+972 Magazine » Lisa Goldman http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:48:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The final moments of Israel’s settlements in Gaza http://972mag.com/the-final-moments-of-israels-settlements-in-gaza/109669/ http://972mag.com/the-final-moments-of-israels-settlements-in-gaza/109669/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 10:41:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109669 Ten years after covering Israel’s Gaza Disengagement from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, Lisa Goldman recalls four scenes that tell four very different stories and perspectives of those final weeks in Gaza.

Girls crying at the evacuation of a settlement in Gaza, August 2015 (IDFonline/Flickr)

Girls crying at the evacuation of a settlement in Gaza, August 2015 (IDF Spokesperson)

Exactly 10 years ago, Israel withdrew its troops and settlements from Gaza in an event that was officially called the disengagement. It was a hugely controversial decision on the part of then prime minister Ariel Sharon, who rammed the proposal through the Knesset. The godfather of the settlement movement had betrayed the settlers, and they were outraged.

The local media led with the disengagement story for months, heading into saturation coverage as the August deadline approached. Television news magazine programs hosted pro and anti disengagement people in panel discussions, journalists interviewed angry settler youth who spoke about their disillusionment with the state, and overwrought analysts predicted that we were heading toward civil war.

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The government had given the 7,500 settlers who lived in the cluster of Gaza communities, known collectively as Gush Katif, two options: leave voluntarily and receive a compensation package; or be forcibly evicted by the army. A few chose to leave, but the majority refused. Opposition to the disengagement became a political movement. Its adherents chose orange as their signature color, wearing orange T-shirts and orange head coverings (yarmulkes for the men and crocheted caps for the women). Orange ribbons were everywhere — outside of Tel Aviv, that is — and especially in Jerusalem and the settlements. Drivers tied them to their side view mirrors. At traffic intersections, national religious teens with orange ribbons wrapped around their wrists distributed bumper stickers with slogans like “Jews don’t evict Jews!” Supporters of the disengagement tied blue ribbons to their side view mirrors, but were otherwise quiet.

As the anti-disengagement movement became ever more vocal and organized, some of those overwrought analysts predicted that soldiers from settlements would desert rather than carry out orders to evict their fellow settlers; or that the Gush Katif settlers would attack the soldiers when they came to escort them from their homes; and that this would lead to a civil war. Hundreds of reporters flew in from all over the world to cover the overhyped event, which turned out to be pretty anti climactic. In the end the settlers were removed without violence, and in only five days.

Talking to Palestinians and Jews in Gaza

I spent quite a bit of time in Gaza leading up to the disengagement, talking to settlers and to Palestinians, and then I went back, along with a massive scrum of reporters from all over the world, to cover the event itself. The story was incredibly interesting and complex. And it left lasting impressions.

Gaza City, spring 2005 (Lisa Goldman)

Gaza City, spring 2005 (Lisa Goldman)

On the Palestinian side, security officials in Gaza City, wearing military berets and uniforms decorated with pins and ribbons, complained bitterly that the Israelis had refused to share information and coordinate the disengagement with them. Mere weeks before the date the withdrawal was supposed to begin, the IDF had not told them the order in which the settlements would be evacuated. “How am I supposed to ensure security if I don’t know where to deploy my men?” asked one security officer. Trust between the two sides was clearly non-existent. Israeli officials treated their Palestinian counterparts dismissively and the Palestinians tried to pretend they were not deeply insulted. Making an effort to put a good face on things, they took us to watch security forces on training exercises, preparing to replace the Israeli army in enforcing law and order. In the end there was some coordination between the IDF and the Palestinian forces, but only at the very last minute.

For an interview at the Beach Hotel Jibril Rajoub, the ousted head of the Palestinian Preventative Security Force, entered the dining room accompanied by gun toting body guards wearing sunglasses propped on their heads. He seemed to enjoy affecting a Tony Soprano persona, glaring at his interlocutor and casually using Hebrew expressions like “don’t fuck with my brain” in response to questions that he deemed “stupid.” Asked about his vision for the future of Gaza he answered in his gravelly voiced, perfectly idiomatic Hebrew, that Gaza would be the “Singapore of the Middle East” within 10 years.

Jibril Rajoub at the Beach Hotel in Gaza, spring 2005 (Lisa Goldman)

Jibril Rajoub at the Beach Hotel in Gaza, spring 2005 (Lisa Goldman)

Among ordinary Palestinians in Gaza, I had some touching encounters. Two men in their forties who had worked most of their lives as casual laborers in Israel, before the wall and the checkpoints went up and permits to enter became almost impossible to obtain, sat with me and answered my questions in fluent Hebrew. One asked me if I knew “Avi, who owns the event hall in Petah Tikvah.” No? “Years, I worked for him.” They were glad the army and the settlers were leaving, they said, but afraid, too. They didn’t trust Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah’s strong man in Gaza, to administer the place. And they didn’t like Hamas either. Nor did they trust the Israelis. “Israel could just lock us in here and throw away the key,” observed the one who had worked for Avi in Petah Tikvah. His friend nodded. “And Gaza would become a big prison.”

As I got up to leave I asked if I could take their photos and they assented, smiling tenatively into the camera lens. But as I walked away they must have had second thoughts because they chased me down the road, calling me. “Don’t use our names,” they said. “It could be dangerous.”

Two Palestinian men from Gaza talking who didn't want me to use their name

Two Palestinian men from Gaza who didn’t want me to use their names (Lisa Goldman)

As for the settlers, they seemed to have many reasons for not wanting to leave. Many of of them lived in communities that resembled a suburb in southern California. Their homes were spacious and well appointed, surrounded by lush lawns and shaded palm trees. Theirs was a lifestyle that very few people living inside Israel proper could afford.

For some, the objection to resettlement was primarily financial.  Prosperous farmers said the government was not offering them sufficient compensation for the businesses they had built from scratch, growing fruits and vegetables for export. But a significant factor underpinning their wealth was cheap, non-unionized Palestinian labor to harvest, sort and pack their crops. Even if the money they received from the government were enough to rebuild their farms inside Israel, they would have to pay much more for labor.

People who worked in underpaid professions like teaching, architecture and nursing objected to giving up their quality of life as well. They could afford three-bedroom bungalows with tattered little back yards in Gush Katif, which functioned as a bedroom community for jobs in nearby Ashkelon. Inside Israel their salaries would afford them only a small apartment in a down-at-the-heels inner city neighborhood . But the same architect who complained bitterly about being forced to give up his modest bungalow with the attached covered carport also pointed at a dent in his calf and said it had been caused by shrapnel from a Palestinian rocket shot at his settlement. “We have sacrificed for Israel’s security,” he said. Then he added that if I really wanted to feel how wonderful it was to live in Gush Katif, I should come spend a Shabbat with his family. “The sense of spirituality and community are irreplaceable,” he said, adding that children wandered freely in the community and everyone left their doors unlocked. From the material to the nationalist to the spiritual, there were many reasons to resist being displaced from one’s home. Not all the settlers were religious — a handful of them seemed to be totally apolitical beach bums who spent their days surfing — but even those who were did not offer the Hebrew bible as a reason for maintaining control of the territory. Unlike the West Bank, where so much of the action in the Old Testament takes place, Gaza is infrequently mentioned and was not the site of any significant events.

A Woodstock moment for ‘national religious’ youth

Adolescents at the settlement of Shirat Yam on evacuation day (IDFonline/Flickr)

Adolescents at the settlement of Shirat Yam on evacuation day (IDF Spokesperson)

But for the religious settlers, giving up territory was a sin. An old friend, who was not a settler but was politically aligned with the national religious movement, told me that the rabbis at her teenage sons’ schools were inciting their pupils against the government and encouraging them to break the law by sneaking into Gaza, after the army closed it to non-residents, in order to stage political protests. She used the terms “whipping them up” to describe the rabbis and youth group leaders’ lectures to the young people, and said the teenagers had been “brainwashed.” My friend was upset about this, but felt she had lost her ability to influence her children on this matter. Everyone at her synagogue and in her tight-knit community was vociferously opposed to the disengagement and open dissent would have come at the price of social ostracism.

