+972 Magazine » Haggai Matar http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Thu, 26 Nov 2015 20:19:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Israeli journalists slam Netanyahu over closure of Arabic media outlets http://972mag.com/israeli-journalists-slam-netanyahu-over-closure-of-arabic-media-outlets/114221/ http://972mag.com/israeli-journalists-slam-netanyahu-over-closure-of-arabic-media-outlets/114221/#comments Thu, 26 Nov 2015 13:26:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114221 The government shut down two Arabic-language outlets last week, leaving nearly 30 journalists jobless. The Union of Israeli Journalists: ‘Shutting down media outlets is nearly unheard of in democratic regimes.’

The Union of Journalists in Israel sent a letter to Prime Minister and Communications Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, protesting the shutting down of two Arabic-language media outlet last week.


As reported on the media watchdog site The Seventh Eye, police and Shin Bet agents raided and shut down the newsroom of veteran newspaper, Sawt al-Haq wa Al-Hurriya, as well as the news website PLS48, while confiscating computers and other equipment. The raids were conducted due to the fact their publishers belong to a corporation owned by the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which was made illegal last week. Approximately 30 journalists lost their job in one fell swoop.

The letter, which was signed by union chairman Yair Tarchitsky and was approved by the secretariat, stated that “The shutting down of media outlets by security forces is a drastic step that is nearly unheard of in democratic regimes, specifically in Israel. We see this move as a direct threat to both freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Israel — two cornerstones of democracy — which must only be carried out in the most extreme cases.”

The letter further quotes the head of the Government Press Office (GPO), Nitzan Chen, who spoke last Monday at a Knesset hearing about his discomfort with the decision to close down the outlets.

According to Chen, the GPO — which is under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office and works directly with the Shin Bet intelligence services — actively tracks Sawat al-Haq and PLS48, adding that years ago the two outlets were found to have included inciting messages in their articles (after which journalists from both organizations were denied government-issued press cards). However, the organizations have since changed their ways, paving the way for employees to, once again, obtain press cards.

“In our view, even if a text is published that contains incitement, the proper way to deal with it is to punish the inciters through the criminal justice system, rather than by closing down entire news outlets, firing dozens of journalists who did absolutely nothing wrong, and silencing public discourse,” continued the letter, which was also sent to the public security minister, the interior minister (who is in charge of issuing licenses to newspapers), the head of the GPO, and others.

The letter clarifies that the organization does not call into question the government’s decision to outlaw the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, but rather the closing down of associated media outlets, an act that harms both journalists and freedom of speech. The letter ends by calling on Netanyahu to clarify the factors that led to the shutting down of the outlets.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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U.S. anthropologists vote to boycott Israeli academia http://972mag.com/u-s-anthropologists-vote-to-boycott-israeli-academia/114041/ http://972mag.com/u-s-anthropologists-vote-to-boycott-israeli-academia/114041/#comments Sat, 21 Nov 2015 17:16:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114041 American Anthropological Association votes resoundingly to sever all ties with Israeli academic institutions, as a response to Israel’s ‘widespread, systematic, and ongoing violations of Palestinian rights.’

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) overwhelmingly passed a resolution to support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions during its annual business meeting on Friday. The resolution will go into effect only if it is approved by a final vote of all association members sometime in the coming months.


With over 10,000 members, AAA is by far the largest academic association in the United States to endorse the boycott at an annual meeting.

The resolution, which was resoundingly approved by a vote of 1040-136, will sever all ties between the AAA and Israeli academic institutions, although Israeli academics will be able to take part in events organized by the association. Moreover, every member of the AAA will be able to decide for her or himself whether or not to implement the decision in their work.

According to a statement by “Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions,” a group actively involved in supporting the resolution over the past few years, the “historic result” is a response to Israel’s “widespread, systematic, and ongoing violations of Palestinian rights, as well as to protest the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in these abuses.”

The group’s website lists several examples of the direct involvement of Israel’s academic institutions in the occupation, including the establishment of a university in the West Bank, the development of weapons and combat doctrines used by the military in the occupied territories, the decision by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) to provide academic credits to students involved in hasbara efforts, etc.

According to the group’s site, a competing resolution rejecting the boycott under the guise of promoting “engagement” was soundly defeated by a vote of 1173-196.

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Attacks on Palestinian hospitals are a red line we must not cross http://972mag.com/attacks-on-palestinian-hospitals-are-a-red-line-we-must-not-cross/113885/ http://972mag.com/attacks-on-palestinian-hospitals-are-a-red-line-we-must-not-cross/113885/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2015 19:06:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113885 The next time a Palestinian disguises himself as a journalist to attack Israelis, remember that Israelis do similar things.

The next time Palestinians hide weapons in a civilian ambulance, the next time a stabber disguises himself as a journalist, the next time Palestinians shoot rockets from near a United Nations building, remember that officers from Israel’s Yamam (Special Police Unit) disguised themselves as a woman in labor on a wheelchair entering a hospital in Hebron in order to arrest a wounded suspect and kill his relative.

