible in the West Bank.” He did reserve duty; he fought in Cast Lead. By 2012, he had decided to resist the draft during Pillar of Defense, but he was not mobilized for combat.

For him, refusing is a personal political statement, not about creating a public symbol or movement. “It’s like being a vegetarian, you know you’re not going to save animals, it’s just a political statement. My very own action won’t change anything.”

He tackles the counter-argument sometimes heard among the left, that it’s better to serve so that Palestinians under occupation can encounter more humane individuals and better treatment. “In the end, it’s not the personality of the soldier that matters, it’s the whole pattern around it.”

Israeli soldiers detain Palestinian men at the Gush Etzion junction, a settlement next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem ,on June 16, 2014 , June 16, 2014.  Over 150 Palestinians were arrested in the last nights and a tight closure was imposed on the southern West Bank city of Hebron. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers detain Palestinian men at the Gush Etzion junction, a settlement next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem ,on June 16, 2014 , June 16, 2014.
Over 150 Palestinians were arrested in the last nights and a tight closure was imposed on the southern West Bank city of Hebron. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Still, Zeev straddles a public statement and a completely personal choice. He wanted “to feel better about myself in the future.” He explained: “When I did go for Cast Lead, I gave the army the benefit of my doubt. Now, when I tell people that I took part in it, I feel ashamed.”

The thought process was transitional for him.

It’s a springboard for introspection. I see myself as a law abiding citizen. The participation of citizens in the government and laws is essential. It is after all a democratically elected government that reflects the current political climate in Israel  and as someone committed to democracy I have to respect that. I was taken aback by my own radicalism. Looking at myself in the mirror and saying, ‘wow, I’ve really done that.’ It’s contrary to the way I was brought up and what I believed in.

Zeev has a family and a two-year old. He knew the army could either ignore him or imprison him. After five days of communication with the army, his superiors told him to report to his unit within one hour. Instead, he left for Europe and when the IDF went to his home, he was already gone.

I spoke to a third refusenik, Roni, after he had been released from nearly three weeks in prison.

Roni, 31 years old, was also a combat soldier in his mandatory service. Over the years he realized he did not want to be part of the system.  It wasn’t a matter of one specific incident or turning point. “The whole thing was arbitrary violence, senseless violence against a civilian population.”

For him, personal reasoning spills over into social responsibility.

From my service in the Second Intifada, in the West Bank the whole time, as an officer, no one can tell me that what’s happening there is moral and that it’s a matter of security for Israelis. It’s not moral and it’s a system of control. It’s not something I can erase. I just can’t. It’s beyond my personal responsibility, I have a responsibility to my society, Palestinian and Israeli –  we have to stop.

So when he received a call-up order for Protective Edge, he reported only to say that he would not accept the draft. His officers told him:  “’If you’re here you need to go.’ I said I won’t. He said, ‘you know what that means.’”

Roni was sentenced to 20 days and was put in a prison with 15 other people from mandatory service who were there for various problems, not related to ideology or politics.

The prison staff knew the reason he was there, but otherwise, he kept it to himself. “The other prisoners didn’t know what I was in for. I decided ahead of time that if I had to sit with 15 soldiers in mandatory service I wouldn’t get out of it…I couldn’t get involved in the whole militarist conversation…they would just say with total conviction that we have to kill women and children, and it was clear that I couldn’t share this with them.”

Aside from the experience of imprisonment, humiliation, lack of freedom, and toilet-cleaning, Roni chafed under the mentality.

It was a pretty desperate experience. All we got was [the free right-wing newspaper] ‘Israel Hayom.’ The soldiers only knew the Israeli narrative. It was the most militarist, aggressive, racist narrative that I ever confronted. If we read internet comments and Facebook comments, and ask if they reflect the views of the people… I came out of prison with very serious concerns.