Later, I met some of those ideological teens in Gaza. They were very volatile.

Soldiers apprehend teens trying to infiltrate Gaza on March 4, 2005 (IDFonline Flickr account)

Soldiers apprehend teens trying to infiltrate Gaza on March 4, 2005 (IDF Spokesperson)

The deadline for the disengagement arrived and the vast majority of the settlers were still in Gaza, giving no indication of any intention to leave. The journalists who had not embedded in the settlements gathered at the media center near Ashkelon, and during the pre-dawn hours were driven in to the territory on chartered buses, accompanied by soldiers. And then we spent a lot of time standing around in the killingly oppressive August heat, with its high humidity and relentless sun, waiting as soldiers gently cajoled families to leave their homes. It took hours and hours. We had to drink water constantly, because of the heat and the lack of shade. But there were no public toilets and no shrubbery to hide behind, which for the female reporters was an ongoing problem.

Some of the national religious teens who had snuck into Gaza seemed to be having a Woodstock moment. When we arrived at dawn on the first day a group of boys was standing outside barefoot, wearing short pants and oversized orange T-shirts, praying the morning service with audible passion. Some were sitting on low bungalow roofs, shouting insults at the reporters and smoking what smelled very much like hashish. “Egyptian hashish,” snorted an Israeli colleague. Groups of teenage girls wearing long, peasant-style skirts and oversized orange T-shirts swayed back and forth, one arm wrapped protectively around their abdomen and the other clutching a prayer book, their eyes closed and lips moving silently as tears ran down their faces.

Days of evacuation

Since the settlers had said they would not leave, they also had not packed up their belongings. So the sequence of events, which became well established within a day, went like this: first the soldiers entered the settlement in formation, wearing their specially designed uniform vests and matching baseball caps emblazoned with telegenic Stars of David.

Security forces entering the Gaza settlement of Ganei Tal on August 17, 2005 (IDFonline/Flickr)

Security forces entering the Gaza settlement of Ganei Tal on August 17, 2005 (IDF Spokesperson)

As they entered each settlement, they were met by choruses of abuse from the residents. In a settlement called Kfar Darom, adolescent anti-disengagement activists barricaded themselves on the roof of the synagogue, from which they pelted the soldiers with buckets of paint, rotten fruit, eggs and who knows what else. Remarkably well trained for this mission, the soldiers never lost control of their emotions and never objected to being cursed, yelled at or spat upon. Given the explosions of rage I’d seen soldiers direct at Palestinians in the West Bank, this restraint was not only admirable but also remarkable.

Security forces remove settlers who barricaded themselves on the synagogue roof in Kfar Darom on August 18, 20015 (IDFonline Flickr)

Security forces remove settlers who barricaded themselves on the synagogue roof in Kfar Darom on August 18, 20015 (IDF Spokesperson)

In small groups the soldiers approached pre-assigned homes, knocked and politely asked permission to enter. Then they sat down and spoke gently with the family, listening  patiently and sympathetically to their recriminations and angry words. Sometimes they joined them in prayer at the synagogue. In at least one case, the officer who sat and listened empathetically to an angry family introduced himself as Sharif. He was a Druze. Usually, the residents of a given home were convinced to leave, escorted to buses and transported to hotels inside Israel, pending a permanent relocation. Sometimes soldiers would physically carry angry teenagers to the buses. Then more soldiers entered the empty homes to pack up the families’ possessions, which would be delivered to their new homes. A great deal of media attention was paid to the emotional state of the soldiers, who were supposed to be terribly upset about having to evict fellow Jews from their homes. But mostly they were just very tired. They were up before dawn every day, outside in the August sun all day long, and it was far, far too hot to expend so much physical and emotional energy.

Soldiers pack up the belongings of settlers evacuated from Gaza (IDFonline Flickr)

Soldiers pack up the belongings of settlers evacuated from Gaza (IDF Spokesperson)

The settlers had clearly memorized certain talking points. Sometimes they appealed to the soldiers for solidarity, stressing their tribal commonalities and even hugging them or crying with them. But mostly they were enraged and completely unable to control what came out of their mouths. After listening three or four times to sobbing teenagers and to young mothers clutching their babies as they screamed at soldiers that they should be ashamed to evict Jews from their homes, that they were Nazis and traitors and how could they live with themselves, the scenes just blurred together and the sense of authenticity was lost. And after watching a bearded father turn red as he yelled that he had served years in an elite combat unit, had devoted his life to the land of Israel and look how it had betrayed him, and why don’t you immoral leftists just go back to Tel Aviv and dance in your discotheques … Well, compassion fatigue sets in pretty quickly. Especially when these same people who were demanding sympathy for their plight expressed rabidly racist sentiments about Palestinians specifically and Arabs in general — to my face, in response to very anodyne questions about the people who lived in the low-rise apartment blocks just a few minutes’ walk away.

A resident of the settlement of Neve Dekalim confronts soldiers who have come to evacuate him (IDFonline/Flickr)

A resident of the settlement of Neve Dekalim confronts soldiers who have come to evacuate him (IDF Spokesperson)

On the very last day of the settler evacuation, at a settlement called Netzarim, I met a soldier who said he’d served his annual reserve duty there. He told me resentfully that 350 soldiers had guarded the 65 families on that settlement, year round, but I never checked the number and have no idea if it was true. He stood in front of the sign leading into the settlement, smiled and asked me to take his photo. He was happy that he would no longer have to spend one month each year guarding a settlement in Gaza.

The leaders of Netzarim had worked out an agreement with the army. They would not fight evacuation, as long as they were allowed to have a farewell morning prayer service at the synagogue. Despite this promise, when we arrived at dawn the residents of the settlement were still behaving as though there was going to be a divine intervention. A woman was hanging out laundry, children were riding their bicycles, and a group of teenagers were pouring cement onto the foundation of a new house. In answer to my question, one boy mumbled something about it being a sin to stop building the land of Israel. Then, in an abrupt and violent gesture, he thrust the dirty metal bucket toward my face, almost hitting my nose, yelled an insult at me and walked away. But unlike in the other settlements, there were no rows of abusive residents screaming at the soldiers who had come to take them away. Children milled about quietly outside the synagogue, watched over by female soldiers acting as babysitters, while the adults prayed inside.

While the morning prayer service continued for what seemed like a very long time in the large, domed synagogue that dominated the tiny settlement, I sat under a tree with some friends, waiting for the next stage. Dying for a toilet and chagrined to see that there was, once again, nowhere to go, I tried to think about something besides my full bladder and my thirst, which I was afraid to quench. Suddenly, from the window of the house right behind us, we heard a group of female voices shrieking so loudly and desperately that we all sat up and looked at one another. The screams turned out to be coming from three teenage girls, all wearing identical orange T-shirts with slogans that read “Netzarim forever.” They were sitting on a couch with their arms wrapped around one another, red faced, sobbing to the point of hyperventilating, and refusing to be moved. Their gut-churning shrieks reminded me of the courtroom scene in “The Crucible.”

Outside, the rabbi of the community was being led slowly from the synagogue to the bus, physically supported on either side by uniformed soldiers. Behind him, a long procession of Netzarim residents walked slowly into their exile. Soon the shrieking girls, now a bit calmer, joined them and climbed onto the bus. And that was it. By lunchtime, the settlement was a ghost town. I sneaked into one of the vacated homes to use the washroom, which smelled as though someone had just finished taking a shower with a popular local brand of soap. There was a half used roll of pink toilet paper on the cylinder next to the sink.