A quick look at the coverage of the event shows that, at least according to the Israeli media, there is nothing problematic about this. Some news outlets even seemed to celebrate the great feat of arresting a wounded person as he lay in a hospital. Only Haaretz decided to provide a response to the event by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which stated: “Time and again Israeli security forces violate the special protection forded to hospitals and medical facilities. By doing so they are putting patients, hospital staff, and visitors at risk.” Ma’ariv, Mako, Walla!, NRG, and Ynet just don’t have the room for such criticism.

But this type of criticism is vital, whether in the context of a continual military occupation, in the context of perpetual attacks against Palestinians on different fronts, or in the context of collective punishment or Palestinian attacks on Israelis. We all have a clear interest that in a reality of bloodshed and fear, there will still be several red lines — a few positions and places that should have immunity.


This should apply, first and foremost, to anything having to do with the medical establishment: doctors, medics, ambulances, clinics and hospitals must not be attacked under any means, and we must not take advantage of them in order to hide weapons or use them as a military base. This goes for either side. The same must go for UN buildings, journalists, and others. The medical world, however, is top priority.

The arrest Wednesday night in Hebron’s Al-Ahly Hospital was a crime against all of our interests. The suspect in a stabbing that took place in Gush Etzion, Azam Azat Shalalda, was not hiding in the hospital — he was merely hospitalized there. And it’s not like he had much a choice.

One can still say that Palestinian fighters have no choice but to function underground and use questionable methods — just as members of the pre-state Jewish militants did when they fought against the British Mandate. On the other hand, the Shin Bet, IDF, and Yamam — who arrested Shalalada in the middle of a hospital in Hebron — could have waited for his release. They could have even raided his home in the middle of the night, as they do basically every night across the West Bank. They are the law, the regime. They have the option of using another way.

Instead they decided to disguise themselves as a pregnant woman and her family, and, as PHR stated, put patients, hospital staff, and visitors at risk. And not just at risk — they killed Shalalda’s uncle, Abdullah, while he was leaving the restroom who, according to the soldiers, “tried to attack them.” Nowhere did I see a claim that Abdullah was armed or posed a real threat to those who killed him. Bottom line: the soldiers dressed up as a patient, barged into the hospital, arrested a wounded man, and shot someone who likely posed no threat. I would be very surprised if anyone is put on trial for this.

The IDF Spokesperson turned my questions over to the Border Police spokesperson. This was their response:

“As the forces entered the room of the terrorist, a relative (and known Hamas member) got up toward the forces and yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ and attacked one of the soldiers while holding an unidentified object. Another soldier that recognized what was happened opened fire and neutralized him.” I asked whether among such a large group of soldiers, not one person could identify the “unidentifiable object.” The response: Abdullah was “neutralized and the soldiers exited.”

That’s it.

So the next time someone tells you Palestinians take advantage of hospitals to shoot rockets, the next time the media decries the cynicism of an enemy who knows no bounds — don’t justify it. Don’t say “who cares.” Just remember we do the exact same thing.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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No Netanyahu, we refuse to keep living by the sword http://972mag.com/no-netanyahu-we-refuse-to-keep-living-by-the-sword/113262/ http://972mag.com/no-netanyahu-we-refuse-to-keep-living-by-the-sword/113262/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2015 17:43:14 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113262 The Israeli prime minister says Israelis are doomed to a permanent state of war. It’s time to show him that we aren’t willing to come along for the ride — that we believe in a future for us and our children.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a Border Police base in Jerusalem. (photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a Border Police base in Jerusalem. (photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Although it is likely that Netanyahu didn’t intend it, the prime minister may have just granted the Left its ticket to victory. At a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on Monday, Netanyahu said the following: “I am asked if we will forever live by the sword – yes.” And with those eight short words, Netanyahu summed up the entire vision of the Israeli Right.

What about hope? No hope. Is our hand stretched out in peace? Only while holding on to the sword. You thought Likud had no platform? Well, it does.


The same was made clear to the Palestinians, just in case they expected anything different. “At this time we need to control all of the territory for the foreseeable future,” clarified the prime minister, adding that there will be no bi-national state here. The two nations will pay the price in blood.

This isn’t new. Analysts have previously stated that this kind of rhetoric is the Right’s only solution: more of the same. But this is the first time that the prime minister himself has clarified that this, indeed, is his political vision. On the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Mr. Peace and Security confirms that there will be neither peace nor security.

This is where the Left must come in and bring the exact opposite message. It won’t be Herzog or Lapid, who only utter the word “opposition” to reassure Israelis that “no difference between the coalition and the opposition” every time they seek to justify Netanyahu’s policies. It will be a real Left, with a message of hope for both Israelis and Palestinians.

