+972 Magazine » Haggai Matar http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:20:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Facing increased right-wing violence, Israeli leftists learn to fight back http://972mag.com/facing-increased-right-wing-violence-israeli-leftists-learn-to-fight-back/97486/ http://972mag.com/facing-increased-right-wing-violence-israeli-leftists-learn-to-fight-back/97486/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:01:28 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97486 Attacks against Arabs in Jerusalem became routine this past summer and in Tel Aviv left-wing activists faced violence from the Right. ‘We don’t want to attack Baruch Marzel’s headquarters or anything, but we believe the victimhood of the Left must end here,’ one activists explains.

Thursday and Saturday nights in downtown Jerusalem have become terrifying. On those days, a group of youth gathers in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square, often next to a permanent pop-up stand manned by members of anti-miscegenation group Lehava. The youth meet there and then take to the streets chanting “Death to Arabs,” harassing and assaulting Arab cab drivers, women in hijabs and businesses that employ Arabs. Since they became active, fewer and fewer Palestinians have been stepping foot in this part of the city.

The few left-wing activists who dare to be out on the streets on these nights usually walk alongside the youth, quietly, documenting their actions and calling the police – but without getting involved, knowing full well that the violence could at any moment be directed at them. Recently, however, they decided to change their approach. Last Thursday, around 200 of them gathered in Zion Square to stand up to the violence.

That night marked the (temporary) crystallization of left-wing self defense groups in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel. Not many could have known, but among those 200 protesters were a few dozen who came prepared for the possibility of a violent confrontation with right-wing extremists.

“It was the most significant left-wing event in Jerusalem since the protests in Sheikh Jarrah,” one veteran activist said.

“The collective, anti-racist presence was no less than amazing,” said Eyal, another activist from Jerusalem. “A month ago, you couldn’t imagine such an event; not just being defensive and under the radar, but attacking, marking territory, marking our enemies and saying loud and clear that they are illegitimate – that they have no place in the public discourse. It means coming out in numbers, coming with confidence, showing strength and being ready in the event we are attacked.”

Meaning?

“Let’s just say we came prepared. Definitely prepared. Out of 200 protesters, 40-50 knew how to respond. If the situation presented itself – they knew what to do. By interposing themselves and defending, not attacking or looking to fight. But they know very well how to if need be,” he said.

You can’t see it, but people here are ready to respond to violence. A protest against racism in Jerusalem. (Photo by Activestills.org)

You can’t see it, but people here are ready to respond to violence. A protest against racism in Jerusalem. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Taking back the streets

No confrontations took place that night. Members of Lahava didn’t arrive in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, instead spending the holiday evening in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. But two weeks earlier, the confrontations were very real. A bus full of Lahava members from Jerusalem rode down to Tel Aviv in order to hand out anti-mysogination fliers on the city’s central Allenby Street. A group of left-wing activists, some affiliated with the trained self defense groups and others not, showed up and prevented Gupstein and his followers from getting off their bus.

Police intervened and separated the two sides, sending the busload of Lahava members on to the Tel Aviv Port, in what the activists perceived as an accomplishment. “We met an hour beforehand, we decided who would be in charge at the scene, and with the support of attorneys made an action plan,” one of the Tel Aviv-based activists who was there.

“Originally we didn’t even think to block them [from getting off the bus] — we just prepared fliers and were going to march alongside them in order to deliver a message that racist incitement is unacceptable,” the activist added. “We thought that if they went north of Bialik Street that we would back off, because that’s an area with more drunk people and others who might join them against us. But anywhere south of there, the chance that the street would back us increased. Looking back, I think the message that they have no place here was made very clear.”

The encounter with Gupstein didn’t happen by accident. There, just like in Jerusalem a week prior, a number of groups came together, organizations and independent activists who decided that they were going to stop turning the other cheek, to stop surrendering to extreme-right wing violence, and would start taking back their place in the public arena. For that reason, some of them decided to establish a few groups to train in self defense, seminars in active non-violence, action plans for protecting protests and planning for situations in which they might face violence on the street.

Some of those groups refused to be interviewed for this article, and most of the activists only agreed to speak on the condition that they not be identified, out of fear of harassment by police or right-wing activists. They also asked that some of their tactics not be revealed. But beyond their cloak of secrecy, who are these people who are for the first time in years organizing a strong response to the radical Right? How did they come together and what do they intend to do? In order to find out, and before I begin to detail the various groups, we need to take a quick look back at the events of this past summer.

‘Death to Arabs’

The wave of violence against Arabs began in Jerusalem on June 30, the day the funeral for the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers was held. Every day more than 1,000 people overran the streets, attacking Arab passersby. A few days later, Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir was murdered, leading to protests and riots in East Jerusalem. Those protests continue to this day, and include rock throwing and damage to the Jerusalem light rail.

“I’ve been in Jerusalem for 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Eyal. “At first it was every night, and then a few times a week, people walk through the streets, pulling out Arab drivers from their cars and assaulting them. They are on the hunt in the streets.”

The attacks led left-wing Jerusalem activists, who since the days of the protests in Sheikh Jarrah, have split and gone in different directions, to regroup for action. They formed internal communication networks and began organizing patrols in the more sensitive areas in the city center. When they could, they tried to physically protect Arabs who were being attacked. When they couldn’t, they would film, call the police and warn Palestinians from going to certain areas. “It wasn’t ideal, but if felt like the only option at that time,” Eyal told me in frustration.

With time the group grew and came to be known as the “Local Guard.” They were joined by activists and young people with diverse opinions. The group began organizing more straightforward briefings, and took upon itself to provide support during a weekly march for peace and tolerance, organized by the local bilingual school during the war. They were small marches that, despite not having any slogans, were attacked by young Jews and needed the protection of the “Local Guard.”

Alongside larger groups and coalitions, from the communist Arab-Jewish Hadash party to Labor and other organizations, these were the people who organized last Thursday’s protest in Zion Square.

Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, things developed quite differently. On July 12, right-wing extremists attacked the first anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv, injuring several people. The police did not do anything. The incident gave incendiary rapper HaTzel (“The Shadow”) a public platform during the war,  which made it clear to Tel Aviv activists that such an event could not repeat itself.

“The violence that took place during that protest made it clear that the rules of the game had changed. It is unclear if they changed permanently or temporarily, but something happened,” said B, one of the demonstrators. “An immediate need emerged to meet before every protest, to plan what to do, think about how to prevent confrontations, where to stand, how we can form a partition that controls the attacks on us as well as those from our side who want to escalate.”

“When we form a tough, dense human chain and hold hands and don’t respond even when they spit in our faces or curse us, it sends a message that we do not back down, that we are confident, that we are providing protection and security to those who want to protest the war and would otherwise be too scared. People thanked us profusely for bringing them a sense of security.”

As the protests continued, the group used techniques such as human chains, organizers who maintained eye contact, lookouts, people in black who were spread out in the area and were ready to intervene when necessary, a system of safe dispersal and huge banners that formed makeshift protective boundaries around the protests. As someone who was at these protests, I can say – it worked. It really did provide demonstrators with a feeling of safety, and minimized the points of confrontation with the rightists.

Protecting a protest against the war outside Israel’s national theater in Tel Aviv.

Protecting a protest against the war outside Israel’s national theater in Tel Aviv.

No more Mr. Nice Guy

Beyond ad-hoc organizing before each protest, which included demonstrators who did not belong to any groups, the rising violence of the extreme right in the streets led to the establishment of several organized groups.