And then it was over

Three weeks later, I stood on the roof of a Palestinian apartment building that overlooked Netzarim. A couple of guys from the north of Israel, Palestinian citizens who worked as reporters and cameramen for Arab satellite channels, were filming the dismantling of the settlement. As per agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel had taken responsibility for destroying the buildings before handing the property over to the locals. But instead of using the massive Caterpillar D9s that the army generally employed to bulldoze Palestinian property, they were using a tiny tractor that looked like something a landscaper would use for a large garden. It seemed to be moving slowly in circles, and half the houses in the little settlement were still intact.

We sat under the tarp the guys had erected for shade, chatting and watching and drinking coffee they brewed on a primus stove. I remarked that it was slow going, this settlement dismantling business. One of the guys snorted and gestured to three enormous piles of rubble on the other side of the building we stood on, in the Palestinian area. “See those?” he asked rhetorically. “They were homes for nine families. Took 20 minutes to destroy.”

Gaza homes belonging to Palestinians that were destroyed in 20 minutes (Lisa Goldman/Flickr)

Gaza homes belonging to Palestinians that were destroyed in 20 minutes (Lisa Goldman/Flickr)

Later, I heard that most of the residents of Netzarim had moved to Ariel, on the West Bank.

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Video shows Israeli officer not in danger when he shot Palestinian teen http://972mag.com/video-shows-israeli-officer-not-in-danger-when-he-shot-palestinian-teen/108784/ http://972mag.com/video-shows-israeli-officer-not-in-danger-when-he-shot-palestinian-teen/108784/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 19:46:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108784 Instead of driving away in his military jeep after a stone was hurled at his windshield, the Israeli regional brigade commander chose to stop, chase Mohamed Kasbeh and shoot him three times.

Just over a week after the widely publicized shooting death of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy by a senior Israeli army officer, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem released CCTV footage of the incident. It appears to support eyewitness claims that the life of the officer, Col. Yisrael Shomer, was not in danger, which runs contrary to his claim.

According to the video, Mohamed Kasbeh did indeed throw a stone at the windshield of the armored military vehicle. But then he ran away. The officer, rather than driving away from the scene, stopped the vehicle, got out and chased the fleeing boy. The actual shooting took place outside the frame of the video.


Click here for a longer, unedited version of the video.

As Peter Beaumont explains in his thorough report of the incident for the Guardian, no one disputes that Kasbeh threw a stone at the windshield of an Israeli military vehicle near Qalandiya crossing, adjacent to Ramallah, early in the morning on July 3. The controversy is over whether or not Kasbeh presented an imminent danger to the soldiers when he was shot.

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Colonel Shomer claimed he shot Kasbeh in order to save his own life. His account is supported by Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who is the current education minister. But Beaumont and B’Tselem interviewed several eyewitnesses, who said that Shomer shot Kasbeh in the back as he was running away.  The physician who treated Kasbeh confirmed that the fatal bullet entered the boy’s back. Beaumont writes that the medical report, which he obtained, supports the physician’s conclusion.

And now we have the video which, while it does not show the actual shooting, does prove that the boy ran away as soon as he threw the rock. Shomer, instead of driving away in his vehicle, chose to stop, chase the boy and shoot him in the back. Then, according to eyewitnesses, the officer prodded the dead boy with his boot and left the scene without calling for medical help. So it appears to be murder, and callous indifference. And, of course, lying.

This incident has been widely publicized because Shomer has such a high military rank — he is the officer in charge of the Jerusalem regional brigade — and because Kasbeh lost two brothers, aged 11 and 15, during the Second Intifada. But in general, incidents of soldiers beating or killing Palestinians who present little or no threat are common.  Sometimes, these incidents are recorded on video or in still images. A soldier deliberately shooting a blindfolded, handcuffed Palestinian in the foot. Or a sniper shooting an unarmed boy from a roof. A soldier opening the back door of his armored vehicle to shoot a high velocity tear gas canister into the face of a protestor. A scrum of soldiers from the Kfir Brigade beating senseless an unarmed, middle aged man after they’d already restrained him. The list is very long.

Read also: License to Kill — how soldiers get away with murder

Almost invariably, these incidents end with the army investigating and exonerating itself, or perhaps sentencing one or two perpetrators to a month in military prison or even time served — while a soldier who criticizes the army is sentenced to a week in jail, even though he was off duty when he expressed said opinion.

There is no reason to expect this incident will end differently. It’s not as though Kasbeh’s family can pursue a case against Shomer in civil court. They are not citizens of Israel. They are residents of territory under Israel’s military occupation.

A man with a gun was driving in a military vehicle when a boy threw a stone that hit his windshield. The man in the vehicle was not injured, but he was very angry. And he was armed not only with a gun, but with the sense of power and entitlement that comes from being a lord of the land. So he chased and shot the boy, because he lost his temper. And because he could.

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In Sisi’s Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood are the new Jews http://972mag.com/in-sisis-egypt-the-muslim-brotherhood-are-the-new-jews/108606/ http://972mag.com/in-sisis-egypt-the-muslim-brotherhood-are-the-new-jews/108606/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 22:31:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108606 Weighted down by historical, religious and linguistic inaccuracies, Egyptian television series ‘The Jewish Quarter’ nevertheless tells an intriguing story of the political, social and religious changes that have transformed Egypt — in 1948 and in 2015.

Muslim Brotherhood characters in Haret al-Yahoud (Screenshot)

Muslim Brotherhood characters in Haret al-Yahoud/The Jewish Quarter (Screenshot)

An Egyptian Ramadan television series called “The Jewish Quarter”* has attracted quite a bit of international media attention for its sympathetic portrayal of Jewish Egyptians during the years immediately following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, up until 1954.

Set in Cairo, the ongoing multi-episode drama takes its name from one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, where Jews, Muslims and Christians once lived peaceably as neighbors. It is full of clichés and rife with inaccuracies in terms of costume and historical details. Also, the acting is frequently way over the top — which is actually quite helpful if one happens to be hobbled by limited knowledge of Arabic (here I must thank my wonderfully patient Egyptian friends, who watched and explained each episode to me). But despite these flaws the story is engaging and even gripping at times. It is also fascinating for its implicit political messages and what they say about the narrative of the Sisi regime toward the Muslim Brotherhood and Israel-Palestine.

In “The Jewish Quarter,” the Muslim Brotherhood has replaced the Jews as the villains. It is they who commit acts of terror aimed at upsetting Egypt’s political stability and at tearing apart its social fabric. And the Jews are not all perfidious Zionists: some — the heroic ones — are patriotic Egyptians.

The story opens one night in 1948, with a boy wearing a galabiyeh and flip flops running through the narrow streets shouting “turn off the lights! Turn off the lights!” as panicked residents tumble down the stairs from their apartments and spill out onto the streets, calling out to one another. Jewish, Christian and Muslim residents all run to the synagogue to shelter from an imminent aerial bombardment. The Egyptian army is fighting the newly-established Israeli army.


Episode One of The Jewish Quarter

As the neighbors of all three monotheistic faiths gather in the Jewish house of worship we are introduced to Leila, sitting with her parents. She is the beautiful Jewish heroine, who is equally passionate about her patriotism for Egypt and her love for Ali, a heroic Muslim army officer who is off fighting Palestine-now-Israel. Leila works at an exclusive department store that is reminiscent of Cicurel, one of several elegant Jewish-owned shops that dominated Cairo’s upscale commercial districts up until the 1950s. When she speaks with customers, Leila sprinkles her Arabic with French words and phrases, as was common at the time among the upper class. Her brother Mousa, a ballroom dance instructor, is secretly a Zionist activist who collects money for Israel. When Leila discovers this, she accuses her brother of stealing land (from the Palestinians). He ultimately leaves Egypt and settles on Kibbutz Nahsholim, the mention of which shows off the research that went into the series, because that kibbutz did indeed attract many Egyptian Jewish immigrants.