This Left must use Netanyahu’s remarks over and over again, ensuring that Israelis never forget them. It must make clear that we will not live by the sword. That there is another way. To every man and woman who lives here and wants to continue living here, to all those who want to raise children here, to all those we can give hope that the Right never can.

A woman holds a sign reading: 'With occupation, there is no hope,' during a protest march against the Netanyahu government, Tel Aviv, October 24, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

A woman holds a sign reading: ‘With occupation, there is no hope,’ during a protest march against the Netanyahu government, Tel Aviv, October 24, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

And we need to be clear on how to do it: it is possible to let go of the fixation that leads us time and time again to an escalation of violence. It is possible to eschew complete Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea. It is possible to fully commit to democracy, equality, and freedom for all who live here. It is possible to build a just and equal society without a military regime in the West Bank, without a siege on Gaza, without discrimination and dispossession of Palestinian citizens or those in East Jerusalem. These are the most egregious forms of violence taking place in this land, and they are the ones that lead to all the other forms of political violence. It is possible to have two states, a confederation, or one state — but giving up on Jewish supremacy and the willingness to share the land equally is a basic principle.

That, of course, is not all. We must speak to Israeli society about the growing socioeconomic gaps; about the huge sums of money that remains in the hands of so few; about privatization; about the selling off of our natural resources; about a fair redistribution of land and unequal distribution of municipal taxes; about our educational, health, and welfare systems; about discrimination against women, Mizrahim, and Ethiopians; about working conditions and minimum wages.

But the starting point must be our fundamental clash with Netanyahu: is there any point in raising the next generation here, because we will fight and invest and do everything so that it has a better life than us? Is there hope in living here? Netanyahu clearly said no. According to him, we are destined to live by the sword. Our motto must be the opposite.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Why is it so hard for leftists to speak out amid terror attacks? http://972mag.com/why-is-it-so-hard-for-leftists-to-speak-out-amid-terror-attacks/112497/ http://972mag.com/why-is-it-so-hard-for-leftists-to-speak-out-amid-terror-attacks/112497/#comments Thu, 08 Oct 2015 15:02:44 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112497 Because we are shocked by the terrifying violence. Because we don’t want to play into the interests of the Right. Because we don’t want to appear disconnected from our society. But mainly because we tend to forget that, unlike the right wing, we have a solution for the conflict, and it benefits both Jews and Palestinians — not one or the other.

Palestinian shops are shuttered in the Old City of Jerusalem after Israel restricted entry of Palestinians following a series of stabbing attacks, October 5, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Palestinian shops are shuttered in the Old City of Jerusalem after Israel restricted entry of Palestinians following a series of stabbing attacks, October 5, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Each morning it seems, or at least I wake up hoping, that this round of violence is over. That there won’t be any more attacks, that “neither side has any interest in an escalation,” as they like to say on television, and any moment now the clouds will cool things down, the rain will wash away all the tears and there will be just a little less bloodletting and pain.

But for now, until that happens, I feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing. Depression and speechlessness. Mostly after the murder of the two parents in front of their children. Mostly-mostly after the deadly stabbing in the Old City, and bewilderment at those people who refused to help the wounded woman. I simply have no words.

And that’s a pretty bad thing for a leftist journalist and blogger, for whom words form an integral part of life, who doesn’t have anything to say. And it seems that it’s not only me. I look around at other writers on Local Call and +972 Magazine and I realize I’m not alone. I refresh my Facebook feed and find the same silence. And what better cure for silence is there than writing about silence itself?

Why is it so hard for us leftists? Among other things, it seems that sometimes we forget, just a little, why and what we are struggling for. I’ll try and describe it through the things I thought about writing. First, I was certain that I would not play the apologetic condemnation game of the Right. I didn’t do anything wrong and our entire struggle — every day and on every front — is for peace, equality, social justice, and as a basic rule we are clearly fighting for life and oppose the murder of civilians. So no, we really don’t need to “condemn” anything.

I also thought of writing something about the shock, the pain, maybe about the fear. Maybe something along the lines of what Mijal Simonet Corech wrote, about a politics first and foremost of love for all people. That’s important, and it’s beautiful, and it truly is the basis for everything. But I don’t know how to write like Mijal, and I’m always worried that it’s not enough, that I need to be more direct and clear and concrete about what we must do now.

And then I thought that it’s necessary to write about the occupation. Perhaps to mention the Palestinian children who Israel murdered, the hundreds in Gaza, and the baby and his parents in Duma. Not to mention, like Amira Hass wrote about, that this war we are waging is being waged every day – every day, all the time, and not only when Jews are murdered and the Israeli media is reminded that a war is going on.

But then there is the fear that if I make a direct connection between the murder of Jews and the occupation that it will sound like a competition of suffering, as if it’s zero sum, as if it’s necessary to decide and prove whose suffering is greater. As if I’m saying that it’s not so awful, the creation of four new orphans or not helping a wounded victim in Jerusalem. As if I could be apathetic when things are so messed up.