The anarchist “Achdut” group organized the “Black Guard,” which trained in self-defense and Krav Maga. Other activists established “Antifa 972″ (no relation to the magazine), a shorthand for “anti-fascists.” At least two other groups, which asked not to be included in the article, also began training and taking part in self-defense activities.

The activists in each of these groups stress that there is no one organization, nor is there any attempt to build political power or a new movement. They also hope that this is not a new trend, but rather a need to respond and protect from new dangers that have become a reality for Palestinians and left-wing activists in the streets. All in all, including the Jerusalemites from the “Local Guard,” the members of the groups amount to approximately 100 people.

“The radical left didn’t have the experience or the militant spirit to deal with the fascist’s violence,” explains Yigal Levin from Achdut’s Black Guard. “That is why we brought people who know martial arts, and began free weekly lessons for any interested leftists. It wasn’t only the anarchists or communists who attended – even liberals feel like anyone who is seen as a ‘leftist” can be hurt now.’

“Just before the war, friends in the ‘Socialist Struggle’ group were beaten up at a protest. They were four against two rightists, and the rightists assaulted them. We don’t want this thing to happen again. We don’t want to be abused children – we want to respect ourselves. We don’t want to attack Baruch Marzel’s headquarters or anything, but we believe the victimhood of the Left must end here.”

Self defense training (Courtesy of ‘Solidarity’)

Self defense training (Courtesy of ‘Solidarity’)

Members of Antifa, one of the more active and well-known groups, preferred not to be interviewed for the piece, but sent a statement in which they wrote that they are a national group whose goal is to “be present when the bastards arrive, to protest them, to protect our communities and the communities with whom communities we are are in solidarity, and sometimes only to watch and document.” The basic principles of the group as described in their statement include being present everywhere there is incitement or attacks on oppressed groups or leftists, to fight against any form of racism, capitalism, occupation, sexism and more, to act directly with no assistance from the police or any arm of the state, to be in solidarity and unified – without internal leftist factionalism.

The group gets its inspiration from similar groups in Europe, where the violent struggle against fascism in the streets is a time-honored tradition. Even the name and the symbol of the group were copied from European groups, and there are many similarities in the rhetoric and tactics that were learned by activists who spent time abroad. In a video released by the far-right, anti-miscegenation group Lehava from the confrontation on Allenby Street, one can see several of the activists yelling “No Pasarán,” (“They shall not pass”), a slogan used by the Republican fighters against fascism during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

The European model. An ant-fascist protest in the UK. (Photo by Tim Buss/CC)

The European model. An ant-fascist protest in the UK. (Photo by Tim Buss/CC)

 A culture of force

The new mode of activity, especially the blocking of the members of Lehava in Tel Aviv, necessarily gives rise to dilemmas and controversies among the activists. Because these methods of organization are very new and not yet fully crystallized, the debate is in its initial stages, but it already addresses the questions of what is forbidden and what is allowed, what dangers emerge with more violent organizations, and what are the limits of discourse about the prohibited and the permissible within a political framework.

“We have here a group of people whose experience is one of persecution, and if it changes in the future — which is not the situation today — we will have to assess the meaning of violence exerted against the persecuted as opposed to violence against those who are not,” says Kobi Snitz, a veteran activist in radical leftist groups. “I look at the movements confronting the Right in Europe, and the picture is not pretty. I see enthusiasm arising from violence. There is a psychological or political phenomenon whereby achieving something by means of violence justifies more violence. We see this on a daily basis among soldiers serving in the occupied territories.”

“I have no qualms about what we did in the summer. It was right to get organized and defend ourselves, in addition to protection by the police, which had to defend us after the first demonstration for political reasons. We have to pay attention to what is happening in Europe, although there is a basic difference: there, the rightist groups are outside the law, whereas here, threatening the Left is institutionally supported by the authorities and the leadership.”

There are some among the activists who fear the rise of militaristic culture, which respects those who can deliver more protection, to come to a demonstration with more muscle, more presence, more “combat experience,” more “bravery,” and are apprehensive about the consequences of this situation and its influence on the culture of the Left. An additional question is who exactly is the enemy being confronted.

“I have no doubt that Benzi Gupstein (Lehava’s leader) is my enemy, a self-declared disciple of Kahane, but the question is who are the young people around him who shout ‘Death to the Arabs’ in Jerusalem. I am not seeking a fight with them. These are not people who come with the ideology of the hilltop youth. Often they are the products of distress, who feel marginalized by society. I went on patrols in the city with teachers who identified their students among them. I really do not want to push them into a corner and make them our enemies, but it is hard.”

“Focusing on the Kahanists as symbols of Israeli racism is somewhat problematic,” Snitz added. “The Kahanists do form a part of the racist infrastructure, the vanguard, but they are a fringe culture. Confronting extremists can lead to missing the rest. Preventing them from handing out flyers in Tel Aviv will not lead to accepting Arabs as kibbutz members, or to the revocation of the Law of Return, or to the cessation of searches at Ben Gurion Airport. These things do not originate with the Kahanists.”

But is the distribution of flyers such a threat that must be fought or forbidden, even if the content is racist?

“I do not think that democratic speech should provide cover for incitement”, says B., and many in the circles of the defense cells agree with her. ”If these people come to manhandle Arab workers in restaurant kitchens, or to advance positions which were designated as illegal as early as in the eighties, then yes - there is justification for action. I am not necessarily saying that the police has to act –  prohibitions agains them can impact us too down the line, but personally I react with firmness when I see such things in my space.”

A sign as a protective wall, Tel Aviv.

A sign as a protective wall, Tel Aviv.

Getting ready for next time

Where is this movement headed now? We have seen that these groups, without exception, arose as a reaction to the events of the summer, what will become of them when the first rains come?

In Tel Aviv, a few activists arrived Sunday evening at the demonstration of the far right in Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv,  positioning themselves discreetly around the demonstration in order to protect business owners and asylum seekers against potential attacks. In Jerusalem, the Local Guard continues its patrols, although the attacks against Arabs in the streets have substantially decreased since the end of the war. And what about organizing for defending the demonstrations of the Left?

“In case of a demonstration that has to do with the [occupied] territories – these groups will be there for sure, just as they were there in summer,” B. clarified. “If Lehava attempts to return to Tel Aviv, we’ll be there too. Personally, I do not feel that we have to go to places where we are not invited and try to save the world everywhere, but some people do go. Organizing in Europe always has a local character, of people defending the space in which they live, which I feel is the right approach.”

“The street in Jerusalem is not like that of Tel Aviv,” countered Eyal. “Here, everyone in the street is likely to be against you. Our goal is to brand racism as abnormal, as illegitimate. It has to be at the street level, and at the level of demands from politicians – at the municipal and national level.”

“In any event, although things have calmed down somewhat, we have really not returned to the situation before the war, which in itself was not idyllic. Arabs are still afraid to walk about in the streets and they ask us to accompany them to the post office or to the National Insurance Institute offices. I fear that the next wave, when it comes, will start at the point where the recent wave ended, and will be more violent and more dangerous. Our job is to at least change the starting point of the next round.”

Update:
After a version of this article was published in Hebrew, the Social Struggle movement wrote in response: “Contrary to claims by ‘Solidarity’ activists, our members, one of whom is a martial arts trainer, did not ‘turn the other cheek.’ The two people who were cowardly attacked from behind got a response before running away. The bottom line is that effective self defense is primarily dependent on the capacity to organize protests that are large enough in relation to their threats — independent, firm and level-headed organizing along with a serious political struggle to undermine the public’s support for the Right.”