Meanwhile, heroic Ali, the handsome Egyptian army officer, is wounded and captured by the Israelis. He wakes up in a hospital where all the Jewish-Israeli nurses are blonde and blue-eyed, and wear uniforms decorated with the Star of David. The Israeli army officer who interrogates and then vigorously tortures Ali is also blue-eyed and blond. The visual of these Aryan Zionists is clearly meant to push the narrative about Israel as a European colonial entity, but it’s so crude that it’s distracting.

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Even more distracting in Episode 5 is listening to the Israeli officer carry on a brief conversation in Hebrew with a Palestinian collaborator. The Egyptian actor who plays the Israeli officer speaks Hebrew with an accent so unbelievably atrocious that I could barely understand what he was saying, let alone pay attention to the words. It’s obvious that a lot of money was spent on production values and research for this series, so failing to hire a Hebrew speaker to provide a bit of dialogue coaching is not all that forgivable. But it seems that the producers of “The Jewish Quarter” do not really aspire to rigorous accuracy, unless it promotes a political agenda.

Several critics have pointed out that the actual Jewish quarter in Cairo was a squalid place of dirty narrow allies, where the Jewish population was composed of Arabic-speaking Karaites, rather than the educated middle class Jews who spoke French and lived in more genteel parts of the city. And all the portrayals of Jewish religious ritual in the series are completely wrong, with no attempt at all at accuracy. A wedding ceremony in the synagogue is basically an Egyptian Muslim wedding with a chuppah, for example. The blessings are incorrect and, in other scenes, the portrayals of Jewish Sabbath observance are a weird fantasy mashup of voodoo, Christian Orthodoxy and imagined Judaism. The rabbi’s sartorial style is clearly ripped off from images of West Bank settler rabbis (large crocheted yarmulke, dress shirt without a tie and a long, ragged beard) rather than taken from images of Egyptian rabbis of the mid twentieth century — at least, those who presided over synagogues attended by the middle class. They tended to be clean-shaven and favored fedoras or tarboushes rather than yarmulkes.

The interaction of the Egyptian officer (Ali) with the Palestinians he is fighting for also illustrates an interesting shift in both official and popular attitudes.  Traditionally, the portrayal of Palestinians in Arab popular media has been highly romanticized. They are presented as heroic resistance fighters carrying out armed attacks on military targets, or unarmed protestors facing down Israeli tanks with stones and burning tires. But in “The Jewish Quarter” the Palestinians are relatively passive and ambivalent, even collaborating at times with the Israelis. Ali is the heroic rescuer who is more passionate than the Palestinians about saving Palestine. This is in keeping with the narrative promoted by the Sisi regime, which emphasizes that Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, now branded as terrorists, and that Hamas is suspected of helping Islamist militants carry out terror attacks in the Sinai. It also reflects an implicit sense that there are bigger problems in the Middle East than Palestine these days, starting with Syria, and that perhaps the Arabs have sacrificed enough for Palestine.

And then there’s the Muslim Brotherhood, which plots to frighten the Jews out of Egypt by bombing their shops and residences. This did actually happen, but not according to the historical timeline specified in the series. Interestingly, there is no mention of the notorious Lavon Affair, named for then-defense minister director Pinhas Lavon. In 1954 Israeli Intelligence recruited Egyptian Jews to carry out terror attacks on cinemas and libraries in Alexandria and Cairo, which were meant to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Communists. The idea was to create political unrest in Egypt, thereby providing Britain with justification for keeping its armed forces in the Suez Canal. The plan failed and was a huge embarrassment for Israel, where it was for decades referred to as “the bad business.” But there’s no mention of this affair in “The Jewish Quarter,” which is a fascinating omission because it’s such low-hanging political fruit in a country where the popular attitude is reflexively anti-Israel.

Just as it’s difficult to determine if Netanyahu pushed Israel to the right or if Israelis elected Netanyahu because they had shifted to the right, it’s difficult to determine whether “The Jewish Quarter” reflects popular Egyptian attitudes or if the producers are promoting the Sisi regime’s narrative via a popular drama series. But either way, it’s still a good story.

*The whole series is on Youtube, with new episodes uploaded daily.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Pinhas Lavon was identified as the former director of the Mossad. He was in fact the Minister of Defense. The article has been updated accordingly.

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[VID] ‘I have a dream’: Ayman Odeh’s maiden Knesset speech http://972mag.com/vid-i-have-a-dream-ayman-odehs-maiden-knesset-speech/106491/ http://972mag.com/vid-i-have-a-dream-ayman-odehs-maiden-knesset-speech/106491/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 14:57:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106491 Head of the Joint List shares his vision of a shared, equal future for Jews and Arabs in Israel. But is it a vision left-wing Israelis and liberal American Jews can sign onto?

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh walk into a polling station in Haifa, March 17, 2015. (Photo: Akrm Drawshi/Activestills.org)

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh walk into a polling station in Haifa, March 17, 2015. (Photo: Akrm Drawshi/Activestills.org)

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, gave his maiden speech in Knesset this week. Odeh, a 40 year-old lawyer from Haifa, heads a list of parties representing Palestinian nationalists, Baathists, Islamists, and Jewish and Arab socialists.

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He led this unlikely group to win 13 seats in the March election, making it the third-largest party in the Knesset — after the Likud and the Zionist Union. Odeh attracted attention both in Israel and around the Arab Middle East by sticking to his platform of universal human and civil rights, and for equality for all citizens of Israel.

His maiden speech, which is subtitled in the video embedded below, is a Middle Eastern version of “I Have a Dream.” Here is the first section, taken from the text, translated by Sol Salbe

Mr. Speaker, distinguished Knesset, the year is 2025, the 10-year plan to combat racism and inequality has borne fruit. Hundreds of thousands Arab employees have been integrated into the private sector, the high-tech economy and the public service.

The social gaps between Arab and Jewish citizens have been reduced remarkably and the economy has been prosperous for the benefit of all residents.

Jews are learning Arabic, Arabs are diligently honing their Hebrew skills. Jewish and Arab students are being introduced to the great thinkers and philosophers of both peoples.

Stumbling occasionally, perhaps from nerves, as he read his speech in Hebrew, Odeh describes his vision of a place that allows both Arabs and Jews to realize their national identities, but neither at the expense of the other. It is a mature vision — one that asserts inalienable rights without apology, while calling for acceptance and compassion from and for everyone.

He describes his own political  journey, from a Palestinian nationalist and activist who was once interrogated by the Shin Bet to a man who seeks to realize his identity as a Palestinian, without apology, in the state of Israel.

Implicitly, he is describing the emergence of the assertive and self confident third generation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The first generation lived under military rule; the second was afraid and kept its head down; and the third is ready to take its place, unapologetically, as equals in Israeli society.

Ladies and gentlemen, Arabic is an official language. It is on Tel Aviv street signs as part and parcel of the urban environment, and lo and behold, it has not brought disaster upon any street’s residents.

Recognition of national rights does not take anything away from the rest of the citizenry. On the contrary, it enriches the space we live in. We will continue to demand to be recognized as a national group which is entitled to full civil and national equality, and we will struggle for it.

Odeh acknowledges with words of compassion the fears of the Jews, says explicitly that he is not a threat, and asks how he can be expected to recognize the fears of the Jews but ignore the plight of the Palestinians.

What is perhaps so remarkable about his speech is that his vision of fundamental equality between all citizens, of tolerance and compassion, is one that most Jews around the world would find inspiring if it were, say, described in a speech by an African-American man at a rally in Baltimore, Ferguson, Selma or Washington, DC. Or by a North African man in Paris.

Odeh, however, is a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel, and he is describing his vision of a state that offers equality to all, but special ethnic privileges to none. A state for Jews and Arabs, but not a Jewish state.