Roni sounds sadder than the other two as he describes the social isolation of refusing. His family is full of men who served proudly in combat – from his grandfather down to his brother. They accepted any direction of his political thinking, except for this. He clashed with his older brother. “It’s one thing to be a good Israeli, but to be a good family member, you have to go. It’s the most basic thing.”

The Left and the law

For other left-wingers, these arguments don’t hold. Some who are critical of Israel’s policies and even actively opposed, do not believe in refusing a call up in wartime, or at all. They had no problem being identified in full.

Yariv Oppenheimer, the director of Peace Now but also a combat soldier and reservist (although he was not called up), told me that he sees several reasons why those who are critical of Israel should in fact serve. The first is simply – as Zeev pointed out – that in a democratic society, people must fulfill legal obligations. Such participation also gives credibility to the left-wing claims against right-wing refusal.

Uriel Ferera, a 19-year-old orthodox Jew from Beer Sheva, enters the Tel Hashomer military induction base, where he will officially announce his refusal to draft to Israeli army service, April 27, 2014. He is expected to be sentenced to military prison. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Uriel Ferera, a 19-year-old orthodox Jew from Beer Sheva, enters the Tel Hashomer military induction base, where he will officially announce his refusal to draft to Israeli army service, April 27, 2014. He is expected to be sentenced to military prison. (Photo: Activestills.org)

“The government is sovereign. Just as we sometimes ask soldiers and the army to evacuate settlements or territories, we must do this. The way to influence policy is not through refusal. In a democracy, the elected level makes decisions.”

He believes critical individuals who serve should be a check and balance on the army’s conduct.

“Soldiers have a very meaningful role in asking questions about orders, not to fulfill illegal orders, and to influence how the orders are undertaken. If we decide it doesn’t suit us and we leave the field for those with other opinions, maybe they’ll be more trigger-happy and commit worse crimes.”

Moreover, Oppenheimer is concerned that refusal will fail to generate political change – and it may have the opposite effect. “In the end, we have to realize that policy change won’t come from refusal. The opposite: I think it can make it irrelevant. [Change] can only come from the ballot box and public discussion around and during the operations.”

Uri Zaki, 39, has been an active member of the left-wing political party Meretz for over a decade. He has devoted his life to political activity – he was head of the youth faction, and was number ten on the Meretz candidate list. He spent nearly four years as the representative of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem in Washington, D.C. He is struggling to reconcile the terrible circumstances of the war and the deep problems he sees with refusal.

I’m very, very disturbed and I hope that Israel will investigate itself over …the targets, private homes, and attacks on schools and hospitals and media outlets. Still we are talking about an attack on Israel that we can’t ignore. I don’t think Israel is in a position to give up on IDF – the ‘defense’ part. You can’t ignore Israel’s right to respond when missiles are being fired at it. We can’t just turn the other cheek.

The war is distinct from ongoing occupation, in his eyes. “The West Bank is not at all about defense, no matter how much they try to sell it,” he says. “Maybe to some extent it’s defense of settlements, and of course [settlers] are citizens and they deserve protection. But that creates many more questions for me about whether to serve, to maintain the number one danger to the State of Israel.”

Perhaps the most compelling part of Uri’s story and his personal grappling, is how his mandatory army service transformed him. When he was drafted, he was not only right-wing but he was actually a young member of the Likud party. During his service, “I really served the occupation.” He worked in a prison holding Palestinians convicted of “light security offenses,” such as stone-throwing and membership in Hamas. “I realized that we are a foreign occupier and I am part of a machine whose whole role is to suppress legitimate demands for freedom. As a Zionist, who believes in the right to self-determination, I realized I was part of a system of both national and daily suppression.”

One common thread of these men’s experience is that their service as combat soldiers led them to critical conclusions about the policies that brought them there, though they reached differing answers about how to change them. But there is no easy conclusion from this observation. Uri says:

Do I say you should serve the occupation in order to change your political colors? Not necessarily. Some became more militaristic, they started out left-wing and became more skeptical, more right wing. If they were to call me to reserve duty in the West Bank today, I suppose I would go out of personal obligation to the system, but I’m not sure. I would have lots and lots of deliberations. I can’t say definitely. And I’m normally a very decisive person.