That fear of mentioning Palestinian suffering, that readers might think that it’s justifying the murders, which simply cannot be justified, even if we understand where they are coming from. (And it’s pretty stupid, I must say, all that talk of “justification.” As if some Palestinian guy, who has been moderate and quiet while living his whole life lived under a foreign, violent and discriminatory regime, is waiting for some leftist from the occupying population to “justify” his actions.)

So I find myself not wanting to talk about Jewish suffering, because it serves the right wing, and I don’t want to talk about Palestinian suffering, because then I would be ignoring Jewish suffering (or justifying the violence), and I don’t want to say that everyone is just horrible, because on a human level there is room for comparisons, on a political level there are differences between the occupier and the occupied, between a country that murders thousands with advanced weapons as part of its attempts to preserve its control and Jewish supremacy, and between individuals or organizations that murder as part of a struggle for independence. And now I’ll shut up.

Silence as acquiescence

But at the end of the day it all comes back to the fact that we are in danger of forgetting what we’re fighting for, and what is the nature of that political struggle. The struggle against the occupation — which is first and foremost a struggle against displacement and disenfranchisement, against racism, against a military regime, against separate legal systems based on ethnicity or nationality, against war crimes committed by our country — it is a struggle for our future. Yes, it’s primarily a struggle in support of the Palestinians, the primary victims of this regime, but not entirely. It is a struggle for the viability of a better future, a sustainable peace, for everyone who lives in this land.

That is something we need not apologize for. This is where we need to be absolutely clear. Because now, more than any time in the past, it is clear that the right wing has no other solution. The Right has been in power, nearly continuously, for almost 40 years. Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister for the fourth time, the third continuous term. The government is a right-wing government.

And with all of the right wing’s harsh criticisms, from within and outside of the government, they really don’t have a single clue what to do. They know that they can’t ignore the Palestinians. They know that they’re not planning on giving the Palestinians either a state or equal rights. And they know (even if they deny it) that the Palestinians won’t stop resisting — whether through non-violent means or through violent attacks — regardless of how high the oppression is turned up. At most they can suffocate the resistance for a while, but never win. And that is the only vision, a depressing and frightening vision, that the Right has to offer us.

By contrast to that vision lies the Left’s solution, which requires true concessions on all the benefits Jews enjoy from the occupation (exclusive control of resources: the economy, land, politics, immigration, the monopoly on power, etc.). But the latter is the only long-term solution. It will not be easy, and it demands that we, the Jews, let go of the idea that our fate in this land can be entrusted only to ourselves. Because it’s not. It requires us to work toward building one state or two states on the basis of peace, equality and democracy. Only neighbors who feel equal to each other can truly live side by side without fear.

We have to remember that there is a way of getting there. That there are Palestinian activists who have been waging an unarmed struggle against the occupation for years with protests, marches, creative direct actions, boycotts, diplomatic and legal tools, and an endless list of methods that do not include murdering civilians. And our job is to join them in the struggle to build a new, joint path — together.

It’s been a very long time already since there was a large protest in Israel that called for an end to the occupation. There will be one such demonstration this Friday in Tel Aviv, and as there are every week, there will be joint struggle demonstrations across the West Bank. Let’s go together. Let’s remember that silence speaks volumes, that silence is acquiescence and capitulation. Let’s not be silent any longer.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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50 shades of orange: The international redhead festival http://972mag.com/50-shades-of-orange-notes-from-the-intl-redhead-festival/111679/ http://972mag.com/50-shades-of-orange-notes-from-the-intl-redhead-festival/111679/#comments Sun, 13 Sep 2015 18:35:14 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111679 Thousands of redheads gathered for one weekend in a Dutch city to celebrate their identity, talk about their hardships, and do a bit of speed-dating for the sake of future generations. And me? I’m still trying to find out where I fall on the ginger spectrum. 

Over 1,500 redheads break the record for most redheads in a single location during the Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands, September 6, 2015. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Over 1,500 redheads break the record for most redheads in a single photo during the Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands, September 6, 2015. (photo: Haggai Matar)

On Sunday of last week, a new world record was set for most redheads in a single photo. 1,722 redheads of all shades were photographed together in Dutch city of Breda during the tenth annual international redhead festival, also known as Redhead Days.

The redheads came dressed in blue shirts and held sunflowers to mark 125 years since the death of the most famous Dutch redhead of all time — Vincent Van Gogh — breaking the previous record by a mere 50 people, which was previously set by the participants at the festival two years ago. According to organizers over 40,000 participants from more than 80 countries came to celebrate the redhead identity, of them several thousand actual redheads, although only a small portion stayed for the final day when the group photo was taken.

I decided to attend the festival exactly one year ago after I went to the Israeli redhead festival in Kibbutz Gezer (check out pictures here, Hebrew), which was organized by Ofri Moshe, who dreamed of reaching the international conference by had to make do with the local version.