Can the Zionist Union or Meretz embrace that vision? Can the liberal Reform rabbis at congregations in New York, Los Angeles and the suburbs of Washington — rabbis who speak out against racism, who organize food drives for the homeless and clothing collections for the poor — also advocate for a state of Israel that is equally the rightful home of its Jewish and Arab citizens? That, I think, is poised to be one of the defining moral struggles of the liberal Jewish community in the coming years.

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Zarif in New York: Why does he seem so inviting? http://972mag.com/zarif-in-new-york-why-does-he-seem-so-inviting/106124/ http://972mag.com/zarif-in-new-york-why-does-he-seem-so-inviting/106124/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 17:19:38 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106124 In between truth-dodging and trolling Senator Tom Cotton, Iran’s foreign minister, speaking Wednesday in New York, displayed an impressive command of colloquial English and contemporary American culture. And no, Netanyahu was most certainly not spared his wry sarcasm.

Mohammad Zarif (right)  with the Washington Post's David Ignatius in New York City, April 29 2015 (credit: Gili Getz)

Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius in New York City, April 29 2015 (credit: Gili Getz)

NEW YORK — Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, believes that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is one of the biggest threats to international security.

“It is laughable,” he said, “that Netanyahu has become everyone’s non-proliferation guru. He is sitting on over 400 nuclear warheads that have been acquired in violation of the NPT [the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, and Israel isn't].” And, he added, we know “who violated protocol” by giving those weapons to Israel. “So,” he concluded, “You’ve gotta be real.”

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Zarif’s deft use of a colloquial expression drew appreciative laughter from the audience. In one short sentence he demonstrated that his English was completely fluent, that he was familiar with contemporary American culture, and that he had a sense of humor. Throughout the 90-minute event, which was framed as an interview conducted by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, the foreign minister radiated calm and confidence. And he was charming, except when he chose to turn on a steely, blunt-spoken persona.

The conversation ranged over several issues, starting with the ongoing multilateral — or P5+1 — negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Zarif said that he and Kerry had agreed on the parameters, and that they were on track for the completion of a road map by June 30. He described it as “good” but “not perfect,” adding that there was “no way to get an agreement that reflects the desires of everyone.” Iran, he emphasized several times, was committed to the negotiations, and everyone involved had invested significant political capital in their success.

The principle of the negotiations is sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a reduction in its centrifuges and stockpile of nuclear fuel, which would be confirmed by international inspectors.

For Zarif, the opposition he had dealt with among Iran’s leadership was “heat,” and Congressional opposition not his problem. “We don’t want to get bogged down in domestic American procedures,” he said. In a jab that many in the audience seemed to appreciate, Zarif said pointedly that the U.S. would have to sign the agreement “no matter what Senator Cotton says.” Tom Cotton, a freshman Republican senator from Arkansas, recently wrote a letter to the Iranian leadership that was signed by 47 Republican senators, in which he claimed that President Obama could not be regarded as a credible negotiator because Congress would not ratify an agreement with Iran.

Cotton took Zarif’s bait and tweeted out an invitation to rumble. After accusing Zarif of hiding out in the United States to avoid military service during the Iran-Iraq war, he issued his challenge:

To which Zarif replied:


For the Iranian minister, the purpose of his public conversation with Ignatius was to present the Iranian government’s position on a number of issues — an Islamic Republic Doctrine of sorts, as conveyed by Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran wants a nuclear agreement, and it wants to be accorded international respect and credibility as a regional power in the Middle East.

The interesting bits were the trolling and the claims that were either “truthy” or not true at all.

Zarif trolled Tom Cotton, and then in turn trolled the government of Saudi Arabia (one of Tehran’s most bitter regional rivals). When Ignatius asked Zarif if he would be willing to accept a Saudi nuclear program and agreement similar to the ones sought by his country, the Iranian diplomat answered unhesitatingly in the affirmative. Would he trust the Saudis to maintain a purely peaceful nuclear program? Yes, insisted Zarif. “It’s their right and rights have to be applied indiscriminately across the board.” A few minutes later, he accused the Saudis of deliberately bombing a landing strip in Yemen so that Iranian planes loaded with relief cargo for civilians had to turn back. The Saudis, he claimed, had been informed in advance and knew what the planes were carrying. A bit later, he said that Iran and Saudi Arabia had a shared interest in fighting non-state actors like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The trolling gave way to claims that seemed rather disingenuous. Zarif said that Iran was committed to nonintervention in regional disputes, referring specifically to Syria. He rejected vehemently the claim that the continuation of the Assad regime was the reason for the Islamic State’s continued appeal. Instead he blamed the Western powers for empowering non-state actors like Al Qaeda and ISIS by insisting on preconditions to negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing civil war. Let the Syrians decide for themselves, he said. Preconditions, he said, lead to a freeze in negotiations and more bloodshed. Meanwhile, only this week the Christian Science Monitor’s Nicholas Blanford reported that Iran has been propping up the Assad regime with $35 billion in loans per annum, plus soldiers and paramilitaries.

As for the principle of negotiations without preconditions, apparently Zarif did not mean for it to apply to all countries. During the Q&A that followed the interview, Ignatius chose a few of the questions that had been submitted by audience members before the event began. In all cases but one, Ignatius identified the journalist and the media outlet she or he worked for before asking the question. But in one case he skipped that bit of information, which was wise of him, and went straight to the question: “Would you negotiate with Israel without preconditions?”

The answer was a single syllable: “No.”

“Because,” explained Zarif,  ”We have a situation where those directly involved have been subjected to an elemental violation of their right to exist as sovereign state.” The Israelis, he said (using the pronoun “they”) should stop looking for “scapegoats” and “smokescreens” and solve their own problem, should stop bombing Gaza every two years. But when asked if Iran would negotiate with an Israeli government that had ended the occupation and resolved its issues with the Palestinians, he said “no” again. My impression was that mention of Israel flustered him a bit and that he had not even listened properly to the follow up question before answering.

After the event, I learned from Yael Even-Or, who covered it for Walla! News, that she had submitted the question. Ignatius, the experienced foreign correspondent, must have known that Zarif would have refused to answer if he’d known it came from an Israeli reporter.

But despite all the hypocrisies and the truth-dodging on certain issues, the most pertinent one is the multilateral nuclear negotiations. That is the one the whole world is watching. It is clear that all the parties want this agreement, and that they have worked incredibly hard to make the negotiations work. It will be very interesting to see what happens on June 30 — or, perhaps, around June 30. As Foreign Minister Zarif put it, quoting the Supreme Leader, “…we should not kill this agreement for a few days more or less. This is a human process, not a divine process.”

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Likud minister: Drowning of migrants justifies Israeli policy http://972mag.com/likud-minister-drowning-of-migrants-justifies-israeli-policy/105738/ http://972mag.com/likud-minister-drowning-of-migrants-justifies-israeli-policy/105738/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 20:11:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105738 Just one day after 950 asylum seekers drown on their way to Italy, Israel’s transportation minister praises the government for preventing migrants from entering the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Israel Katz at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Israel Katz at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) sees lessons for Israeli policy in the tragic massacre of 700 asylum seekers who drowned when their vessel capsized on Sunday in the Mediterranean Sea. Posting a photo showing rows of corpses brought to shore by rescue workers, Katz wrote the following caption, which is translated here from Hebrew:

“Hundreds of migrants from Africa drowned to death close to Italy in a disaster that horrified all human beings. Europe is having a difficult time dealing with the migrants, and with creating solutions for this difficult issue. While there are differences between us (the migrants traveling to Europe must cross a sea while those heading for Israel have a direct overland connection), you can see the rectitude of our government’s policy to build a fence on the border with Egypt, which blocks the job-seeking migrants before they enter Israel. The elections are over — you can give us some credit now.”

Only four days earlier, Katz published a sombre Facebook status about Holocaust Remembrance Day (with a gratuitous claim that Israel now faces another Holocaust — i.e., from Iran’s nuclear program).

