+972 Magazine » Lisa Goldman http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Mon, 22 Sep 2014 23:55:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 VIDEO: Hamas militants film infiltration of IDF base http://972mag.com/video-hamas-militants-film-infiltration-of-idf-base/94629/ http://972mag.com/video-hamas-militants-film-infiltration-of-idf-base/94629/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 22:28:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94629 Al Jazeera (Arabic) broadcast a video clip Tuesday night that it says was filmed by the Al Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, as it carries out a military operation yesterday (Monday) at the Nahal Oz army base on Israel’s border with Gaza.

The film shows a group of armed men, their faces hidden by black dots, emerging from a tunnel dug under the wall separating Israel from Gaza. They run over to the army base and open fire as they enter it. At one point one they surround and shoot an Israeli soldier, whose cries are audible. The militants then turn around and escape back into the tunnel. At the end, they display weapons that are clearly marked Israeli, with IDF serial numbers.

According to reports, five Israeli soldiers were killed in the Nahal Oz attack.

Warning: Graphic content

This scene of Hamas militants successfully infiltrating Israel is a huge collective fear, as Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren describes in an article for the New York Times.

Related:
WATCH: Whole Gaza neighborhood destroyed in an hour
Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas?
Not about tunnels: Israeli tanks take aim at central Gaza

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Israeli police are exacerbating the violence with gag orders http://972mag.com/israeli-police-are-exacerbating-the-violence-with-gag-orders/93034/ http://972mag.com/israeli-police-are-exacerbating-the-violence-with-gag-orders/93034/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 18:27:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93034 Journalist Raviv Drucker takes Israeli police to task for failing to keep the public informed about its investigation into the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Shuafat, in East Jerusalem.

The corpse of the 16-year-old Palestinian boy was discovered in the Jerusalem Forest three days ago, about an hour after CCTV cameras recorded his abduction from a quiet street near his home early in the morning.

Following an autopsy that was performed with a Palestinian forensic physician present, the Palestinian media published the shocking news that the boy had apparently been forced to drink gasoline and was then burned alive. But the police have not offered any updates regarding their progress toward finding the perpetrators. As a result, rumors are flying, the atmosphere of incitement is becoming increasingly dangerous and the Palestinian public increasingly suspicious.

The following is my translation (with permission) of Raviv Drucker’s Hebrew blog post.

Israeli police arrest a protester during the second day of protests that followed the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager, East Jerusalem, July 3, 2014. (Photo by Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Israeli police arrest a protester during the second day of protests that followed the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager, East Jerusalem, July 3, 2014. (Photo by Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

It’s really ridiculous that I have to write this. Doesn’t anyone in the police understand the basics of media relations? We have a politically loaded, very sensitive event. The Palestinians have grave suspicions about the investigation and conspiracy theories are spreading rapidly. Obviously, the smart thing would be to provide accurate information. To demonstrate that the police are investigating the case rigorously and care about keeping the public informed. Instead, the police are making a terrible mistake by refusing to release any information.

The truth cannot be worse than a news blackout.

A senior police officer should provide updates to the media, on camera, every few hours — preferably in Arabic. He should explain the investigative measures the police are taking and show that they are dealing with this matter with the utmost seriousness. There is no need to reveal details that might harm the investigation, but it is essential to answer the media’s questions and to be available after the press conference to put to rest rumors and conspiracy theories.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) made exactly the same mistake when it placed a gag order on the recording of kidnapped Israeli teen Gil-Ad Shaer’s phone call to the police. If everyone knew from the beginning that there were audible sounds of gunshots [after he said he'd been kidnapped], then the public would have been able to moderate their expectations. That doesn’t mean that the search for the boys should have been halted, but perhaps there would have been fewer mass prayer vigils and empty speeches predicated on the belief that the boys were still alive. And perhaps there would have been less pressure from the public for a heavy handed [military] response from our decision makers. Perhaps, too, the wave of ugly incitement would have been a bit smaller

Read +972′s full coverage of the kidnappings

But now the Shin Bet and the police are nurturing this illusion that it’s possible to manage current events without interacting with the public. And perhaps one day they will deign to tell us exactly what’s happening. Then of course they will be very angry indeed if we don’t immediately accept their version and dare to cast doubt on their findings.

I don’t know, of course, if the horrific murder of the Palestinian boy was committed by Palestinians or by Jews. It’s obvious that if the police knew for certain that the culprit were a Jew, they would not have dared to suggest the theory that the murder might have been committed by Palestinians in the name of “family honor,” because the boy was suspected of being a homosexual, etc.