Blonde beginnings

The excitement was palpable on the train from Amsterdam to Breda. On the platform stood a redheaded worker from Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch railway company, who was busy gathering all the redheads she could find and sending them to first class. Other passengers, including family members or partners of the redheads, were not allowed to enter the car when the company photographer came to snap photos of the historic moment.

Redhead children on the train heading for the Redhead Days festival. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Redhead children on the train heading for the Redhead Days festival. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Most of the passengers in the first class car were children (only some of their parents were redheads), who looked happier than ever to finally be part of the majority. That, in fact, is part of the point of the conference.

“Many people, and especially young children, feel insecure because of their different hair color, and often feel ashamed or think something is wrong with them. The conference tries to instill in them a feeling of pride,” says Bart Rouwenhorst, a resident of Breda who started the conference back in 2005. But here’s the thing: Rouwenhorst isn’t a redhead himself.

Redheads gather for a group photo at the tenth annual Redhead Days festival festival. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Redheads gather for a group photo at the tenth annual Redhead Days festival festival, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Speaking with +972, Rouwenhorst explained that his connection to redheads began as a coincidence. Rouwenhorst is a logistical expert, a mechanical engineer, and an amateur painter in his free time. Ten years ago he decided he wanted to paint 15 redhead women together, and published a wanted ad in the newspaper. He received 150 offers from across the Netherlands and decided to change directions and turn the painting into a photo. The participants had such a good time that they told their friends, and other redheads began asking Rouwenhorst to reenact the event. Eventually he turned into an international expert on redheads who has put on a huge, volunteer-run conference for members of the redhead community for the past 10 years.

Our people in Micronesia

But what can a few thousand redheads (and tens of thousands of other guests — including Breda residents, family members, friends, and curious onlookers) do together over 3.5 days? It turns out that a lot. The festival included games and competitions for redheads; stalls sold cosmetics for redheads; fashion shows put on by redhead designers featuring redhead models alone; parties and speed-dating for redheads; art shows inspired by Van Gogh; yoga for redheads; dancing lessons; a chart with 50 shades of orange, allowing every redhead to find out just what kind of ginger she or he is, and more.

Redhead models strut down the catwalk during a fashion show at Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Redhead models strut down the catwalk during a fashion show at Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Redheads came from all across the world to participate in the festivities, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and the United States, as well as Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Israel and more. One woman flew in from Micronesia, Israel’s most staunch ally, through Guam, Japan, South Korea and Amsterdam, despite the fact that she wasn’t actually a redhead but more of a blonde. Regardless, she stood on the stairs of Breda City Hall and gave an impassioned speech on how she felt that she finally found her real family to thunderous applause.

Redheads pose for the record-breaking photo at the Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Redheads pose for the record-breaking photo at the Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Many of the festival-goers come to Redhead Days to feel pride in their identity, to bond with people who are similar to them, to feel just a little less different for a few days, and to bring their unique experiences to the wider public. Rouwenhorst admits that redheads are not an oppressed minority who suffer from discrimination. Although redheads do face occasional harassment around the world, and there are obvious ramifications for anyone who stands out in a crowd, the conference does not try to establish an underground group for oppressed redheads or an organization striving for equality.

Festival founder Bart Rouwenhorst speaks to the crowd at Redhead Days, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Festival founder Bart Rouwenhorst speaks to the crowd at Redhead Days, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Over the years, there have been more and more redhead festivals across the world, including in Italy (“It’s the smallest, since there aren’t many redheads in Italy,” Rouwenhorst says), Germany, Ireland, and some in the United States. The Dutch organizers help establish new groups grow across the world.

Finding my lost family

“It is important that you write that people here come from countries that are either at war with each other or are enemies. But here they can just be redheads; they get to know each other and get along just fine,” Rouwenhorst says. “American soldiers and Afghani nationals, Turks and Syrians, even the Dutch, who often think of the Germans as bad people because of the past wars, can have fun and laugh with Germans. This was not our goal but it happened, and I am happy that more Israelis are coming to meet people from other countries.”

Redheads prepare for their record-breaking photo, Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Redheads prepare for their record-breaking photo, Redhead Days festival, Breda, Netherlands. (photo: Haggai Matar)

At the end of the interview I feel that there is one remaining question that we had yet to address. Ever since I was a child, I could not decide what color my hair actually is. There were always those around me who were adamant about me being a redhead, while others said I was clearly blonde. My beard is far more red than my bright hair, making the question even more difficult to answer. So I decided to ask the expert.

“Yes, you are a redhead,” Rouwenhorst rules. “Your beard is very red, your skin color tends toward pink rather than yellow, your eyebrows are bright and you blush easily. It is clear.”

“It’s an entirely scientific matter,” he adds, “if you take a blood test, I am sure they will find you have the redhead gene. No doubt about it.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Labeling settlement goods only strengthens the occupation http://972mag.com/labeling-settlement-goods-only-strengthens-the-occupation/111634/ http://972mag.com/labeling-settlement-goods-only-strengthens-the-occupation/111634/#comments Fri, 11 Sep 2015 18:59:07 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111634 When the Israeli government does everything in its power to erase the Green Line and subjugate the Palestinian economy, boycotting settlement goods does little to challenge the regime.