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Katz seems not to remember some basic historical information about events leading up to and immediately after the Holocaust. When Israeli and Jewish schoolchildren around the world are taught about the Shoah, one of the most-emphasized points is that the Jews trying to escape the Nazis were denied refuge by nearly every country in the world. And that the Nazi regime felt it had carte blanche to carry out its genocide because the world had demonstrated its indifference to the fate of the Jews. They are taught about the 1938 Evian Conference, initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, which brought together representatives of 32 states for over a week in that Swiss resort town to discuss the possibility of taking in more refugees from Germany and Austria, which were then the only two countries under Nazi rule. But none would agree to expand their quotas. After the war, Jewish survivors of the death camps who tried to make their way to Palestine by boat were turned away and forcibly interned by the British army on the nearby island of Cyprus. This episode of recent Jewish history was immortalized by the 1947 story of the refugee-filled ship Exodus, which Leon Uris tells in novel form and Paul Newman acts in heroic form.

The comparisons I am making are so obvious that they should not need mentioning. They should be obvious to the government of Israel, and to Yisrael Katz specifically. We are a country that uses the Holocaust to justify its policies — even its very existence — but somehow politicians like Netanyahu, Katz, Miri Regev and others seem to believe that compassion begins and ends at home.

Katz demonstrates vulgarity and an almost pathological lack of compassion with his gleeful-sounding status, in which he makes political capital of a catastrophe involving the massacre of hundreds of human beings — including small children. He refers to the asylum seekers as migrants searching for work, which perhaps is not quite as bad as calling them “infiltrators,” “cancer” or “vermin,” as other members of his party have done. But it is bad enough, as it dehumanizes these people by implying that they are casually seeking to better their financial circumstances (subtext: at our expense), rather than undertaking unbelievably arduous journeys to escape extreme danger or a physically unbearable existence. Only a desperate person with nothing to lose would trek across the Sinai Peninsula, risking kidnapping and torture, or crowd onto a boat that is not seaworthy when hundreds have already drowned.

Darfuri refugees pose for a poster against their deportation from Israel. (Activestills.org)

Darfuri refugees pose for a poster against their deportation from Israel. (Activestills.org)

Over the past few years, Israel has treated the asylum seekers from sub-Saharan African very badly. It has refused to consider their refugee status, refused to grant them the right to work legally, imprisoned them and deported them by force. In one infamous incident that took place two years ago, the government ordered the army to physically prevent a group of Eritreans stuck between the Egyptian border and Israel’s newly-built fence from entering the country. For a week, Israeli media reported on the group, which included a pregnant woman, as they sat under the scorching desert sun with neither food nor shelter — just a tarp and “as little water as possible.” Soldiers and police officers  prevented aid workers from bringing them food and even prevented a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel from examining them. Ultimately, the pregnant woman and child were allowed in. As for the others, soldiers physically dragged them back to Egypt.

Israel is not the only country to treat asylum seekers badly. In Europe and in the United States, governments dither over refugees because right-wing, populist and racist opposition politicians have put them on the defensive. But in Israel those right-wing, populist and racist politicians are the government. They are not the opposition. And that, rather than geography, is the tangible difference between the “us” and “them” that Yisrael Katz refers to in his Facebook status.

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The paranoid ramblings of a leader who’s lost his grip http://972mag.com/the-paranoid-ramblings-of-a-leader-whos-lost-his-grip/104238/ http://972mag.com/the-paranoid-ramblings-of-a-leader-whos-lost-his-grip/104238/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 12:09:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104238 Days before national elections, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays out an elaborate plot to unseat him, which he claims is being run by foreign liberals who want peace. ‘They’ll withdraw to the 1967 boundaries and they will divide Jerusalem — just as Tzipi and Buji promised they would do. They know that unlike Tzipi and Buji, the Likud and I will never surrender to pressure,’ Netanyahu writes in a long Facebook status.

Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: Activestills.org)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent Facebook status, posted on Friday in Hebrew, is distinctly odd. It makes him sound like a rambling paranoid who’s off his meds, and local reporters have definitely noticed, with various Israeli journalists exchanging comments in Hebrew and English on social media platforms. In response to popular demand, I’ve translated the status into English (below).

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A couple of explanatory notes: Noni Mozes is the publisher of Yedioth Ahoronoth, a veteran publication that for many years had the biggest share of newspaper readers until Sheldon Adelson launched Israel Hayom about five years ago, which is distributed for free. Israel Hayom is a serious newspaper, but its news and analysis follows an unswervingly pro-Netanyahu editorial line. For this reason it is often referred to as the “Bibiton,” which is a portmanteau of Netanyahu’s popular nickname and “iton,” the Hebrew word for newspaper.

According to the final pre-election polls, with results posted on Friday, Likud is down to 20, an all-time low in the polls this election season, while the Zionist Union (led by Tzipi Livni and Isaac “Buji” Herzog) is at 24. Netanyahu is now under tremendous pressure. He runs the risk of losing the election for Likud. And his party seems to be blaming him for running a disastrous campaign, including the heavily criticized speech to Congress that ended up generating a backlash in Israel.

The translated status:

The government of the Right is in danger. Leftist activists and the foreign and international media are conspiring to get Tzipi and Buji elected via illegitimate means, using innuendo and foreign money.

Their goal is to widen the gap so that the Zionist Union polls higher than the Likud. The only way to ensure they fail is for us to close that gap in the remaining days before the elections. Those who vote for the nationalist camp don’t have the privilege of voting for other parties. You must vote for the Likud.

We have received many reports from people who work for Yedioth Ahoronoth regarding [publisher] Noni Mozes, who is leading a carefully orchestrated campaign against me. He is aided by various organizations that function with the support of tycoons in Israel and abroad, and also with the support of foreign governments. A similar effort was made in 1999 [the last time Netanyahu lost an election].

Mozes and the Yedioth Group are working in full cooperation with the head of the Labor party. Tzipi Livni herself admitted this month at a public event that she had spoken with the publisher of Yedioth Ahoronoth, Noni Mozes, about pushing forward legislation that is meant to stop the publication of Israel Hayom [the pro-Netanyahu, free daily newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson].

According to the Zionist Union party’s manifesto, Tzipi and Buji are committed to closing down Israel Hayom. This was reported in The Marker [an Israeli financial newspaper that is published by the Schocken Group / Haaretz].

It’s well known that the Yedioth Ahoronoth Group levels allegations related to social-welfare issues at me and the Likud, but it’s less known that during the 2011 social justice protests, which were the largest Israel has seen, Mozes gave the order to bury reports about the protests. He thought the protests were harming his business with a drastic decline in advertising revenue during that period.

The public should know the truth: Noni Mozes is leading a campaign against the Likud and against me in the name of his business interests. He wants to bring back the dangerous, undemocratic monopoly that prevailed when his newspaper was the most dominant. Mozes’s goal is to bring a leftist government to power. Leftist activists in Israel and abroad are pouring tens of millions of dollars into organizations that are leading the “anyone but Bibi” campaign.

These organizations are working to persuade Arab voters to cast their ballots for the left. They have even initiated a house-to-house campaign in recent weeks.

The enlistment of foreign organizations is not for financial reasons or social reasons, but for political reasons. Those foreign organizations understand that if Tzipi and Buji are in charge, they will give up everything. They’ll withdraw to the 1967 boundaries and they will divide Jerusalem — just as Tzipi and Buji promised they would do do. They know that unlike Tzipi and Buji, the Likud and I will never surrender to pressure.

These foreign organizations understand that the only thing blocking a withdrawal to the ‘67 boundaries, dividing Jerusalem, the establishment of “Hamastan B” on the hills that overlook Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport and all of Israel, and accepting a nuclear Iran — the only thing — is a Likud government.