Whatever the case, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that the most convenient finding for the Jewish public turns out to be true — i.e., that the murder really was committed by Palestinians. If the police were to announce in five days that this was the case, do you think anyone in Shuafat would believe them? And how many people will be injured before then, just because they’re convinced the police are covering up the truth?

Raviv Drucker hosts a political analysis magazine program on Israel’s Channel 10. He was a 2003 fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

Related:
A premier failure: Where is Israel’s leadership?
Kidnappings leave a wake of ‘revenge,’ racist violence
How the public was manipulated into believing the teens were alive

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WATCH: Israeli Jews attack Palestinian on public bus http://972mag.com/watch-israeli-jews-attack-palestinian-on-public-bus/93003/ http://972mag.com/watch-israeli-jews-attack-palestinian-on-public-bus/93003/#comments Fri, 04 Jul 2014 17:41:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93003 The following video shows an incident that took place on a municipal bus in the greater Tel Aviv area (near Bnei Brak, for those who know the territory). This was a couple of days ago, shortly after the bodies of three Jewish boys who were abducted in mid-June were discovered in the West Bank.

The video shows a Palestinian man (wearing a baseball cap), presumably a citizen of Israel. Three men in military uniform (they are not combat soldiers, but probably employees of the ministry of defense— i.e., bureaucrats) form a human barrier between the Palestinian man and a group of Jewish-Israeli men. The man in the white shirt is shouting, “Filthy Arabs!”;  ”Filthy Arab murderers of children!”; “I’ll take your heads off!”; “Fuck your mothers!”; “This is our country and not yours!” The Palestinian man is outraged – he shouts and indicates that he wants to respond physically, but the men in uniform who have created the physical barrier tell him to be quiet, sit down and wait for the police to arrive.

In the background, some of the passengers are muttering things like, “Shut up, you donkey!” and “Idiot!” at the Jewish man, while others try to push the uniformed men aside in order to attack the Palestinian. In the end, the bald man in the striped shirt succeeds in pushing aside the uniformed men who are trying to create a physical barrier around the Palestinian man. He reaches across and slaps the Palestinian man. It’s very easy to imagine how this scene could have devolved into something much, much worse.

The Facebook comments in response to the video are diverse. Some express horrors and shame, while others jeer, say they’re sick of the bleeding hearts (who, naturally, should go live in Gaza) and that those Arabs deserve what’s coming to them.

Also today, Palestinian-Israeli author Sayed Kashua, who has written both critically acclaimed Hebrew novels and is the creator for the hit television show “Arab Labor,” who lives in West Jerusalem and sends his children to a mixed Arab-Jewish school, writes in his weekly column for Haaretz that he no longer believes Jews and Arabs will ever be able to live in peace. He says that he is leaving Jerusalem, and that he might not return to the country following his planned year-long sabbatical in Chicago.

Two days ago, Ayman Siksek, a Palestinian-Israeli literary critic and author of the successful Hebrew novel “To Jaffa,” wrote a Facebook status in which he describes grimly the terrifying atmosphere of incitement in the country as a whole, and in Jerusalem specifically. A week after Siksek’s mother was attacked at a local grocery store in Jaffa, a friend in Jerusalem told him to cancel his planned visit to the city, because it was too dangerous. “The city is sick,” she wrote him.

Mobs of hyper-nationalist Jews are roaming the streets of downtown West Jerusalem, past people sitting at outdoor cafes, shouting “death to Arabs!” with impunity. The police are not enforcing the anti-incitement laws against Jews. But in East Jerusalem, the police are shooting Palestinian demonstrators, who are out protesting the abduction and murder of 16 year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, with foam-tipped rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas. They are beating them, often very badly,and arresting them. People are barricading themselves in their homes, afraid to leave.

This is a terrible, frightening time. Perhaps a point of no return.

Related:
WATCH: Disturbing footage of police beating Palestinian in Shuafat
Photos of the week: A chronology of two kidnappings
Why this isn’t a ‘new’ intifada

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The occupation doesn’t have an ‘image problem’ http://972mag.com/the-occupation-doesnt-have-an-image-problem/90386/ http://972mag.com/the-occupation-doesnt-have-an-image-problem/90386/#comments Sat, 03 May 2014 15:23:20 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=90386 In a January 2014 New York Times op-ed that I somehow just noticed now, a South Africa-born Jew insists that Israel is not an apartheid state. Hirsh Goodman, a journalist and political commentator who immigrated to Israel in 1965, agrees that the occupation must end. Not because it’s evil to deprive a whole nation of its basic civil rights, but because it looks bad.