Unknown citizens

What is clear is that the number of refusals is very small. It turns out that W. H. Auden’s “Unknown Citizen” –  “When there was peace, he was for peace – when there was war, he went” describes the very well-known citizen-soldiers of Israel. Those who don’t go remain far lesser-known.

Related:
IDF to jail ultra-Orthodox Jew for refusing to serve
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation

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Who are the Israelis fighting this war? http://972mag.com/who-are-the-israelis-fighting-this-war/94780/ http://972mag.com/who-are-the-israelis-fighting-this-war/94780/#comments Sat, 02 Aug 2014 11:25:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94780 This is Israel. These are the people I live with – children who become soldiers, and adults who have been soldiers. I want to see what became of those children, and what happened to make the adults around me who they are. This is a snapshot.

****

An improvised IDF camp in southern Israel. I drive down to visit my cousin, taking his girlfriend with me, who has come by bus from Jerusalem so I can give her a lift from Tel Aviv. It is 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), hotter in the dusty, beating sun of the south, even at 5:30 p.m.

The camp has the atmosphere of parents’ day at summer camp, or a Scouts retreat. There are clusters of people camped out under scraggly trees and mesh-net green tarps. Soldiers are directing cars of visitors to parking areas linked to each battalion.

Girlfriends kiss boyfriends at length, parents look on adoringly. Ecstatic followers of Rabbi Nachman of Uman park a van blaring techno music, their wild-eyed missionaries shove boxes of popsicles at passing cars, offering them for free. One of them walks among the groups of soldiers in flowing robes, blowing a long, winding shofar.

An Israeli tank is seen before entering the Gaza Strip near Israel's border with the Gaza strip on July 24, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli tank is seen before entering the Gaza Strip near Israel’s border with the Gaza strip on July 24, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

We ask a few soldiers if anyone knows my cousin, C.

“Which C?” says one.

“The American,” I say.

“That one! Sort of blond, always cheerful? Red cheeks?”

“That’s him.”

“His group is over there.” He points to a clearing with more trees, tarps and clusters of green bodies lying around on black yoga mats.

We pick our way through sleeping soldiers, lounging soldiers, boxes of half-eaten pizza. It could be the morning after a frat party except there are too many parents and no alcohol – one soldier triumphantly pulls an energy drink from a backpack and dangles it in front of the others. The rest are lying among heaps of packs and equipment, communication devices, guns, helmets, baggy helmet netting, boxes of canned food, food in boxes, whole fruit and fruit rinds. Garbage.

We find my cousin but he is in a briefing. We sit down to wait, and two soldiers gallantly offer us black foam yoga mats to sit on instead of the thorny, desert-dry grass and sand. One of them speaks to us carefully in English. I switch to Hebrew, but his Hebrew is not native either, and I ask where he is from. He comes from a country not normally associated with Jews or Israel. What brought him here? He smiles wearily. “Long story.”

Soldiers horse around with each other. They wake up and stretch, showing smooth and adolescent skin underneath wrinkled uniforms. There is a smell of deodorant. Two soldiers are working hard to push a huge piece of equipment into a rucksack, but it sticks way out. By this time my cousin has joined us and I ask what the equipment is. He tells me it is a sniper rifle.

Soldiers pacing as they talk on the phone, soldiers in Ray-Bans, soldiers hugging, hand-slapping, smoking, soldiers sitting and staring. Soldiers wrestling, collecting trash, eating doughy Yemenite jachnun and commenting on its quality; soldiers waiting.

Booms punctuate the air but nobody around me seems to notice.