The only response to Noni Mozes’s campaign of seduction and to the millions of dollars that are flowing in from abroad to leftist organizations, is to go next week and cast the only ballot possible: only Likud.

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Jewish teens attack Palestinians in two separate Purim incidents http://972mag.com/jewish-teens-attack-palestinians-in-two-separate-purim-incidents/104162/ http://972mag.com/jewish-teens-attack-palestinians-in-two-separate-purim-incidents/104162/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:16:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104162 Such attacks have become more common in recent years but media coverage has thinned.

Two individual Arab-Palestinian men were assaulted by mobs of Jewish teens in Jerusalem last Thursday night. Both incidents involved victims who were set upon and beaten so severely that they had to be hospitalized. And in both cases the Israeli Hebrew media outlets that reported the story specified that at least some of the assailants were drunk and in costume. Thursday was Purim in Jerusalem. According to tradition, the festival is celebrated by dressing in costume and drinking to excess.

One of the incidents, reported in a short item by Walla! News, is described as a “suspected nationalist incident.” The Walla! report notes that some of the teens were drunk, that there were about 15 or 16 of them out celebrating the holiday raucously, in the middle of downtown, very late at night. Several people asked the loud celebrants to be quiet, including one young man in his 20s who happened to be an Arab. The teens assaulted him because he spoke Hebrew with an identifiable accent. “I don’t remember much,” he told the reporter. “It hurt a lot.”

I went outside to ask them to be quiet, and suddenly a whole bunch of people jumped on me. I woke up in the hospital and after that I made a report to the police. They [the assailants] saw that I was an Arab and they jumped on me.

In a separate but remarkably similar incident that occurred around the same time, another group of around 15 raucous, drunk, teen revelers were carousing around downtown, roughhousing with one another and, according to Channel 10, generally smashing things up. Then they spotted a restaurant worker clearing away an outdoor table, recognized that he was an Arab and jumped him. This time, someone recorded the incident with a mobile device, which Channel 10 broadcast (view a longer version here).

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The faces of the assailants are blurred to protect their identities since some are minors, but the details of the assault are clear. The Arab man is going about his job when he’s suddenly jumped by the mob, who beat him, kick him and smash chairs over his head. The reporter says that eyewitnesses told police the assailants beat the Arab man on every part of his body, then dragged him along the pavement and beat him some more, even after he was lying prone and unable to defend himself.

Channel 10 called it a “near-lynch,” which upset some commenters on their Facebook page. Given the video evidence, they commented, what’s “ostensible” about it? (The Israeli media generally employs the term to refer to a severe physical assault rather than the specific type of torture and hanging of blacks committed by whites, which were once common in some southern U.S. states.)

Channel 10 also interviewed an attorney for the boys who said there is no evidence this is a “nationalist” crime or a “racial” crime, which is interesting because the Walla! report does not suggest the crime is “racial.” The Channel 10 report also specifies that some of the boys involved in the assault come from well-known organized crime families, members of which accompanied the boys to their court hearing.

 

These mob assaults on random Palestinians have become increasingly common over the past year or so, although two in one night sounds extreme. But while these assaults are reported, they do not grab headlines and they do not garner international coverage. This is perhaps because news outlets are currently saturated with coverage of the upcoming elections. Or it could be general fatigue and consequent loss of interest in a type of incident that seems to play out according to a script: Arab passerby going about his business assaulted by mob of teens described in media reports by a combination of code words that convey “low class Mizrahi, possibly related to organized crime, and therefore not representative.” Police make arrests (sometimes), which offers the false comfort of justice having been served, and then we’re back to status quo ante. Until the next assault.

But imagine being a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who is terrified of riding public transport or going to work in the western, majority-Jewish part of the city, because each trip outside their home means they run the risk of being violently assaulted by random strangers just because they look or sound Arab.

This reminds me of a story I once read by Isaac Bashevis Singer, in which he describes a Jewish man at a Warsaw barber shop during the late 1930s, who is afraid to speak when the man wielding a straight-edge razor over his face launches into an anti-Semitic rant. What if the barber were to hear that his customer speaks Polish with a recognizably Yiddish accent?

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Netanyahu speech: A dilemma for U.S. Jews — not for Israelis http://972mag.com/netanyahu-speech-a-dilemma-for-u-s-jews-not-for-israelis/103269/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-speech-a-dilemma-for-u-s-jews-not-for-israelis/103269/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 20:49:16 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=103269 For the first time, American Jews are getting the feeling that they might have to choose between Israel, and their loyalty to the country in which they were born and have become successful to a degree almost unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people.

In remarks that shook American Jewish leaders with their bluntness, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on Tuesday that Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress on March 3 was “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the United States and Israel. Rice was speaking to Charlie Rose on his PBS news magazine show Tuesday evening; her interlocutor was so taken aback by her comment that he repeated it back to her in a tone of astonishment, pausing between each word.

Speaker Boehner holds a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Congressional leaders following his address to a joint meeting of Congress. May 24, 2011. (Speaker Boehner / CC-BY NY 2.0)

Speaker Boehner holds a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Congressional leaders following his address to a joint meeting of Congress. May 24, 2011. (Speaker Boehner / CC-BY NY 2.0)

Rice responded by pointing out that until Netanyahu accepted Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress, the relationship between Israel and the United States had “…always been bipartisan and we have been fortunate that the politics have not been injected into this relationship.” Speaking emphatically, she said:

“What has happened over the last several weeks by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks before his elections is that on both sides there have been injected some degree of partisanship.

“It is not only unfortunate but it is also destructive of the fabric of the relationship. It has always been bipartisan and we want to keep it that way. When it becomes injected with politics that’s a problem. We want the relationship to be strong regardless of which party may be in charge in each country.”

Rice made her remarks on the same day that Netanyahu rejected an invitation from Democratic senators for a closed-door session, presumably so that he could express his concerns about the Obama administration’s Iran policy, rather than deliver a divisive address to Congress.

John Boehner, the Republican House Speaker, invited Netanyahu to address Congress regarding U.S. policy toward Iran. Boehner supports a bill that calls for new sanctions against Iran, while the Obama administration is deeply involved in the delicate multilateral talks with Iran that are known as P5+1, which face a crucial deadline at the end of March. Last year the U.S. and its European negotiating partners lifted some sanctions on Iran as a confidence-building measure. In exchange, Iran suspended part of its nuclear development program; President Obama has said that he would veto a bill for new sanctions.

The dilemma of American Jews

Over the past few weeks, since Netanyahu accepted Boehner’s invitation, the White House has expressed its anger with one snub after another. First Obama said he would not meet with Netanyahu during his visit to DC, which coincides with the annual AIPAC conference (Netanyahu will speak at AIPAC as well). The official reason: given that the Israeli election is to take place only two weeks later, it would be inappropriate for Obama to meet with the incumbent candidate. Secretary of State Kerry announced that he would be abroad during Netanyahu’s visit, and spokespeople for Joe Biden said the vice president would also be out of town that week.

The administration also leaked that it had stopped giving Israeli officials full briefings on the ongoing talks with Iran. And on top of that, 26 Democrats — 23 from the House and three senators — have announced that they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech. The overt insult to the president (and the institution of the presidency) by a supposedly loyal ally was too much to overlook, even in the name of supporting the special friendship with their most important ally in the Middle East. But note that even the Democrats who said they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech have hastened to emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, pointedly eschewing the term “boycott.”

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Nonetheless, American Jewish leaders are worried. The mainstream Jewish community votes Democrat and is unequivocally supportive of Israel, which means that it ends up being liberal on pretty much every issue except Israel. Until now, it was easy to live with this cognitive dissonance, since the U.S. position on Israel was unswervingly supportive. For the first time, American Jews are getting the feeling that they might have to choose between Israel as their identity totem, and their loyalty to the country in which they were born and have become successful to a degree almost unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people.