Sodier arresting child in Beit Omar, 2010 (Anne Paq / Activestills)

Sodier arresting child in Beit Omar, 2010 (Anne Paq / Activestills)

For Goodman, the problem is not the human rights abuses committed by Israel, but rather that anti-occupation activists, “some of whom have graduated from the best universities in the world,” are waging a campaign to “delegitimize” Israel by using the “buzzword” of apartheid. This is a false label, he asserts, which is sticking because Israel’s enemies are good at propaganda. Then, in a remarkable feat of unawareness, he goes on to make the case that Israel does preside over an apartheid-like system.

In apartheid South Africa, people disappeared in the night without the protection of any legal process and were never heard from again. There was no freedom of speech or expression and more “judicial” hangings were reportedly carried out there than in any other place on earth. There was no free press and, until January 1976, no public television. Masses of black people were forcibly moved from tribal lands to arid Bantustans in the middle of nowhere. A “pass system” stipulated where blacks could live and work, splitting families and breaking down social structures, to provide cheap labor for the mines and white-owned businesses, and a plentiful pool of domestic servants for the white minority. Those found in violation were arrested, usually lashed, and sentenced to stints of hard labor for a few shillings per prisoner per day, payable to the prison service.

None of this even remotely exists in Israel or the occupied territories.

In fact, almost all of these conditions exist in the territories controlled by Israel. Tweak this paragraph a bit, and you have a pretty accurate description of the system over which Israel has presided for 47 years —five years longer than apartheid existed in South Africa. Here’s the Israel-Palestine version:

Masses of Palestinians were forcibly moved from their ancestral lands to arid Bantustans in the middle of nowhere. An opaque permit system stipulates where Palestinians can live and work, splitting families and breaking down social structures, to provide cheap labor for the settlements and Jewish-owned businesses, and a plentiful pool of manual labor for the Jewish minority. Those judged to be in violation, even children as young as 8, are arrested by soldiers, usually beaten, tried in a military court that has a conviction rate of 99 percent and sentenced to stints of jail time for a few shekels per prisoner per day, payable to the prison service.”

Israel has been displacing Palestinians from their ancestral lands since the state was founded. After it conquered the West Bank in 1967, it systematically uprooted Palestinians from their homes there, starting with those who had the bad luck to occupy homes near the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City (Moshe Dayan gave the order to raze those homes, which stood where the plaza leading to the Western Wall is today). Over the past year or so, the army has been in the process of forcibly removing 27,000 Palestinians from their homes in Area C of the West Bank, most of whom have lived in the same place for at least 50 years. The human rights NGO B’Tselem has documented this extensively, as has Haaretz journalist Amira Hass. Soldiers evict the families by force and destroy their homes with bulldozers. Sometimes a whole village is bulldozed, including the local school. No alternative housing or compensation is provided. “Go to Area A or B,” the Palestinians are told. If anyone tries to stop the soldiers or offer aid to the newly homeless families, they are forcibly removed from the scene or arrested. Including EU diplomats.

A woman from the Palestinian Ghaith family stands amidst the remains of her home,  demolished by Jerusalem municipality workers in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of At Tur, April 29, 2013.

A woman from the Palestinian Ghaith family stands amidst the remains of her home, demolished by Jerusalem municipality workers in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of At Tur, April 29, 2013.

In Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, settlers protected by court orders and paramilitary police forcibly evict Palestinians from the homes they have lived in for decades, tossing the residents’ belongings on the street and leaving them homeless, with no recourse and nowhere to go. In the Negev, the Israeli government is trying under the Prawer Plan to uproot Bedouin from their ancestral homes, which have been systematically deprived of  amenities, like electricity and running water, that illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank are granted as a matter of course, and herd them forcibly into urban areas. Paramilitary police have demolished the Bedouin village of al-Araqib several dozen times.

In the West Bank, the Israeli army regularly deploys soldiers to carry out pre-dawn arrests, rousting minor youths from their beds at 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning, as documented in this video (there are dozens of similar videos). The children are cuffed, taken in an army vehicle to a police station, and questioned aggressively, with neither a guardian nor a lawyer present. It is not uncommon for children as young as eight to be arrested by soldiers on suspicion of throwing stones. As this illustration shows, there is a stark disparity in the way Israel’s justice system treats Palestinian children, as compared to Israeli children who live in the same territory. A Palestinian child, for example, can be detained in military prison, an adult facility, for 180 days without being charged.