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
The night it became dangerous to demonstrate in Tel Aviv
Palestinian Jewish couple hires wedding security for fear of anti-misegenation group
Silencing dissent in Israel – continued

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Seven years later, Israel decides Gaza blockade is ineffective http://972mag.com/easing-the-siege-on-gaza-but-only-on-our-terms/97599/ http://972mag.com/easing-the-siege-on-gaza-but-only-on-our-terms/97599/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 20:57:16 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97599 After seven years of siege, the defense establishment has suddenly discovered that the blockade on Gaza is not helpful. It’s no coincidence, of course, that this realization comes after a war that devastated the Strip and has the Palestinians focused on reconstruction. 

“Israel now admits that the almost-airtight blockade of Gaza has done more harm than good.” I am always amazed at the ease with which these sentences are written by this or that analyst. Written so nonchalantly to the point that it feels like the writer might as well just shrug and say, “Well that didn’t work, let’s try something else.”

As if that same defense establishment and those same analysts weren’t the ones who actively promoted the policy of siege for the past seven years. As if they aren’t responsible for embittering the lives of 1.8 million people. As if they didn’t kill thousands in Gaza and dozens in Israel, sowing unbelievable destruction over the course of several wars and operations, all in the name of their holy policy. As if they didn’t allow the Israeli public to become accustomed to the claim that there is no blockade, and if there is then it is Egypt, not us, who is responsible, and if it is us then it is justifiable and we owe the Palestinians absolutely nothing and why the hell do they keep shooting at us anyway. As if they didn’t present the siege as the solution to rocket fire from Gaza and to the terrible conditions of the Israeli population living around the Strip. And as if, just two months ago, they didn’t praise, justify and march to war by sending soldiers into Gaza, while condemning the left, which claimed that the blockade is neither legal, moral or helpful.

Mariam Al Nawasra, age 85, cries when recalling the attack on her family's home during the last Israeli offensive, September 16, 2014. The attack killed four members of the family, Salah (age 24), his wife Aesha, who was 4-month pregnant, and brothers Mohammed (age 2) and Nidal (age 4).

Mariam Al Nawasra, age 85, cries when recalling the attack on her family’s home during the last Israeli offensive, September 16, 2014. The attack killed four members of the family, Salah (age 24), his wife Aesha, who was 4-month pregnant, and brothers Mohammed (age 2) and Nidal (age 4).

And here comes Ron Ben-Yishai and writes the following words: “Israel now admits that the almost-airtight blockade of Gaza has done more harm than good.” And nothing. Knesset members aren’t calling to punish the defense establishment – neither for its past mistakes nor for starting to sound like a “traitor” itself, akin to an Israeli human rights organization. Websites and newspapers who identify “Israeli first” won’t denounce the author of the piece. That’s it. A new paradigm will be accepted. So we made a mistake. Okay. Next.

And now seriously: What does the new plan presented (in the words of Ron Ben-Yishai) by the coordinator of government activities in the territories actually say? It calls for recognizing the unity government, easing the blockade, re-connecting the West Bank and Gaza, allowing building materials into the Strip for reconstruction, extending Gaza’s fishing zone, opening crossings for workers and others to exit the Strip, (“Security considerations will be the only limitation,” writes Ben-Yishai, and reminds anyone who forgot that preventing the entrance of Gazans into Israel or the West Bank, as well as the prevention of exports, never stemmed from security considerations over the past years – but rather were part of a policy of collective punishment).

Reading the article, one can justifiably ask: So what was this war all about? The entire world has expected the recognition of the unity government since May. Hamas’ demands vis-à-vis the blockade were clear from June until the start of the war. Now, most of those demands are being met. This is not a solution, nor a real removal of the blockade or an end to the occupation. But perhaps the war would have been prevented had they would have gone this direction earlier. No?

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

Actually, no. The entire justification for the new policy is based on destruction. This is what Ron Ben-Yishai writes:

Hamas needs the billions and a few years of work to rebuild some 7,000 structures that were completely destroyed and tens of thousands of structures that were damaged, to provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of unemployed youth and reassess their power in Gaza. They won’t get these billions and the materials they need from Israel if they renew their fire.

This is the meaning of the new deterrence, which will result in the calm Israel hopes to restore for the residents of southern Israel, by managing the conflict in its current version. We shall see.

Is it any clearer? Only now, after we unleashed destruction on Gaza, after destroying homes, entire neighborhoods, water and electricity infrastructure, after we destroyed the Strip and brought it to the brink of humanitarian disaster – only now can we come out looking good. We can bring in supplies, support the economy as well as international efforts for reconstruction developed in Cairo, backed by both Arab and Western states. But not too much, of course. Only enough to show that we are doing something, but not enough to create a real change in the power dynamics and bring about real hope that goes beyond reconstruction.

Conspiracy or reality?

This is the precise meaning of “managing the conflict.” On the political level, there will always be a reason not to allow a two-state solution, or any other solution that will bring about the end to millions of people living under military rule. Whether it’s terrorism, Arafat, Abbas, a divided Palestinian population, a united Palestinian population, the Arab Spring, Iran, ISIS. Don’t worry, there will always be a reason.

And what happens in reality? We continue to rule over millions of people who lack basic civil rights. We allow them to live, but only as long as it matches our comfort level. Let them reconstruct, but through our largesse. Let them have electricity and water, but limit it, and make sure we supply it. Oh, and let’s not allow them to build a power station or allow them to pump water from the ground. Let them work their land through, but they must do it for us after it has been expropriated. Or they must obtain a permit to reach their land. Let them establish a new city for the middle class, but they must know that it will not happen unless we sign on the dotted line. Let them deal with the day-to-day, but never any more than that.

A Palestinian woman walks past the rubble of a mosque in the village of Khuza'a, East of Gaza Strip, September 9, 2014. (Photo by Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian woman walks past the rubble of a mosque in the village of Khuza’a, East of Gaza Strip, September 9, 2014. (Photo by Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Accordingly, every attempt at real political organizing that strays from the daily existence under our boot will continue to be seen as a threat. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about elections, local popular struggles or nonviolent actions, political charity initiatives or armed struggle. We’ve prevented all of it, and we’ll continue to prevent it.

So what am I actually saying? That the war was meant to bring about destruction such that Hamas will be too busy with reconstruction for anything else? A bit conspiratorial, no? It’s not like top-brass of the defense establishment sat in a dark room and said “Ha ha ha! We’ll go to war based on a false premise to ensure they get stuck with reconstruction for years! That will keep them busy!”

I don’t know. I have no idea whether the establishment exploited the intolerable rocket fire on the towns in the south in order to justify an operation whose means (such as arbitrary artillery fire) were used for political ends. Similarly, there is no way to know whether the defense establishment exploited the the suicide bombings in the beginning of the 2000′s to justify the building of the separation barrier in such a way that annexes Palestinian land, allows for the expansion of settlements and disconnects Palestinians from their land. We can only assume. We can look at reality and see how after we’ve been told that there is only one way to respond to terror -and it seems that that very same way serves the agenda of maintaining the occupation. Coincidence? You’ll be the judge of that.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
Why the IDF cannot be trusted to investigate itself
Short-term memory loss champions of the world: Gaza? What Gaza?
PHOTOS: Gaza’s children face an uncertain future

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How my Jewish grandfather spent WWII in a German uniform http://972mag.com/jabob-ingerman-and-the-reich-army/97011/ http://972mag.com/jabob-ingerman-and-the-reich-army/97011/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 08:03:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97011 What if I told you that my late grandfather was a Jewish Soviet spy who infiltrated a Nazi army unit during World War II to support partisans, Jews and the Red Army? This is the true story of Jacob Ingerman, recently published as an e-book in English, titled, ‘A Jew in the ‘Service’ of the Reich.’