Soldier, southern Israel (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin, July 2014)

A soldier resting, southern Israel (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin, July 2014)

They appear ageless. They look mostly like they are in mandatory service – roughly 18-21 years old – but although I am 20 years beyond that they do not look like babies to me. Yet the older I get, even the MA students I teach look young. These look like men. Why? Is it just the uniforms, and their unshaven chins? It’s their posture, I decide, slightly stooped, shoulders hulking as they walk, arms arched along their sides, not dangling. It is their sleeves rolled up midway to expose meaty forearms, and their stares.

From a small distance, I see one of them flash an angel smile at someone he is talking to, maybe a family member, maybe his mother. Groups of people and things separate us but for a moment his face takes up my frame of vision and in my mind I see that adorable face, in a passport-sized photo in the newspaper with the grainy distance from which I gaze at him now. Sixty-three soldiers have been killed so far.

A group of soldiers sitting in a ragged circle have begun playing guitars, together with a girl wearing a white T-shirt and army pants. They are playing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”: “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom…” From there, they break into a well-known song by Ahinoam Nini, whose lyrics were written by the Israeli poet Leah Goldberg: Night Psalm.

He has hidden all the stars/the crescent has been wrapped in black/from the North through to Yemen/there is no ray of light/This morning a faithful widower/straps a gray sack to his waist/from the North through to Yemen/there is no ray of light.”

Nini’s version has a seductive, haunting hand-drum in the background. One of the soldiers leans in toward the girl playing guitar and gets swept up in the song. He closes his eyes and beats the drum rhythm on his Tavor assault rifle.

My cousin and his girlfriend have gone for a walk. One of his friends begins talking to me. He seems to want to tell me everything without telling very much – as if there’s too much to be told. He has been “in,” as they call it, for two weeks, now he is here.

“We are doing a lot of damage there. We may be making it worse. But then you think about it, and one week ago, they were shooting at us.”

He says that the guys talk a lot about Etzel and Lehi, the Jewish pre-state militias. “Hamas, Fatah, the competition between them? It’s exactly the same.” He proudly tells me that this is the most left-wing unit around, and motions to the group of soldiers playing guitars and singing. Then he turns back to me, sullen.

“I want it to be over already. Every day that goes by – I’m different.” Maybe he is worried he won’t be able to go back to who he was. What was that? He looks stuck for words. “I was different.”

Soldiers. Near us one is sitting cross-legged, Indian style. Another one is lying on his back with one knee up, his head in the lap of the first. The one lying down has a deep tan, blue eyes and straight honey-colored hair. They are doing nothing, just staring. The soldier sitting up strokes the hair of the one lying in his lap.

Related:
Israel during wartime: Loving our soldiers to death
Hamas: Missing soldier likely killed in Israeli air strike

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Beyond protest: War and the Israeli Left http://972mag.com/beyond-protest-war-and-the-israeli-left/94656/ http://972mag.com/beyond-protest-war-and-the-israeli-left/94656/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 10:00:47 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94656 This article first appeared in Dissent Magazine.

Many Israelis who define themselves as “on the left” (about 20 percent of the population on a good day) support Operation Protective Edge. It’s a small and lonely subset that is both left wing and opposes the war. Over the last month, this little constituency has faithfully staged demonstrations of a few hundred—with last Saturday’s rally reaching somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000, by organizers’ estimates—and has written articles of protest. But the demonstrators tend to use such general slogans as “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” or “No, no, we won’t let fascism come to pass” (the latter chanted at right-wing counter-demonstrators). The anti-war left in Israel is clearly upset, but it has neither generated a coherent line of critique about the war nor formulated demands or proposals for alternate approaches other than calling for a ceasefire. Its influence, as a result, is severely limited.

There are three main reasons why it is so hard to create an effective opposition line, let alone gather supporters and momentum: the circumstances of this particular war (and the two previous rounds); the general climate of opinion in Israel; and the left’s own weaknesses, including baggage of the distant past.