But while the New York Times put its report about Rice’s remarks on its homepage, and while Jewish American journalists who write frequently about Israel expressed shock and dismay at Netanyahu’s refusal to accept the Democrats’ invitation for a closed-door meeting, the Israeli response has been quite different. As of this writing, nearly one day after Rice’s remarks were broadcast, tweeted and widely reported in the U.S., none of the Hebrew media outlets have put their report about her conversation with Charlie Rose on their homepage. Rice’s blunt comments led the news for a few hours in the morning, but then were quickly knocked off the top of the news hour by the much-anticipated release of the state comptroller’s housing report, in which Netanyahu is accused of exacerbating the country’s catastrophic housing crisis. It was the housing crisis that precipitated weeks of protests in the summer of 2011, and economic issues continue to be the leading concern for Israeli voters.

One standing ovation after another

Many Israeli commentators have been deeply critical of Netanyahu’s having insulted the Obama administration by accepting Boehner’s invitation. But Netanyahu’s core voters are like the people in the United States who base their worldview on Fox News: they are deeply suspicious of the “liberal” mainstream media, and their loyalty to the Likud party is as unswerving as their support for their favorite soccer team. It is part of their identity. Netanyahu is betting that with the support of his core voters he will win enough seats and have sufficient allies on the right to form the next governing coalition.

According to the polls, Likud and the Zionist Union, headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, are virtually tied. But while Netanyahu campaigns on security and the Zionist Union campaigns on the economy, the fact is that the Herzog-Livni team have not tried to challenge Netanyahu on his Iran policy. That is because it’s too risky a move. They might be able to mock his hawkishness in their most recent campaign clip, by making a cynical joke about “going to war every two years,” but Herzog and Livni supported every Israeli military campaign against Gaza since Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9.

Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog announce a joint slate for the upcoming elections, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog announce a joint slate for the upcoming elections, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

The center-left objects to Netanyahu’s crass, combative style, but they don’t really object to the substance of his message. They might agree with Israel’s Intelligence establishment, which continues to insist that Iran does not present an existential threat to Israel, but they know it would be unwise to test populist sentiment by expressing that view in the political arena. The economy might be the number one issue that drives people to the streets, but if there is a war, those protestors will without question go home, put on their uniforms and report to their reserve units. Security trumps all concerns in Israel, by default.

Given what I have heard so far on Israeli radio programs, I suspect that Netanyahu’s spokespeople will frame Susan Rice’s remarks as an example of the Obama administration’s callous disregard for Israel’s security. They will push the idea that Rice has put weapons in the hands of the enemies of Israel, who will have taken note that there is a rift with its American protector. This kind of interpretation plays very well in Israel, and it could find a ready audience among Jewish Americans as well. Israelis do care deeply about having a good relationship with the United States — just not at the expense of their security, which they naturally believe only they truly understand and care about. And for some (perhaps many), it hasn’t quite sunk in that without America’s friendship, they are not secure.

As for Netanyahu, it seems that he cares only about being re-elected. If his concern were, as he continues to insist, protecting Israel from an Iranian threat, then surely an opportunity to make a serious presentation to senior American legislators would be the most effective means of conveying his position. But what Netanyahu really wants is prime time television coverage in Israel that shows him speaking in perfect English to members of the American Congress as they give him one standing ovation after another. And if he can’t have that, then he’ll take the second-best option — the sight of empty seats belonging to Democrats who chose loyalty to Obama over concern for Israel’s security.

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Netanyahu campaign video: A victory for the Left means an ISIS invasion http://972mag.com/netanyahu-campaign-video-a-victory-for-the-left-means-an-isis-invasion/102703/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-campaign-video-a-victory-for-the-left-means-an-isis-invasion/102703/#comments Sat, 14 Feb 2015 22:26:34 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102703 In the latest Likud campaign video, released online Saturday, the message is that voters who cast their ballots for parties to the left of Netanyahu are throwing open Israel’s borders to an invasion by the so-called Islamic State, which in Israel and much of the Arabic-speaking world is called Da’esh.

 

 

The video opens with bearded men traveling in a pickup truck, flying the black IS flag with its distinctive white calligraphy. The driver of the truck pulls up beside another car and honks for the other driver’s attention. The IS guy in the passenger seat leans out the window and asks him, in Hebrew with a comically exaggerated Arabic accent, “Hey bro, how do you get to Jerusalem?” The driver of the car shouts back (in Israeli Hebrew), “Take a left!”

Then there’s the slogan, in red Hebrew letters emblazoned on a gray, bullet-marked background: “THE LEFT WILL SURRENDER TO TERROR.”

One of the IS guys fires celebratory bullets skyward and the driver peels off, ostensibly in the direction of Jerusalem, as they all shout exultantly in Arabic, “Shukran, ya ward!” (“Thanks, bro!”). The camera pans briefly to the rear of the truck to focus on a popular Israeli bumper sticker that reads, “Anyone but Bibi.”

The tagline: “It’s us, or them. Only the Likud. Only Netanyahu.”

The snatch of Arabic rap lyrics is excerpted from a song by an Amman-based Palestinian group called Torabyeh: “I want to be buried in the same cemetery that my grandfather was buried in. Since my childhood I’ve been dreaming of becoming a soldier and as time passed I discovered who I wanted to belong to: Mahmoud Abbas, Fateh, Hamas or…Jabha [the DFLP] …”

Netanyahu has for years been promoting his message about the threat to Israeli security posed by Islamist extremism, never missing an opportunity to list Hamas along with the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and even Fateh, mixing them all up so that the average Israeli Jew reflexively associates Arabs and Islam with terror. Like all accomplished populists, he understands the power of repeating a mendacious slogan, and he is an expert at exploiting popular fears and racism.

There is plenty of evidence in popular culture to show that Netanyahu’s tactics work; that his rhetoric has penetrated the mainstream. Never mind that the Islamic State has not expressed any particular interest in Israel or in Palestine. It’s far too busy slaughtering Arabs in Iraq and Syria — decapitating, shooting, crucifying and immolating them in their hundreds. Or, as two IS fighters captured by the Peshmerga told Israeli reporter Itai Anghel in a report he made for Channel 2′s news magazine “Fact,” , they’re not particularly interested in killing Israelis. They just hate everybody who’s not like them.

But the Bibi banter works. Channel 10, for example, recently broadcast a series of pre-election clips in which candidates drive taxis while discussing politics with their passengers. In this clip, the blonde woman sitting in the back seat tells Meretz candidate Tamar Zandberg that she won’t vote for the Left (“it’s not personal! I don’t mean to insult you!”) because if the Left gets into power, Da’esh will overrun Israel.

The popular Israeli narrative is so reactionary and confused these days, that if one were to walk the streets asking average citizens if there was a difference between Fateh and Al Qaeda, most people would be hard-pressed to answer coherently. Go ahead and try to explain to an Israeli audience that Hamas is a small offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, that it is basically a technocratic political party, that it is extremely unpopular in Gaza and that it has nothing to do with expansionist jihadism. Try telling people that if Israel were to lift the siege on Gaza, disgruntled Palestinians would probably kick Hamas out of power immediately. Just try. The best you can hope for is to be told that you’re a traitor who should go live in Gaza.

And by choosing music created by Palestinian-Jordanian rappers with lyrics about the dream of being buried in one’s ancestral homeland, the video’s creators drive home the message: Palestinian aspirations = terrorism = ISIS = the end of Israel. So vote Likud or, as Netanyahu writes on his Facebook introduction to the video, it’s: “Us or them, the ISIS version. Vote for Likud with Netanyahu at its head or for a weak, submissive government with Tzipi and Buji at its head.”

*Thanks to Mohamed El Dahshan and IB for identifying and translating the Torabyeh song.

Related:

No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas
Fight occupation, anti-Semitism, Islamic State at the same time

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