Trying to tell my grandfather’s war story is quite difficult, considering how completely imaginary and unbelievable it sounds. His is the story of a Jewish man who wore Nazi uniforms for three years while actually serving as a Soviet spy, marching through Ukraine, Poland, Germany and Italy with a German army unit and also forming underground cells and smuggling information and weapons to partisans, Jews and the Red Army from wherever he was, spending time with rough Gestapo agents and at the same time avoiding medical examinations so his Jewish identity wouldn’t be revealed, and still finding the time to develop love affairs with socialist activists throughout Europe. Seriously?

Well, it does sound absurd, at least if you never knew my grandfather.

German soldiers and Jacob Ingerman (upper right) in Ukraine

German soldiers and Jacob Ingerman (top right) in Ukraine

I should state up front that I’m writing this post now because the Hebrew book written by my late grandfather, Jacob Ingerman, has finally been published as an e-book in English, which you can – and I think should – purchase here.

Jabob was born in Ukraine to a religious family and grew up to be a devoted communist and political activist in the USSR. After graduating with a degree in mathematics he went on to become a teacher in a remote village, and shortly after Germany attacked his country he joined the army and was wounded in combat.

Now, this is where things get really interesting. After going through special intelligence training, which included learning German, table manners and ballroom dancing, he was parachuted over enemy lines within Ukraine with a full cover story. It wasn’t even a week before he became friends with some German soldiers who told him about a tank division that was planning to pass over a nearby bridge that night. The intelligence was quickly transferred and that night the bridge – and quite a few German tanks – was bombarded and destroyed. The Nazi progress into the USSR was slightly delayed.

We notified the women prisoners’ leaders of the evolving plan and arranged with them to determine a list of the women to be freed… We agreed that their liberation would happen after I finished my nightly guard duty, so that I would not be suspected. According to the plan, I was to open all the locks during my shift and with the changing of the guard, the Underground people would steal into the compound and extricate the women. We coordinated all the details with the women’s leaders, mainly those who cleaned our offices and with whom I had ongoing contact [from A Jew in the "Service" of the Reich].

Jacob Ingerman (on the left) with troops fleeing the Red Army

Jacob Ingerman (on the left) with troops fleeing the Red Army

It wasn’t long before grandad (23 years old at the time) became the official translator for a German electric engineering unit, with which he was to spend the rest of the war. It was with this unit that he traveled from village to town, communicating messages to and from the local occupied population, while using these contacts to form resistance cells and create new ones, even within the German army itself. He continued with his underground work even when on loan as a translator for the Gestapo, a job that entailed participating in interrogations that included torture.

His number one task was to gather and transfer information, but he often did much more than that. He would steal weapons and give them to partisans in the woods or Jews terrorized by the Germans, help set captives free, foil his unit’s attempts to sabotage a power plant while retreating, and more. During this entire period he needed to not only conceal his underground activities and anti-fascist agenda, but also ­– first and foremost – hide the fact that he was Jewish, which turned out to be an excruciating task during shower times or when the whole unit was due for its monthly STD physical checkup.

Ideological and political humanism

I mentioned before how absurd and unbelievable my grandfather’s story may sound, and it does. But for anyone who knew him, or even read the book, it somehow all makes sense, for grandad was the nicest, friendliest, warmest and most likeable person one could imagine. He could become friends with more or less anyone within an instant of meeting them.

It was a sort of political humanism (or more precisely, mensch-ism) in action. He loved people from the bottom of his heart, which, alongside political theory, made him a communist, and vice versa – he practiced his communism by deeply loving mankind, and insisting on seeing the best in everyone, unlike the communist regime in which he grew up.

This was how he soon became friends with most of the soldiers in his unit. So quickly did he earn their trust that shortly after joining, on their first Christmas together, they each decided to give him part of the gifts they received from home (alcohol, sweets, coffee and the like), just to show how much they cared. His official commanding officer even decided to adopt him and set him up with a fine German bride!

All through his book grandad makes a point of separating the few ideologically motivated Nazis he met from the vast majority of the German soldiers, who were not party members, nor in any way interested in politics, essentially just ordinary men. He could never get along with the Nazis, but with the common people he didn’t have a problem.

On the designated night, I carried out my assignment and after the guard change I went to bed… but, of course I could not sleep. Before the operation, I’d been full of anxiety in case some unexpected fault was discovered. The German guards would carry out their watch in high boots which had a thick wooden sole, which inhibited their movement. Because of the extreme cold at night, they also wore long, heavy, fur coats. Since they could only move laboriously, the actual guarding was reduced to standing at the entrance. But the guards were armed and nervous… and it was hard to foresee what their reaction would be.

The two partisans who were responsible for carrying out the plan entered the camp during my watch, and hid. When I finished my shift, they waited a while to enable me to get clear and then jumped the guard, stuffed his mouth with a gag and covered his head with a sack. As planned, they didn’t kill him, just neutralized him [from A Jew in the "Service" of the Reich].

Jaboc Interman (fifth from the right) with Polish soldiers

Jaboc Interman (fifth from the right) with Polish soldiers

When the war ended the unit was in Italy, and fell captive to British and American troops. Against his original plans to return home, grandad found himself traveling here, where he joined the new Israeli state’s intelligence network, and won the Israel Defense Prize with his wife (my grandmother), Shula. But he remained a communist and a humanist until his last days, and was ever more frightened and upset by the direction the state was taking.

All throughout that terrible war, as if to make things harder for himself, grandad insisted on reading books by Heinrich Heine – the Jewish-German author whose books were piled up and burnt by the Nazis in cities across Germany. His daring to read forbidden literature shocked his fellow soldiers, and yet he somehow survived that too. When he passed, seven years ago, we chose a Heine quote to inscribe on his grave as a tribute. I miss him terribly.

A Jew in the “Service” of the Reich, by Jacob Ingerman, can be bought as an e-book on Amazon, and in Hebrew on Mendele. This post was also published in Hebrew on Local Call.

***

The end of the women prisoners’ story

They then extricated the women from the prison and opened the gate nearest the sea. At the time, cracks were beginning to appear in the ice and it was dangerous to walk on it. But the partisans knew all the risky sections very well and led the women on a sure path. Sleds were waiting to transfer them to the Russian side of the Azov Sea, some thirty meters from the compound.

The entire operation to release the women took no longer than half an hour. Only when the next guard came on duty, some two hours later, was his predecessor found wrapped in a sack and the compound broken into and open. He sounded the alarm, a panic started and we all hurried to the yard to see what had happened. We discovered footprints in the snow leading across the sea. Since the company numbered so few men, no attempt was made to follow the trail of the escapees. The Gestapo came to investigate the affair at dawn. They surveyed the area near the sea, but didn’t dare risk walking on the ice. They feared drowning, or being captured by the Soviet forces. One of the Gestapo concluded, “It’s not worth the risk for a bunch of Russian women.”

The affair succeeded beyond all measure. We managed to free about eighty women out of over two hundred. Several months after this action I received a medal. We thought about repeating the deed and releasing the rest of the women, but this never came to pass. The Red Army beat us to it and liberated Mariupol [from A Jew in the "Service" of the Reich].

My grandfather, Jacob Ingerman, in German uniforms

My grandfather, Jacob Ingerman, in a German uniform

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Short-term memory loss champions of the world: Gaza? What Gaza? http://972mag.com/short-term-memory-loss-champions-of-the-world-gaza-what-gaza/96664/ http://972mag.com/short-term-memory-loss-champions-of-the-world-gaza-what-gaza/96664/#comments Sat, 13 Sep 2014 11:56:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96664 It’s amazing with what ease and speed everyone — politicians, journalists and the public — can forget about Gaza. Who really cares about another five-year-old girl dying on the other side of the fence?