It’s true that since the separation barrier went up a decade ago, Israelis have largely replaced cheap Palestinian laborers with guest workers from places like the Philippines. But with the Palestinian economy crippled by Israel’s control over its borders and resources, unemployment is sky high and people are desperate for work. Some obtain permits to do construction work on Jewish settlements, enduring the humiliation of building houses for Jews on land that was stolen from them just so they can put food on the table for their children. A very lucky few obtain permits to work in Israel, queuing up like cattle early in the morning to pass through Israel’s military checkpoints. Still others, unable to obtain permits, travel for hours via circuitous routes that circumvent the checkpoints, then sneak through the porous parts of the wall in search of a day’s manual labor. Sometimes, they get shot and killed by border police as they are sneaking in. All for a day’s work that might pay $25 or so.

Palestinian women wait to cross from Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, into Jerusalem to attend the Ramadan Friday Prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 19, 2013. (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Palestinian women wait to cross from Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, into Jerusalem to attend the Ramadan Friday Prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 19, 2013. (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Meanwhile, Palestinian citizens of Israel (often referred to as “Israeli Arabs”) who marry Palestinians from the occupied territories are prevented by law from obtaining residency or citizenship for their spouses. This means that families are torn apart, just as South African families were sundered by the apartheid policies Goodman describes. The same applies to West Bank Palestinians married to Gaza Palestinians. Israel controls the borders and population movement for both places, and refuses in all but a handful of cases to issue permits that would allow families to live together in one of the two territories.

Fortunately, Israel has a free and lively media that does often report on these violations of Palestinian human rights. But unfortunately, the Israeli public is not sufficiently moved to express vociferous disapproval, as witnessed by the fact that these reports elicit mild protest but never change. In fact, the situation of Palestinians has steadily deteriorated with the years, with more land confiscations and increased limitations on their freedom of movement.

The asylum seekers from countries like Eritrea and Sudan, writes Goodman, should be treated better. Not because helping people who survived desperate journeys across the desert after escaping war and torture is the right thing to do. And not because Israel has a legal obligation as a signatory to the 1951 UN treaty on the treatment and status of refugees. Rather, because jailing these poor souls instead of providing succor results in  ”…reams of footage to those who want to prove Israel is a racist society.” Goodman neglects to mention the racist incitement of members of Knesset like Likud’s Miri Regev, who infamously referred to the African refugees as “a cancer in our bodies.” According to a poll carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute, 51 percent of Israelis agree with Regev. No wonder Israel has a reputation for being a racist country.

African asylum seekers participate in a silent demonstration in front of the African Union office in Tel Aviv, calling for international support in their struggle for recognition as refugees, January 22, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv, Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers participate in a silent demonstration in front of the African Union office in Tel Aviv, calling for international support in their struggle for recognition as refugees, January 22, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv, Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

But for Goodman, Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and the asylum seekers are not a problem because they are cruel or deeply unjust. Nope. They’re just bad for hasbara. They make him worry about his image abroad. That is a shockingly immoral perspective. The occupation is not bad because it makes Israel look bad. It’s bad because it’s evil.

Don’t like the term apartheid? Okay. What’s in a name, after all? So here’s the question: What do you call a system by which a colonizing government has controlled 2.5 million people for 47 years, depriving them of their basic civil rights based on their ethnicity?

Related:
It’s the occupation and Israeli bigotry that are anti-Semitic
If this isn’t apartheid, then what is it?
State Department stumbles: If not apartheid, then what?

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‘There was no generous offer’: A history of peace talks http://972mag.com/on-palestinian-positions-israeli-pundits-are-all-spin/90137/ http://972mag.com/on-palestinian-positions-israeli-pundits-are-all-spin/90137/#comments Sat, 26 Apr 2014 11:30:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=90137 Raviv Drucker, a prominent journalist who co-hosts a well-known television magazine program on Channel 10, wrote a tough blog post in which he takes some of Israel’s best known journalists to task for presenting a completely erroneous interpretation of the Palestinian position regarding a negotiated agreement for a two-state solution. I have translated his post with permission. 