Palestinians Burn Settlment Products in Front of the Karmei Tzur Settlement. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Palestinians Burn Settlment Products in Front of the Karmei Tzur Settlement. (photo: Joseph Dana)

In order to understand the decision by the European Parliament on Thursday to overwhelmingly support a motion in support of labeling of goods produced in West Bank settlements on, one must look at a different event that took place Europe a few weeks back.


Two weeks ago, a Luxembourg supermarket chain “Cactus” decided to boycott fruits and vegetables made in Israel. The reason: Israeli vegetable suppliers do not mark produce that comes from the settlements. The result: after pressure by consumers against selling settlement goods, Cactus decided not to carry any Israeli produce at all.

Back to the parliament: the significance of the decision to label the goods, which is set to become the operative policy of the European Commission, is two-fold. On one hand, we see another diplomatic maneuver on the part of the EU as a result of its dissatisfaction from an ongoing occupation and an Israeli government (and opposition leadership) that seems disinterested in ever ending it.

You might hear a semi-critical person in Luxembourg or Berlin saying: “I don’t buy settlement goods.” He or she may even add: “But I am not anti-Israel. On the contrary. I buy Israeli products that aren’t tainted by the military regime.”

This despite the fact that the separation between the two is entirely artificial. After all, how does one view a product made inside Israel, but which uses raw materials from the West Bank and sends its waste to an industrial zone that exploits Palestinians? How is one supposed to view a bank headquartered on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard that gives mortgages to homes in West Bank settlements. Or what about a product made entirely in Israel, but whose company pays taxes that end up going to the defense budget, the next war on Gaza, or home demolitions in the Jordan Valley?

Long-term optimism?

The European Union is trying to highlight the Green Line in a reality where Israel continues to erase it whenever it is convenient. The EU is trying to pretend as if there are two separate different regimes — a democratic, legitimate one in Israel, and a military regime in a faraway land — in a reality where there is no distinction between the two regimes headed by the same government in Jerusalem.

Like Noam Sheizaf wrote recently, the EU continues to help Israel maintain the occupation while refraining from taking active steps to limit its activities. Meanwhile, it spends money on infrastructure for Palestinians — what should be Israel’s obligation as the sole, sovereign ruler of the occupied territories.

However, one could be more optimistic and say that there is something encouraging about the EU’s attempts to back up its claims and actively attempt to harm the settlement economy. There is something positive about the Israeli public being forced to deal with the fact that even according to Israeli law, the settlements are outside the borders of the country, and that they are an inseparable part of a single regime that maintains two different legal systems.

One can also say that the current step is only the first of many, and that as EU pressure to separate the settlements from the rest of the country grows, maintaining the occupation will become much more difficult.

All of this seems very far from where we find ourselves today and it certainly does not bring Palestinians any closer to freedom, independence, and equality. The solution they need is somewhere between two sovereign, interconnected democratic states and one state for both nations. But in order to get there, we must first recognize the fact that today there is only one state, which includes islands of pseudo-autonomous prisons for Palestinians. This is the same state on both sides of the Green Line.

Until we fully internalize this reality, Luxembourg’s Cactus might as well return to selling Israeli products.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Israel’s new police chief: Architect of segregated West Bank roads http://972mag.com/israels-new-police-chief-architect-of-segregated-west-bank-roads/111017/ http://972mag.com/israels-new-police-chief-architect-of-segregated-west-bank-roads/111017/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 11:47:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111017 Three things to know about Gal Hirsch, Israel’s incoming police chief who has supported segregated roads and the shooting of a Palestinian youth.

Gal Hirsch (Police spokesperson)

Gal Hirsch (Israel Police Spokesperson)

1. During the Second Intifada, following a number of sniping and fire bomb attacks by Palestinians on Israeli cars, incoming police chief Gal Hirsch banned Palestinians from traveling on Route 443, turning it into a road for Israelis only. This despite the fact that the road was built on private and public Palestinian land, and with the understanding that Israel would see the road as a way to serve local Palestinian residents. This also created a situation in which Palestinians aiming to shoot Israeli cars could do so easily, since the road was made exclusively for Israelis.


In 2009 the High Court rejected the racist policy of separation on Road 443. However, the army found ways to circumvent the decision. Today, although Palestinians are now allowed to travel on the road, traffic arrangements work to direct them to use poorer, alternative roads.

2. After being forced to leave the IDF in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, Hirsch became an independent contractor and started a company called “Defensive Shield,” after the name of the 2002 operation on Gaza in which he served as a top general. The company’s site reveals that it specializes in “supplying combat, police and military equipment,” in addition to providing security consultancy, among other fields.