Translated from Hebrew by Sol Salbe

Palestinians gather around a fire in the at-Tuffah district of Gaza city, which was heavily attacked during Israel’s latest offensive, Gaza City, September 6, 2014. The family of eight returned to their home, which is in danger of collapse due to the damage. Their home, like all the buildings in the area, is neither connected to the electricity or water infrastructure. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinians gather around a fire in the at-Tuffah district of Gaza city, which was heavily attacked during Israel’s latest offensive, Gaza City, September 6, 2014. The family of eight returned to their home, which is in danger of collapse due to the damage. Their home, like all the buildings in the area, is neither connected to the electricity or water infrastructure. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Only a few weeks have passed since the end of Operation Protective Edge and it seems as if Gaza never happened. Politicians are carrying on with their budget wars and the diversion provided by the start of the school year. The newspapers are again preoccupied with scandals about a former chief of staff and a weird misogynist cult. And everyone, every single person around, is closely watching developments with the Islamic State and the U.S.’s new military campaign against it.

On the other hand, no one takes notice that yet another five-year-old girl died in Gaza this week. Rahaf Abu Jame’s parents were killed in an Israeli bombing, as were at least 24 more members of the Abu Jame’ family in a single strike. The girl died slowly and alone over a long period of time. According to the Ma’an News Agency, Abu Jame’ is the third Gazan to have succumbed to war injuries during the past week, but in Israel nobody knows about it. Not that the Gazan death toll played too much of a role in the Israeli discourse during the war, but why it is not possible to report on the matter now, when the roar of the canons has ceased?

Neither has the media reported on Palestinian fishermen who are once again being arrested by the Israeli Navy. They don’t report on the severe water crisis affecting 75 percent of Gaza’s population; they only get access to water every four to five days, and even then only for a few hours. There are no reports in the Israeli media about raw sewage flowing into the sea off Gaza (and making its way to our shores) because of the collapse of electric and sewage systems, or the tens of thousands of displaced persons who have nowhere to return. Gaza, the siege which it is under, Hamas, the local population – everyone and everything is forgotten, as if it never happened.

A view of Gaza City’s port, September 6, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

A view of Gaza City’s port, September 6, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

And short of some dramatic change, that’s the way it’s bound to continue. All the evidence suggests that the Israeli government is not going to lift the siege. It is also not going to enter into negotiations with the Palestinian leadership on a permanent peace agreement. The government is primarily preoccupied with taking over more Palestinian land and is in the middle of a battle of wills with the High Court over its right to not destroy the settlements illegally built on privately owned Palestinian land. This government transfers much larger budgets to the settlements than, let’s say, those Israeli towns on the Gaza border that suffered most during the war.

In depth: Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t

And what are the people of Gaza supposed to do now? You wanted quiet? It’s quiet. Not a single rocket has been launched at us since the cease fire. No armed cell has burst out from the sea or through a terror tunnel. Did you want to build confidence? Here you are, confidence is being built. All while little girls continue to die and the siege continues to suffocate Gaza, and the economy is in the doldrums and there is no water and there are no homes and there’s no removing the blockade and no real rehabilitation program and no future and there is nothing – it’s quiet.

Until next time. After all, if we do not talk about Gaza as long as they do not shoot at us from there, if we continue to let the 1.8 million people there just die slowly in that giant prison we built for them, then the shooting will resume. It may be at the end of the month or in a year, but resume it will.  And if it isn’t shooting then it will be something from the tunnels, and if not that, something else. And then we’ll say they are criminals and ask why they are shooting at us; didn’t we reach a ceasefire already? So why are they attacking us? We’ll say that we really have no choice and that this time we really need to show them what’s what.

It’s one thing for the politicians to be indifferent, or for the public as a whole to not be interested, but it’s the professional duty of journalists to deal with Gaza, now more than ever, to explain what’s going on right now – if for no other reason, then to provide context for the next war.

Related:
Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
Homeless and widowed: One Gazan’s tragic story
PHOTOS: Living in the ruins of a shattered Gaza neighborhood

This post was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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IDF demolishes Hebron orphanage’s dairy factory http://972mag.com/idf-demolishes-hebron-orphanages-dairy-factory/96283/ http://972mag.com/idf-demolishes-hebron-orphanages-dairy-factory/96283/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 16:12:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96283 The Hebron dairy is the primary source of income for an Islamic organization that runs two orphanages and nine schools.

The remains of the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory after the Israeli army demolished it. (Photo by Youth Against Settlements)

The remains of the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory after the Israeli army demolished it. (Photo by Youth Against Settlements)

Israeli army forces arrived to the outskirts of Hebron Tuesday morning and demolished the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory. The factory is owned by the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) of Hebron and is the primary source of income for the organization, which runs two orphanages, nine schools and provides handicapped and impoverished populations with work and stipends. The organization directly aids 4,000 needy people in the Hebron area. Without the factory it will be have great difficulty continuing its charitable activities.

I visited the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory about two months ago, during Operation “Brother’s Keeper.” As I wrote at the time, ICS staff told me that during the operation soldiers raided their offices and seized computers and files containing information about all those who receive aid from the organization. Soldiers also came to the factory and delivered a demolition order.

A solidarity visit to the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory two months before the demolition. (Photo by Haggai Matar)

A solidarity visit to the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory two months before the demolition. (Photo by Haggai Matar)

The demolition order lists administrative reasons — a lack of building permits. However, in light of the fact that the factory has been operating for years without any interference, inside Hebron, and in light of the timing and claims made by the soldiers who raided the offices, ICS staff and management understood that the raid and demolition order came as revenge following the kidnapping (and murder, we would later discover) of three Israeli youths.

During the tour the organization’s staff told us that, indeed, it did once have some Hamas members. For the past five years, however, the Palestinian Authority has been operating the organization and it long ago switched out the management with its own people who oversee its activities to this day. The staff asked us to tell Israelis that they want peace and independence for both peoples, and they asked to spare the factory and the orphans who are dependent on it.

A request for comment about the — then pending — demolition sent to the army over two months ago remains unanswered.

It should be noted that ICS filed an appeal against the demolition two months ago but I have been unable to understand what came of it. I will update this post if I receive more details.

The remains of the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory after the Israeli army demolished it. (Photo by Youth Against Settlements)

The remains of the Al-Rayyan yogurt factory after the Israeli army demolished it. (Photo by Youth Against Settlements)

Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that some of ICS’s members are affiliated with Hamas. If all that the organization does is support orphans, the handicapped and poor — whom nobody else is helping — then there can be no justification for shutting it down.

Hamas, let’s remember, is not exclusively comprised of suicide bombers and rocket squads. It is also the largest political party in the Palestinian territories today, which has a political echelon and charitable undertakings that truly only engage in charity. It has full array of civil society activities that are unrelated to any type of terror, and has various factions with varying political approaches. Of all places to target, there is no justification for shutting down an orphanage in Hebron.

All of that remains valid even if there is a valid administrative justification for the demolition, as stated on the military order. Without even getting into the policies of occupation that don’t even allow Palestinians the possibility of getting building or planning permits (while Israel usurps nearly 1,000 acres of land for a new settlement), is there no room to make an exception for a factory upon which thousands of needy people are financially dependent?

Now that the Israeli army bulldozers have left, activists from Hebron are asking whether Israel is ready to assume responsibility for the orphans.