By Raviv Drucker

Ari Shavit has written another one of his fabulous treatises in his exemplary prose style that is, as his articles often are, completely detached from the facts. According to Shavit, Mahmoud Abbas is an intransigent negotiator who fails every time he is put to the test. The pièce de résistance of Shavit’s treatise comes at the point where he accuses Abbas of not having signed off on the Geneva Accord. Readers might recall that the Geneva Accord was a foreign affairs initiative between Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabo. But according to Shavit’s logic, the second most important person in the Palestinian Authority should have risked his own political credibility by signing off on concessions, in order to protect Yossi Beilin.

Yair Lapid gave a truly heartrending speech, in which he wondered aloud if Abbas had any desire to achieve statehood. Again and again, Lapid intoned, the president of the Palestinian Authority uses evasion tactics, refuses to sign agreements, avoids dealing with the end game. The peak of Lapid’s speech comes when he says:

 Just about a year ago we agreed to join the governing coalition only after we received a commitment that we would return to the negotiating table on the basis of two states for two peoples.

It would be interesting to know who gave him that commitment. It’s not written anywhere in the guidelines of the government he joined. That commitment was intentionally (Naftali Bennett) excluded from the guidelines. Lapid did not insist upon it, which he probably does not even recall.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, July 29, 2013 (Photo: Tali Mayer/ Activestills.org)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, July 29, 2013 (Photo: Tali Mayer/ Activestills.org)

The veteran political analyst Nahum Barnea wrote in a column published on Friday [in the print edition of Yedioth Aharonoth] that the ink in Mahmoud Abbas’s pen has been dry since 1993 and the Palestinian leader won’t sign any further agreements.

You read these things and they can make you slowly lose your mind. People who are intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced simply do not know their facts. Or perhaps they have an interest in distorting them?

Mahmoud Abbas has never been presented with an agreement which, in the view of people who know Palestinian society, he would have regarded as acceptable. Never. It could be true that he doesn’t have the political support necessary for the signing of a permanent agreement, but that claim has never been tested. On the other hand, the Israeli leader has been tested for five years and there is no doubt — he is not signing any agreement, ever.

Check out +972’s full coverage of the peace process

These are well-worn and tedious facts. But the Lapid-Shavit-Barnea-Livni spin machine is so irritating that we must go over them again.

For 26 years, Abbas has presented the same set of conditions for a permanent agreement. A Palestinian state established on the pre-1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem, and a mutually agreed upon resolution to the issue of the refugees. That is the price. He has not moved a fraction of an inch since 1988. Those are the conditions he presented in Oslo in 1993 and that’s what was on the table during a series of talks that took place when Ariel Sharon was foreign minister during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister in the 1990s (is there anyone who even remembers those talks? There was a meeting-and-a-half or so). That was Abbas’s position at Camp David in 2000, at Taba in January 2011, and at Annapolis in 2007. The Palestinian position has consistently been that Israel would take 2-to-4 percent of the West Bank and compensate them for every yard of territory. In the eyes of the Palestinians, this is a huge concession compared to what was granted them under the partition agreement of 1947, and in light of their historical rights. You can agree or you can disagree, but that is their price and apparently there is no way to maneuver around it.

And yet generations of Israeli politicians who should have known better have tried to bargain over that price, as if they were in a Middle Eastern bazaar. The attitude of the Israeli negotiators seems to be, “The Palestinians say they want 100 percent of the territory that was conquered in 1967, but they’ll close the deal for less.” In 1999 Ehud Barak sketched a map that included 50 percent of the territory. Then [former deputy prime minister] Haim Ramon said he could close a deal with them for 80 percent. Peres said he could bring home an agreement for 90 percent, Barak suggested 92 percent at Camp David, Livni suggested the same number and Olmert went as high as 94 percent.

But Lapid, Shavit and Barnea keep coming back to the Camp David talks in July 2000, when Abbas supposedly got “cold feet.”

Ehud Barak (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Ehud Barak (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

So here’s the thing. Abbas really did play a negative role at Camp David. There were all sorts of petty political considerations at play (the power games between Arafat and Abu Ala) that put him in a position of being passive and not very smart during those talks. At the same time, I have gathered from quite a few conversations over the years that the Israeli participants knew going into those talks that there was absolutely no chance of Abbas or Arafat signing the agreement that was presented to them. Barak made an amazing offer, particularly given Israeli public opinion. He agreed to divide Jerusalem, including the Old City, and he agreed to shared sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

But Barak knew going into those talks that no Palestinian leader could ever bring home an agreement that included only 91 percent of the territory of the West Bank (and an additional 1 percent in land swaps). Especially when a substantial portion of that territory (the Jordan Valley) would be leased back to Israel for decades in order to meet its security concerns. I am not absolving Arafat of responsibility for the failure of those negotiations. He sat passively at Camp David, and he never explained to his people the size of the risk and concessions that Barak was prepared to make. One can accuse Abbas of failing to clarify that point, but Abbas was not the leader at Camp David and anyway it’s absolutely clear today that no Palestinian leader could have signed that agreement — then or now.