Israelis protesting the Gaza war in Tel Aviv light candles to commemorate the victims. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israelis protesting the Gaza war in Tel Aviv light candles to commemorate the victims. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

First, the current circumstances make opposition very difficult, on the surface. Hamas is a miserable political regime that imposes religious fundamentalism on Gazans, stifles women, and kills collaborators. It has fired rockets at Israeli towns for over a decade and dragged Gaza into wars that were bound to kill its civilians. Not content with rockets, it has dug tunnels for terrorists targeting Israeli civilians. It is not hard to understand, in these conditions, the case for a forceful response on Israel’s part.

Unless, that is, one considers history before June 30, when the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens were found. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was already outraged by a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal made in late April that created an interim technocratic government without Hamas and called for Palestinian elections. That would have meant a more unified Palestine, something Netanyahu has worked hard to destroy. Using the abducted teens as a pretext, without providing evidence of Hamas’ involvement—an Israeli police spokesperson allegedly admitted this weekend that it wasn’t directly responsible—the prime minister ordered a sweeping West Bank operation against the organization, just as much a provocation as Hamas’s later actions. Rockets fell on southern Israel like clockwork. Before that, Gaza was under various forms of blockade for seven years. Even moderate Palestinians in Gaza would rather die now, I have had some tell me, than suffer slow suffocation. This alternate reality is rarely discussed.

Second, the Israeli climate of opinion is hostile. There has been right-wing rage and violence before: in 1983, a Peace Now demonstrator was killed; in 1995, a prime minister was assassinated. For now, extremists on the right are content to express hatred of the left, call them traitors, and call for their death, along with Arabs. There have been violent scuffles. As unpleasant as this environment is, though, the recent larger demonstration shows that it probably don’t intimidate anyone still committed enough to oppose the war.

The deeper scourge is apathy;  Israelis on the whole show little interest in either peace or Palestinians. They didn’t pay attention to the peace negotiations and they aren’t paying attention to a few thousand demonstrators against a war they believe was forced upon them. “What is, is what will be,” goes a Hebrew saying. The counter-demonstrators may even be doing the antiwar camp a favor by getting them into the paper. Meanwhile, a Channel 10 poll shows that 87 percent of Israelis prefer to continue fighting rather than accept a ceasefire—a 14-point rise from a survey conducted before the ground operation began.

 Click here for +972′s full coverage of the war in Gaza

But the left itself also bears some responsibility for its weak impact. First, opposition to the war can easily appear as a knee-jerk reaction rooted in habit rather than reality. The lack of a coherent critical message feeds that image.

There are deeper problems, too. For most of its history, the left has argued that peace would bring security. In practice, that didn’t work. Israelis largely believe this conflict is symmetrical, but they reject equal Israeli and Palestinian responsibility for the failures of peace efforts. They instead blamed the aborted peace processes – Oslo and the Camp David negotiations of 2000 – for the security they never received. In recent years, they’ve ignored Palestinian Authority security cooperation and nonviolent Palestinian political tactics, and credit only the separation barrier for (relative) calm inside Israel.

The left needs to update its arguments. “Peace brings security” is inaccurate and unrealistic. Instead, the case needs to be made that a diplomatic solution is the only way to stop inevitable escalation by extremists and full-blown wars every few years. No country has eradicated violence. The question is how to contain it.

Justifiably losing patience, the left has searched for sticks, toying with boycott and international pressure—but those just reinforce the bitter accusation of betrayal among Israelis. Carrots—incentives—are a necessary alternative, but they are hard to find, since Israel has all the allies, alliances, and trade relations it wants.

Still, there are tactics that haven’t been tested: pressure from within—for example, in the form of civil disobedience—has not been widespread beyond a handful of draft refusers. Outside pressure from “our own”—imagine liberal American Jews appealing directly to their Israeli kin—is more likely to resonate with most Israelis than UN condemnations that make Israelis dig in and change nothing on the ground.

Different approaches must be found. Israel needs them—and Palestine, too.

Related:
‘No more deaths’: Thousands of Israelis protest the Gaza war
How can you possibly oppose this war?
Israel has alternatives to this war

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