Related:
House demolitions: Zionism’s constant background noise
The return of punitive home demolitions
PHOTOS: A wave of West Bank demolitions

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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Gaza deaths aren’t worth a mention in leading Israeli newspaper http://972mag.com/gaza-deaths-arent-worth-a-mention-in-leading-israeli-newspaper/95995/ http://972mag.com/gaza-deaths-arent-worth-a-mention-in-leading-israeli-newspaper/95995/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 14:08:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95995 Five members of the Joudah family were killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Sunday. Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s most widely-read papers, dedicated not a single word to the incident.

Monday’s issue of Yedioth Ahronoth, the “newspaper of the country,” includes not a single mention of the fact that the IDF killed a mother, her four children and another two-year old girl on Sunday. Nothing. Doesn’t exist. Didn’t happen.

This morning, Yedioth readers were greeted with plenty of information about what happened in southern Israel. The front page discusses the tragic death of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, as well as the beginning of the new school year. The opening spread goes into detail about Tragerman’s funeral, followed by three pages dedicated to the school year (which is also discussed in the daily supplement), two pages on the hundreds of families who are leaving the towns surrounding Gaza, one page on the Palestinian Authority, a spread on Israeli soldiers and one more page on stone-throwing in the West Bank.

A view from Abu Odeh’s house toward the neighbourhood. August 12, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A view of a neighborhood after an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza city of Beit Hanoun. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

The page dedicated to the Palestinian Authority includes a short blurb on the assassination of Hamas Financial Officer, Mohammed Al-Ghoul. Inside the text there is a mention of the fact that “several people were killed” in an attack on a commercial center. “Several people.” That’s it. Just like that. Page 10 at the bottom. And without a single word on the killing of five members of the Joudah family: mother Tasneem Issam and her children, Muhammad, Rawia, Rajd and Osama, along with another two-year-old girl. Nothing.

Twelve pages dedicated to news on the fighting, without any room for mentioning a family that was killed.

Every person in this country ought to be worried by this kind of reporting, especially from such a prominent newspaper. This isn’t even a question of concern and empathy. It’s a question of knowledge. Does the Israeli citizen have the necessary knowledge in order to understand the fighting? To understand what is happening or what each side sees in the other? To understand the motivation behind the fighting and what will help end it? Yedioth Ahronoth’s readers are justifiably flooded with information on the distress of the residents of the south, but they don’t know a thing about what happens in Gaza.

Read this article in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Four-year-old Israeli boy killed in mortar attack on southern kibbutz
PHOTOS: Losing your home twice in one war

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IDF spokesperson expresses regret over killing of single Palestinian child http://972mag.com/idf-spokesperson-expresses-regret-over-killing-of-palestinian-child/95320/ http://972mag.com/idf-spokesperson-expresses-regret-over-killing-of-palestinian-child/95320/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 10:05:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95320 You really have to give credit where credit is due. Even if it is to the IDF. Soldiers killed 12-year-old Muhammad al-Anati during clashes with local youth in the Hebron area on Sunday. According to reports, al-Anati was killed after being struck by a bullet in the back, and was not involved in the clashes.

An Israeli soldier throws a stun grenade at Palestinian protesters in Beit Furik. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

An Israeli soldier throws a stun grenade at Palestinian protesters in Beit Furik. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

However, it seems that the IDF is willing to learn from past mistakes. This time, unlike recent similar events, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit immediately released a message [Hebrew] saying an inquiry had been launched and that the army expressed its regret over al-Anati’s death. One can hope that the inquiry will be a serious and effective one.

For the sake of comparison, it is worth remembering that over the course of the 14 years that preceded Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli army killed 1,384 minors in the West Bank and Gaza. Among them was 13-year-old candy seller Mohammad Jihd Dudin, who was shot to death by soldiers during riots he did not participate in. In May, two youths were shot dead while not posing any threat to soldiers during clashes in Betunia, one of them in the back. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit changed its official statement several times, and to this day has not shown remorse or found anyone responsible for the killing.

Palestnians carry Mohammad Qasem Hamamreh, after he was injured in the head with a tear gas canister at the early morning of July 23, during clashes with the Israeli army in the West Bank village of Husan, 2014. Mohammad, 19 years old, died in the hospital the day after (Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

Palestnians carry Mohammad Qasem Hamamreh, after he was injured in the head with a tear gas canister at the early morning of July 23, during clashes with the Israeli army in the West Bank village of Husan, 2014. Mohammad, 19 years old, died in the hospital the day after (Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, some 400 additional children have been killed in Gaza. Now another one is added to the list. I’m sure the al-Anati family takes comfort in the IDF’s expressing sadness over the killing.

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
How will Gaza’s children carry their scars into adulthood?
Beitunia killings: Autopsy reveals Palestinian teen shot by live fire
In IDF fantasy video, Palestinians are allowed to protest

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Mourning death wherever it strikes http://972mag.com/mourning-deaths-wherever-it-strikes/94039/ http://972mag.com/mourning-deaths-wherever-it-strikes/94039/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 10:26:39 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94039 (Translated from Hebrew by Sol Salbe)

Sometimes it feels like this is some sort of a test. Will the leftists mourn now? Will they say that they feel the pain? Will they dare criticize the war now that our soldiers have died?

So there, yes, it hurts. I know that that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, but it hurts me. From the moment I heard of the horror yesterday morning, it was as if a stone was laid on my heart. I prayed that it wouldn’t be one of the friends whom I know are there. I was partially relieved when it turned out that it was none of them, before turning horrible once more when I found out that one of those killed was a friend of a close friend. It pains me, but what can I do, I grieve not only for them. The death of dozens of Palestinians last night also pains me. Yes. It is okay to suffer the pain like this; to mourn death wherever it strikes. It does not diminish the pain.

A protest condemning the Israeli assault on the Gaza strip, held outside the Israeli consulate in downtown Chicago, IL on July 16, 2014.

A protest condemning the Israeli assault on the Gaza strip, held outside the Israeli consulate in downtown Chicago, IL on July 16, 2014.

And I don’t want to be tested. I don’t want to have to defend myself. I want the warmongers to defend themselves. Let them explain themselves. Let them say why, in their view, it was the right thing to do. Why the deaths of all those who perished in the past 24 hours and the past month were more necessary or more justified than those of Pillar of Defense or Cast Lead or Summer Rains or Hot Winter. Or maybe this time or in the next operation, which will surely come in another year or three if we do not stop the policy of blockade and war and begin to relate to people in Gaza as human beings with whom we sit down to negotiate a real peace. Let Netanyahu prove that he cares about soldiers and civilians. Let Yair Lapid be tested. Let Tzipi Livni make sure that it won’t happen again.

And then I recalled my visit to Northern Ireland last year. During the visit I met protest singer Tommy Sands, who told me the following story: a few years after the Good Friday Agreement, he organized a meeting between former underground groups veterans – from the IRA and the Loyalists, people who fought each other, killed each other and served time in prison. When they arrived, they refused to shake hands. Then Pete Seeger arrived to sing in the meeting. He sang “Where Have all the Flowers Gone,” an American song in memory of the fallen, and he saw both groups singing and crying. At the end of the event Seeger told Sands “As far as I’m concerned they don’t have to shake hands. So long as they can sing and cry together, that’ll do me.” I wish this day would come here.