3. Hirsch was recently among those who backed Brigade Commander Israel Shomer, who shot and killed a Palestinian stone-thrower, firing three bullets at his back and head. Hirsch described the boy as a “terrorist,” and justified shooting, despite a video that clearly shows that Shomer chose to get out of his military vehicle, chase the Palestinian boy who was trying to escape, and shoot him in the back even though there was no apparent threat to his life.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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British national challenges Israel’s policy of deporting peace activists http://972mag.com/british-national-challenges-israels-policy-of-deporting-peace-activists/110938/ http://972mag.com/british-national-challenges-israels-policy-of-deporting-peace-activists/110938/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 11:36:52 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=110938 Israel’s Interior Ministry banned British peace activist Gary Spedding from the country for 10 years, claiming that he was an anti-Semitic liar who might start a riot. Unlike other activists who have suffered the same fate, Spedding isn’t giving up without a fight.

British peace activist Gary Spedding holds up his passport, with a refusal stamp from the Israeli border authorities. (photo: Aaron Dover)

British peace activist Gary Spedding holds up his passport, with a refusal stamp from the Israeli border authorities. (photo: Aaron Dover)

An Israeli court is slated to rule next month on a case involving a British human rights activist who was denied entry into the country, deported, and banned for 10 years, who claims that the Interior Ministry is targeting him for his political views.

It all began on January 9, 2014. Gary Spedding, a 25-year-old British pacifist and human rights activist, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport for a short visit of a little over a week in Tel Aviv and Bethlehem in order to meet with local activists (myself included) and political leaders. It was supposed to be Spedding’s fifth visit to Israel/Palestine in four years, with the previous four going off without a hitch.

The visits were intended to allow Spedding, who is committed to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to continue learning about the issue from up close, and talk to people about the relative success of the Northern Ireland peace agreement. Despite his young age, Spedding is a one of the central activists in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland — the only joint Protestant-Catholic party in Northern Ireland’s parliament.


But upon stepping up to the passport control at Ben-Gurion Airport, Spedding was taken to a small room where he said the security team logged onto his mobile phone without permission and scanned through his contacts, text messages and email, manually copying some of the content onto a notepad. He also underwent a lengthy full-body check, and was eventually jailed before being deported. I was told by the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration that Spedding had been banned for 10 years because of his activities on social media, fearing that he could start riots in Israel or the occupied territories if allowed into the country. Countless activists have undergone the same procedure, from artists to intellectuals to left-wingers.

Spedding began his legal battle against his deportation while still in detention, and continued to pursue upon his return to Britain. After Attorney Gabi Lasky failed to convince the Interior Ministry to change the decision, Spedding submitted an appeal to the Entry to Israel Law Review Tribunal.

These kinds of bans have become more common over the past few years. Those banned include the likes of Professor Noam Chomsky, the 2012 Flytilla activists, activists from Christian organizations or Palestinian aid groups — not to mention foreign nationals of Palestinian descent, who come to visit their families.

This is just a short list, but it is rare that someone takes these cases to court. The court’s ruling could have potential consequences on the Interior Ministry’s policies vis-a-vis other foreign nationals, whose political beliefs are critical of the government.

The ‘anti-Semite’ who marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

According to the Interior Ministry, Spedding was lying about the reasons behind his visit to the country, had previously volunteered for an organization despite only holding a tourist visa (which does not allow volunteering), entered areas administered by the Palestinian Authority without Israeli approval, and that there is a potential that he could cause a riot.

On the face of it, the ministry’s claims seem serious. Upon closer examination, it is difficult not to laugh at their absurdity. For instance, while searching his phone, the security team at the airport found that Spedding had been briefed on “how to act and what to say at the passport control” in order to enter the country. However, according to the conversation included simple instructions such as “be yourself” or “be polite,” adding that should he be detained, Spedding ought to drink water and read a book.

Israeli activist Michal Vexler arrested at TLV airport while demonstrating in favor of the 'Welcome to Palestine' fly-in protest on April 15, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli activist Michal Vexler arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport while demonstrating in favor of the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ fly-in protest, April 15, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)

According to a report by the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration, Spedding was also hoping to travel to the West Bank village of Bil’in. How did they know? Because after announcing on Facebook that he would be traveling to Israel/Palestine, one of his Facebook friends asked him whether he is planning on coming to the village, a question Spedding did not answer. This is how the State of Israel determined that Spedding is on his way to Bil’in, where he may lead demonstrations and riots.

The report also claimed that Spedding had made anti-Semitic remarks in one of his correspondences. In a private chat with one of his friends, which took place after he was accused by right-wingers on the internet of being anti-Semitic, Spedding joked that he is “looking forward to our anti-Semitic adventure together.” Spedding, who is active in raising awareness over Holocaust Remembrance Day and has organized and spoken at conferences on the Holocaust, was offended by the baseless claim.