Between 2000 and 2008 no agreement was ever presented to Abbas. During the Second Intifada, Abbas, with unprecedented courage, preached against violent resistance and acts of terrorism. It is largely due to his efforts that, since he took over as leader of the Palestinian Authority, Israelis have enjoyed some of the quietest years in the occupied territories. And there have been no suicide bombers. I am not brushing aside the shooting attacks [carried out by Palestinians] in the occupied territories, but look at the numbers. According to the Shin Bet, we haven’t had such a protracted period of quiet in the West Bank since before the First Intifada. But in Israel Abbas gets practically no credit for this achievement. Isn’t this our first and primary demand from the Palestinian Authority — an end to violence?

Even I am tired of writing about Livni and Olmert’s offer. But for those who don’t have the energy to go read my old articles, let me just repeat for the millionth time: Olmert made his super generous offer (and I am not being cynical) when he was already an outgoing prime minister with no political power or legitimacy. President Bush and Condoleeza Rice told him then that no agreement would result from his offer. Even a leftist like me would have objected to the signing of an agreement at that time, given the total lack of political support in Israel. The senior politicians would have rejected the agreement completely. Netanyahu, who at the time was head of the opposition and knew he had a serious chance of being elected prime minister, announced in real time that he would not honor the agreement if it were signed. Livni abstained from mentioning it at all. Bottom line: Even then, Abbas did not get cold feet, was not afraid and did not run away.

The Israelis have not made a single offer since 2008. Perhaps it is time for Lapid, Shavit and Barnea to take a look at the Israeli side of this story. For five years Netanyahu has been saying, “Just give me an opportunity to be alone in a room with him [Abbas] and I’ll surprise you. I want an agreement.” I’ve never doubted for a moment that Netanyahu had absolutely no surprises to offer and that all that talk was just more of his charlatan’s spin. After all, nothing was stopping him from sending an envoy to the Muqata’a in Ramallah to inform Abbas that he, Netanyahu, agreed to sign off on Olmert’s offer. Then we would have been able to see if Abbas really was a coward.

In the end, Abbas submitted to negotiations under the Kerry initiative. He knew he would be manipulated, he knew Netanyahu was not serious, but he thought — at least I’ll obtain the release of some of the political prisoners. For nine months there were negotiations, and guess what: Netanyahu didn’t even make a territorial offer. He wouldn’t offer a map. And he made security demands — that is, Defense Minister Moshe [Boogie] Ya’alon made demands — that were more draconian and more stringent than those made in the past by the very same security establishment. Then Barnea looks at all this and claims that Netanyahu was more generous than in previous rounds of negotiations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech to released Palestinian prisoners, at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 14.  (Photo: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech to released Palestinian prisoners, at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 14. (Photo: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills)

You can claim that the Palestinian demands are excessive, that the State of Israel cannot pay this price, that it presents an untenable threat to its existence. Personally, I think it’s worth the risk because of a million other considerations. But that’s another matter. The thing that we know absolutely for certain is that when the leaders of the Israeli delegation, Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molho, entered the negotiating room, they knew exactly what the Palestinian price was. If they knew they had no intention of meeting that price, then these negotiations have been a fraud from the beginning. When you want to buy an apartment and the owner says the price is $1 million, you don’t offer him half a million. And you definitely don’t try to engage him in a long series of negotiations if he refuses to name his price at all.

The saddest thing is that Tzipi Livni, who until recently was a fairly decent politician, knew in 2011 how to call out Netanyahu for his response to negotiations with the Palestinians. But today she is, embarrassingly, trumpeting Netanyahu’s line.

Related:
Ari Shavit and the failure of the Kerry process
Israel suspends talks, and Washington’s hypocrisy on Hamas

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Selective prosecution: In Israel, not all citizens are created equal http://972mag.com/in-israel-not-all-citizens-are-created-equal-on-selective-prosecution/89824/ http://972mag.com/in-israel-not-all-citizens-are-created-equal-on-selective-prosecution/89824/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 18:41:47 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89824 What does it say about a democracy when a law is enforced selectively in order to further a political or personal vendetta against a private citizen?