Translated by Sol Salbe. Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Palestinian human rights leader: ‘Cast Lead was a joke compared to this’
PHOTOS: Scenes of devastation from deadliest day in Gaza
WATCH: Dozens of bodies strewn in the streets of Gaza
Gaza war diary: ‘A second of silence, then the bombs go off’

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The night it became dangerous to demonstrate in Tel Aviv http://972mag.com/the-night-it-became-dangerous-to-demonstrate-in-tel-aviv/93524/ http://972mag.com/the-night-it-became-dangerous-to-demonstrate-in-tel-aviv/93524/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 12:20:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93524 The fascists attacked. Police didn’t respond in time and ran away when the sirens wailed. We were lucky to get away with only three injured, one in the hospital and many traumatized.

(Translated from Hebrew by Michael Sappir)

Police stopping right-wing nationalists from attacking left wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Police stopping right-wing nationalists from attacking left wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

When the sirens wailed in Tel Aviv last night one thing was clear to us: the fascists in front of us were more dangerous than the rapidly approaching rockets. One by one, the police ran to bomb shelters and left us face to face. Only one brave and wise officer remained in the middle and attempted to separate us. Only when the Iron Dome rockets lit up the sky with their golden blazes and intercepted a rocket right over us did the two groups stop their shouts for a moment, mesmerized by the sight, from the boom, and then once again: “Death to Arabs!”, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!”

But our fear was justified. By the end of the protest (and a little after it, when they chased us through the streets) one person who had a chair broken over his head was injured and evacuated to hospital, another got punched hard in the head, and one came our with a black eye, someone else had their expensive video camera stolen, and dozens of others hit, pushed, or eggs thrown at them. Some also said that the fascists attacked them with pepper spray. And that’s how it became dangerous to demonstrate in Tel Aviv. Less so because of rockets from Gaza – more because of the fascists and the government’s incitement.

It was clear from the start that it wasn’t going to end well. We came to protest the ongoing killing in Gaza, against both sides’ firing on civilians, against the occupation and to demonstrate for peace talks. We came to say that in Gaza and Sderot children just want to live. And there were some who didn’t want us to say those things.

Left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with right-wing nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with right-wing nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Leftists protesting in the heart of Tel Aviv during a war usually bring out many dozens of police officers in order to violently disperse the demonstration, or if not that, then to separate between the protesters and counter protesters. This time it was clear there would be counter protesters.

Yoav Eliassi (“The Shadow”) called his people (“The Lions”) to demonstrate against the Left, and people wrote ahead of time on his Facebook wall that they were coming to beat people up. There were a few police officers on the scene, and unlike the usual setup for these situations, where the two demonstrations are allowed to take place facing one another from across the street, the police allowed the fascists to stand right next to our demonstration, calling out racist slogans and wishing death to those protesting for peace and against the fighting. All attempts to encourage the police to further separate the two groups, and to call for backup, were to no avail.

It also made no difference when once in a while a fascist went around the policemen, attacked protesters and tore up signs, or when they started tossing eggs. It made no difference that fascists had attacked demonstrators before (for example: just two weeks ago at the end of the demonstration outside the Defense Ministry) and the lesson was not learned – that these are the same gangs, among them masked men who rioted in Jerusalem just a week and a half ago, attacking Arabs. On the heels of the slogans and the incitement coming from the government, Muhammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burned to death.

The policemen did not understand all of this, or did not want to understand. After the demonstration, Eliassi wrote on Facebook that the policemen had expressed their pride and support for him and his people. Past experience with the police, especially the Yassam special anti-riot unit, this does not seem at all unreasonable (and indeed, the regular policemen in their blue uniforms seemed a bit more concerned, a bit more quickly when things escalated.)

As nine o’clock approached we began thinking about what would happen if Hamas realized their warning and fired a barrage of rockets towards Tel Aviv. What if the siren sounded, and our 500 demonstrators along with dozens of theirs had to run together into a bomb shelter? We suggested to the policemen that they could announce in advance that our demo would run one way (the stairway, for example,) and the other the other way (down to the parking lot; or vice versa.) The policemen refused. We decided to take our demonstration, march away, and leave our would-be attackers behind. But they followed us.

And then came the siren. The policemen disappeared. And the fascists attacked. They chased down people who were running to shelter, pushing them, swearing at them and sexually harassing them. With no other choice, we grouped up tightly, surrounded by a human chain, linked arm to arm. We called out all the slogans we had, to keep up morale and unity, to stay safe from fear, to cheer up in the face of the menacing, impassioned mass in front of us.

People watch as the iron dome system intercepts a missile fired from the Gaza Strip to Tel Aviv during a protest in center of the city, against the Israeli attack on Gaza, Israel, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. Three activists injured. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

People watch as the iron dome system intercepts a missile fired from the Gaza Strip to Tel Aviv during a protest in center of the city, against the Israeli attack on Gaza, Israel, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. Three activists injured. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The siren ended, the boom was heard, the policemen came back to separate us, and then another siren, again the police ran away as one, and again we were left alone, face to face, them with their curses and blows, we holding hands and pushing them back. Terrified. And the Iron Dome, a pause, an interception, slogans, and again the police came back.

We decided to march to King George Street and to disperse from there in an organized way. We asked the policemen to block the fascists, so they would not follow us. They agreed, and we started marching. At some point, someone at the café near the square, Nechama VaHetzi, shouted something to the fascists, and they stormed the café with their flags and their fists. I couldn’t see what happened. I think one of them was arrested. But we had to get away, down the boulevard, while the police delayed the rioters.

By the time we got to the corner of Ben Tsion Blvd. and King George Street, and a moment before we started dispersing, a group of thugs that flanked the police again came and attacked. We ran away and managed to take shelter for a moment in the café at the corner. Just for a moment. They stormed the café, broke cups, threw people on the ground and on tables, raised chairs and threw them at people. They broke a chair over one comrade’s head. He’s in hospital now. All of this was accompanied by swearing and sexual threats. The people working at the café were startled at first, and one of them did not want us to come in. “Go somewhere else,” she said, frightened. The others understood quickly what was going on and agreed to shelter us. They brought out water, and ice for our injured friend, shouted at the fascists not to come in, and called the police.

After a while, the policemen arrived. Still not enough of them, but enough to stop the assault for now. We were far fewer than we had been at the start, several dozen, and we set out to march together towards Allenby Street, to quietly disperse from there. Now the police really did do its job, even though just a small force of theirs was there, allowing us to get far enough away to make sure everyone was safely boarding buses or cabs together and disappearing into the night. There were two or three policemen there who really cared, really did their job, and my gratitude goes out to them.

I have been at demonstrations that were attacked in Tel Aviv before. Many times by police, a few times by fascists. One time I was saved from a raging, incited mob in the Hatikva neighborhood. There I had a bicycle, and when the police delayed them I managed to make myself scarce, quickly. This time I was on foot, with a lot of people who could not be left behind. It was really scary. Something like this has never happened here before, but it is crystal clear to me that it will again.

Israel right-wing protesters attack left-wing activists after they protested in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel right-wing protesters attack left-wing activists after they protested in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I have to say this clearly: it is not just these fascists, Eliassi and his people, or those carrying Liberman’s posters and the rest of the thugs. It comes from the top. It comes from a government which serially incites against Arabs and the Left. It comes from MK Yariv Levin sitting in the Channel 10 News studio, boldly lying about the Gaza siege policy, and refusing to allow Ran Cohen from Physicians for Human Rights to talk, calling him a liar, saying Channel 10 was derelict in its duty when it allows the government to be criticized on the air – criticism which was entirely hard, dry facts. It comes from policemen, who are quite adept at attacking Left-wing demonstrations, or ultra-Orthodox ones, and of course Arab ones – but somehow stand in silence in the face of fascists marching through the streets. And it comes from a prime minister who has been silent for weeks while masses flood the streets, attacking Arabs, swearing, humiliating, a whole population group feeling threatened and isolated, with nobody to turn to.