Another allegation made against Spedding was that he was involved in organizing a protest against an Israeli speaker at Belfast’s Queens University in 2011. Following the protest the speaker’s car was attacked by people unrelated to Spedding, and whom he tried to stop and later denounced, suffering himself from persecution for supposedly supporting the Israeli speaker. Queens University later officially stated that Spedding had nothing to do with the attack, and since that incident he had already been in Israel three times with no problem whatsoever getting in or out. And yet, the Interior Ministry still lists the incident as a reason for banning him from the country.

Classified material

The report also includes a summary of Spedding’s interrogation by border security agents, which is full of lies and inconsistencies. It falsely claims, for example, that Spedding stated that he had previously volunteered for an organization while in the country, and includes a quote in which he allegedly stated that he came to Israel in order to meet with “members of Knesset who support the Palestinian people.” While Spedding is in contact with a number of MKs, and did not hesitate to tell this to the agents, he never described them as “supporters of of the Palestinian people.”

In the first appeal, Lasky debunked the state’s claims one by one, emphasizing that while the state has the right to determine who can come in to the country, it does not have the right to act arbitrarily without any criteria. In Spedding’s case, Lasky explains, the decision was unreasonable and disproportionate, and was a result of the Interior Ministry’s objections to his political beliefs and activities.

In its response to the appeal, the state simply reused the same arguments it had brought up earlier, completely ignoring Lasky’s claims. In addition, the state also handed over a folder full of classified material against Spedding, preventing him from defending himself from the claims made against him.

Fundraising for future activities

I first met Spedding in 2013, when he invited me to speak about the Israeli occupation before the Northern Ireland Assembly. He also helped me to set up personal meetings with some of the assembly members to talk about the country’s relatively stable peace agreement, which I ended up turning into an article in Haaretz.

It was clear then that Spedding is a true pacifist who opposes all forms of violence, racism, or oppression. “Gary is one of those souls who you can tell feels it on a personal level when there is no peace in the world, and especially in this country,” says Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who met Spedding in Northern Ireland as part of an envoy of Israeli MKs who traveled to the country to learn about the Good Friday Agreement.

Solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on Republican walls (Haggai Matar)

Solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on Republican walls, Belfast, Northern Ireland. (photo: Haggai Matar)

“I’m hopeful the court will see that most of the ‘evidence’ the Interior Ministry is presenting is of a heavily politicized nature, taken from right-wing blogs and doesn’t substantiate an actual ‘case’ unless they want to admit banning someone purely because they don’t like their politics.” Spedding tells me.

Spedding explains that his presence in the country is important to him, and that both his ban and the outrageous claims of the Interior Ministry have left an indelible stain. “What makes my case unique is that it was the first time the ministry has publicly admitted they monitored my social media feed and gave that as partial reasoning for my deportation. I hope that if my case is won it might open up a route for other activists to challenge their deportations.”

Spedding’s legal battle against the Interior Ministry is a costly one, and he cannot take on all the expenses himself. He is still a student, and his political activities — whether on internal issues in Northern Ireland or those relating to Israel/Palestine — is done in his free time and on his dime. The legal expenses cost tens of thousands of shekels, and he has been able to fundraise nearly all of the money from friends and supporters, but would appreciate any assistance. You can help Spedding and donate to his efforts through Paypal or with a credit card here.

Dimi Reider contributed to this piece. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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The IDF’s new tool for tracking Palestinian protesters: Drones http://972mag.com/the-idf-has-a-new-way-of-tracking-palestinian-protesters-drones/110419/ http://972mag.com/the-idf-has-a-new-way-of-tracking-palestinian-protesters-drones/110419/#comments Sat, 15 Aug 2015 11:08:39 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=110419 What has four propellors and a camera?

Participants in the weekly protests against the separation wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in were surprised Friday to find that the army was using a new tool to put down the demonstrations. For the first time, a small drone equipped with four propellors and a camera hovered above the protesters as they marched toward the wall and chanted slogans.

I asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit what the purpose of the drone was; I have yet to receive a response. The camera can be used for a number of purposes, although in light of past experience, it is likely to be used to assist soldiers in dispersing demonstrations or photographing protesters for arrests or to use in future trials. Bil’in photojournalist Haitham Khatib managed to snap a photo of the drone as it hovered above the protesters on Friday:

An IDF drone hovers above the West Bank village of Bil'in. (photo: Haitham Khatib)

An IDF drone hovers above the West Bank village of Bil’in. (photo: Haitham Khatib)

Photos taken at the demonstrations help the army arrest and interrogate protesters, especially young ones, are often used to incriminate protest organizers.

In April 2014, the army revealed yet another weapon for suppressing demonstration: a remote-controlled water canon that was installed atop the separation wall in Bethlehem, which allows the tracking and dispersal of protesters without the presence of soldiers.

Israeli army installs remote-controlled weapon atop separation wall
‘Israel increasing use of live fire at West Bank protests’
Bil’in: Photographing a decade of popular struggle

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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