Illustrative photo of an interrogation room (Photo by Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of an interrogation room (Photo by Shutterstock.com)

In Israel there is something called the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which prohibits citizens from traveling to a list of so-called “enemy states.” The law is little known and almost never enforced. In fact, it is common and widely accepted practice for Israeli businesspeople and journalists with additional citizenship to travel to “enemy” countries using their alternate passports. Some journalists, like Channel 2′s Itay Anghel, are famous for having used alternate passports to report from places like Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, Syria. They are regarded as intrepid reporters who bring valuable insight to Israeli news consumers.

I only learned about the law’s existence when the police accused me, during an interrogation that took place in November 2007, of having violated it when I traveled to Beirut, where I reported for Israel’s Channel 10 one year after the July 2006 war.

It is not pleasant to be interrogated by the police. At the time I felt angry and also vulnerable, because I was a freelancer without the protection of familial ties in Israel. But in retrospect the interrogation itself was not really traumatic. Two plainclothes detectives, who I suppose were low level Shin Bet officers, gave me coffee and asked me some not particularly intelligent questions for three hours or so, while one of them painstakingly pecked out my responses on a computer keyboard, using his two index fingers. A couple of weeks after the interrogation one of the officers informed Israel Radio that I was under investigation, which was the lead story for a few hours or maybe a day. At the shuk, the guy I bought peppers and tomatoes from yelled that I was a troublemaker who had endangered the state’s security. So I bought my vegetables from another seller, the story eventually died and I heard nothing further from the authorities.

Going into the interrogation, I did not understand why I had been singled out. But about an hour into the questions, one of the officers showed me a letter from Danny Seaman, then director of the Government Press Office. He had sent the police a DVD recording of my Channel 10 report, together with a letter outlining the Law Against Infiltration. A year earlier, I had filed a formal complaint against Seaman with the Civil Service Commission. I accused him of using threatening and abusive language against me, and of pursuing personal vendettas against qualified journalists by withholding their press credentials. That is how I came to understand that this law against infiltration had been dusted off and was being used indirectly by a senior civil servant who was pursuing a vendetta against me.

Flags and masks of Lebanese politicians at a Beirut shop, 2007 (Lisa Goldman)

Flags and masks of Lebanese politicians at a Beirut shop, 2007 (Lisa Goldman)

This week, a 24 year-old Palestinian-Arab citizen of Israel named Majd Kayyal was accused of breaking the same law. Like me, Kayyal traveled to Beirut. He attended a journalism conference sponsored by As-Safir, a veteran Lebanese publication for which he is a contributing writer. But unlike me, Kayyal did not receive a summons to visit the police station four months after his trip. He was not given coffee and questioned for a few hours in a well lit room with an open window, before being allowed to return home. Kayyal was arrested immediately upon landing. He spent five days in a windowless cell, without a bed, the overhead light kept on ’round the clock so that he would lose his sense of time. He was interrogated aggressively and not allowed to see his lawyer. He was accused of having made contact with enemy agents, and with having violated the Law to Prevent Infiltration, but his lawyers were not allowed to be present during the initial court hearing. And a judge granted the Shin Bet’s request for a gag order, so the media did not report on the arrest either.

Today (Thursday), Kayyal was released on bail. The charge of contact with an enemy agent was dropped, but he is still accused of having violated the Law to Prevent Infiltration. In other words, a law that is not enforced at all against prominent, male Jewish Israeli journalists and only used slightly to intimidate a female Jewish freelancer who is an immigrant without any real connections, is enforced to the fullest, cruelest extent against a native-born Israeli citizen who happens to be a Palestinian Arab.

Kayyal is a political activist. He participated in one of the attempts to break the Israeli army’s blockade of Gaza by boat. He is the editor of the website for Adalah, a NGO that works to protect the legal rights of Arab minority citizens of Israel. Last week he traveled openly to Beirut, writing about his trip in Arabic for the website Jadaliyya. In other word he pissed off the security establishment, which dislikes dissent in general — but particularly dissent from Arabs. And because Kayyal’s activism and his ethnicity frighten those who regard “Arab Israelis” as a potential fifth column, most Israeli Jews will accept the Shin Bet’s claim that he represents a security risk, despite the lack of evidence to support this claim. They will turn a blind eye to the fact that Kayyal was denied his legal right to see an attorney. They will somehow justify his having been thrown into a windowless cell and interrogated for five days, even though the only law he is accused of breaking is the one Jewish Israelis violate with impunity, on a regular basis. They will forget that he is a citizen, who is supposed to have the same rights as they. Because in Israel, not all citizens are created equal.