So yes, it will happen again. We will keep demonstrating, as we demonstrated this evening also in Haifa and Jaffa and earlier in Tira and Sakhnin and other places. But we have to know this will happen again, and prepare accordingly.

***

Updated with a response from the Israel Police spokesperson:

In the evening ours yesterday a social protest took place in the Bima Square. Despite the fact that the organizers didn’t inform the police about the gathering and didn’t ask for a permit, it was decided to allow them to express their protest and many police officers arrived in order to ensure their safety and security.

During the course of the protest sirens were sounded throughout the city and the officers ordered everyone at the location to go to protected spaces.

No participants were arrested during the protest and they dispersed when it ended. Additionally, at this point no complaints have been filed.

The police spokesperson didn’t answer my question about why they didn’t call for backup when it was needed, and whether the police had noted any lessons and will operate differently in the future. Additionally, the police are lying when they say that this was an illegal protest. Israeli law does not require notifying the police of a protest as long as it doesn’t include a march or political speeches. Neither took place at the demonstration.

Read this article in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Not just escalation: A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel
What ‘no country in the world’ should tolerate
In Jerusalem, Jews and Palestinians pay the price for latest wave of violence

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The IDF doesn’t only aim at Hamas targets http://972mag.com/the-idf-doesnt-only-take-aim-at-hamas-targets/93519/ http://972mag.com/the-idf-doesnt-only-take-aim-at-hamas-targets/93519/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 11:21:04 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93519 Over a 160 people killed, entire neighborhoods which receive arbitrary warnings, entire families that have been bombed using hundreds of tons of explosives, shooting at a journalists’ car  and hitting hospitals and schools. No, we do not only shoot  at Hamas targets.

(Translated from Hebrew by Sol Salbe)

On Saturday evening, Hamas issued a warning, saying it was going to bomb Tel Aviv at 9 p.m. It did, and luckily the rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome. Sunday morning the IDF issued a similar warning to all residents of “the northern Gaza Strip,” saying it will attack the entire area at noon. Can anyone see the difference? Does saying you’re going to attack a civilian area exempt you from responsibility for the civilians you target? I don’t think so.

But let’s start with the facts: so far, IDF bombing of the Gaza Strip has killed more than a 160 people, of whom at least 24 were children and infants.

Ruins of the home of Al Haddad family, which was destroyed by an a Israeli drone missile, in Al Shaja'ia neighborhood, Gaza City, July 12, 2014. The family of 25 people evacuated the building before the home was hit. (Photo: Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Ruins of the home of Al Haddad family, which was destroyed by an a Israeli drone missile, in Al Shaja’ia neighborhood, Gaza City, July 12, 2014. The family of 25 people evacuated the building before the home was hit. (Photo: Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A large proportion of the bombings is directed at residential buildings. Sometimes a warning is provided and sometimes it isn’t.  And according to the military, in at least one occasion it was in error. A mistake that killed eight members of a family. In some cases fire was directed at homes in which Hamas members live, and in the process many members of their families and passersby have been killed.

Sometimes the army announces its intention to attack a home but it simply just doesn’t. Journalist Abeer Ayyoub and her family waited 24 hours (and perhaps they’re still waiting) in trepidation and fear of a bombing of neighbor’s house who has received a telephone warning (Ayyoub reported her account in Haaretz).

Read +972′s full coverage and analysis of the operation in Gaza

In addition, several days ago the army sent messages to about 100,000 Palestinians who live in areas relatively close to the border fence and called on them to leave their homes. It’s difficult to imagine that an area in which 100,000 people live, is in its entirety, a Hamas “terrorist den.”

On Wednesday, the army killed journalist Hamdi Shehab, an employee of News Media 24, while he was riding in a car with other journalists on the way to cover an event. The other journalists were injured. The car was clearly marked with big red letters saying “TV”.

Responding to an inquiry from +972, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office’s only response was to say that “the army doesn’t attack civilians, only terrorist targets.” I asked if there was an intention to hit that particular car at all, whether Shehab himself was a terrorist target or was it someone else in the vehicle? If the answer is yes, I wanted to know whether the categorization as terrorists was related to their work as journalists or some other reason. The IDF Spokesperson refused to answer any of these questions. By the way, to date, Oren Persico of “The Seventh Eye” has not received any answers to his questions about the killing of three Gazan journalists during Pillar of Defense. Unlike the case of those three, I’m not aware of any links between Media 24 and Hamas.
Among the sites affected by the bombings: five hospitals and clinics and 32 schools.

One last thing: every woman and man who writes or is being interviewed from Gaza in various media outlets shares the same experience: we are all a target. The shooting is directed at dwellings. There is no way of knowing if you will be hit, when, how, where or why.

Roof knocking’ is not a solution

So what have we got? Shooting at the houses of entire families, sometimes without warning. Warnings that sometimes do materialize and sometimes do not. So people cannot decide whether to stay at home or to leave, and if so, for how long. Warnings given to entire areas, not limited to a specific purpose or for a certain time – and even if there were limited – are illegal. A shooting that killed a journalist without an explanation. Over 150 killed, many of whom were civilians and lots of children. And an entire community that senses it has no safe place in which to hide.

The point must be made clearly: the fact that the army has decided a certain building or neighborhood is a target for bombing does not automatically makes those places legitimate targets. Text messages, “roof knocking” bombs or even candy thrown from airplanes does not release us from the responsibility for the lives of the citizens whose crowded homes we have showered with hundreds of tons of explosives in a few days. The mantra of, “why do they not leave their homes,” so prevalent in the past two days in the media and social networks cannot, and will not, be the ultimate panacea for cleansing our consciences.

The Abu Leila family home in the Al Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, which was destroyed by an Israeli Airstrike early Friday morning, Gaza City, July 11, 2014. The neighborhood was severely damaged. (Photo: Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

The Abu Leila family home in the Al Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, which was destroyed by an Israeli Airstrike early Friday morning, Gaza City, July 11, 2014. The neighborhood was severely damaged. (Photo: Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

All this is not meant, heaven forbid, to detract from our recognition of the terrible suffering of the residents of southern Israel, who are also the target of arbitrary, illegal and intolerable attacks against civilians. They have always had suffered this and in recent days we, who live anywhere as far north as Hadera and Jerusalem, have also been suffering, albeit to a lesser extent. At least we have the Iron Dome system, which is a good thing. We have to be grateful for all the lives that it has saved, even if it makes it easier for politicians to launch wars that we could do without.

But the solution to the rockets and mortars from Gaza and the dread with which southern residents live, surely cannot be the killing of innocents in Gaza and forcing its inhabitants to live in a horrible fear and dread themselves. Recently a unity deal between Fatah and Hamas was signed, giving both parties significant public legitimacy that neither had for a fair while. The current Palestinian government is willing to take the path of negotiations for peace based on a two-state solution. Israel is the one who does not recognize this unity. Israel is the one who took advantage of the abduction of the three youths to launch an unrelated operation against Hamas, and it is now continuing along that path of war instead of negotiations.

The military operation should be halted now in the context of a ceasefire deal with  Hamas. Proper serious negotiations with PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abba should be commenced immediately. This, more than anything else, will bring real peace to the residents of Gaza and Sderot. It will not happen tomorrow and not the day after but if we want long-term solution, not a short-term solution until the next ceasefire violation and the next assassination and the next operation in a month, six months or two years, this is the only path we have.

Read a version of this article in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Shock, not awe, among ‘battle-hardened’ Gazans
What ‘no country in the world’ should tolerate
‘We stay together, or we leave this world together’

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