Every Israeli high school graduate knows what happened in 20th century Europe when laws were enforced selectively based on a citizen’s ethnicity or religion. They know this is wrong and anti-democratic. But somehow when it comes to current events in their own country, they can’t connect the dots.

Read more:
Arab journalist freed after being held incommunicado by Israel
Israel’s double standard on cross-border loyalties

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On the collapse of the Kerry talks: The ‘outrageous hypocrisy’ of Tzipi Livni & Yair Lapid http://972mag.com/on-the-collapse-of-the-kerry-talks-the-outrageous-hypocrisy-of-tzipi-livni-yair-lapid/89316/ http://972mag.com/on-the-collapse-of-the-kerry-talks-the-outrageous-hypocrisy-of-tzipi-livni-yair-lapid/89316/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 18:41:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89316 Raviv Drucker is a prominent Israeli journalist and political analyst with his own program (co-hosted) on Channel 10 News. He’s one of my favorites, because he’s supremely well informed, doesn’t suffer fools (gladly or otherwise) and back in the day was generous with his knowledge toward novice journalists who speak Hebrew with a weird accent (could be me; I’m not saying…). Below is the blog post he published on Friday in response to the claim, put out by Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, that the (still unofficial) collapse of the Kerry-sponsored talks is all the fault of  Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. The tone here is one of sarcasm, rage, and deep sadness. A note on the translation: Israeli journalists generally refer to Abbas as Abu Mazen, which is his kunya.  (Translated with permission of the author.)

Raviv Drucker reporting from Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Israel's Channel 10 (screenshot by Lisa Goldman, 2010)

Raviv Drucker reporting from Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Israel’s Channel 10 (screenshot by Lisa Goldman, 2010)

Yair Lapid issued a statement: Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is the one at fault. He made a demand that was completely beyond the realm of acceptability. Israel is committed to the diplomatic process — of course we’re committed — but there is no way to make peace with a man like Abu Mazen. The people in Tzipi Livni’s inner circle are also saying that Netanyahu came a long way [in these negotiations] and Livni is angry — really boiling mad — at Abu Mazen for blowing the whole thing up.

These two representatives of the governing coalition’s so-called peace camp have set a new record in hypocrisy and revulsion. Their spin and self-delusion are nauseating, and are for only one purpose — strengthening their positions in the government. And the Israeli public will pay a heavy price for their venality. Ehud Barak could learn a thing or two from these novice politicians.

Just a few facts — not that facts are of any particular interest to Livni or Lapid. Israel blatantly and flagrantly violated the terms of agreement with the Palestinians. Upon entering these negotiations, the Palestinians agreed to shelve two of their three conditions (withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries and a freeze on settlement building). In return, the delighted Netanyahu committed “only” to the release of Palestinian prisoners. And then he simply did not release the fourth round of prisoners. Why? Just because. Because he felt like it. Instead, he decided that he had a condition: Abu Mazen should commit to keeping the negotiations going. Did you hear Livni and Lapid, the Knights of the Diplomatic Process, say anything about this flagrant violation of the agreement? Nope. That might have caused tension between them and Netanyahu. Heaven forbid. And then Abu Mazen “blew everything up” by submitting requests to join 15 international organizations under the auspices of the UN. Wow, what a painful violation. Once upon a time the Palestinian Authority was held responsible for releasing terrorists, or for turning a blind eye to information about terror attacks. Now their terrible violation is submitting requests to join international organizations. What a catastrophe. It’s a good thing we have 200 atom bombs to protect us from this threat to our existence.

Livni is not angry at Netanyahu for making a joke out of the negotiations, or for being responsible for more settlement growth than at any time in the history of the occupation. Lapid is not “boiling mad” because Israel suddenly made its security demands so onerous that it was impossible for Abu Mazen to meet them. Livni has nothing to say to the Israeli public about the fact that for eight months Netanyahu has prevented her from presenting a map of the negotiations, which have not progressed one centimeter. All that matters is keeping her seat as Minister of Justice while telling us with a straight face that the only reason she stays in politics is for the sake of the diplomatic process.

It’s all so depressing.

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Ariel Sharon and my political education http://972mag.com/ariel-sharon-and-my-political-education/85553/ http://972mag.com/ariel-sharon-and-my-political-education/85553/#comments Sun, 12 Jan 2014 07:35:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=85553 For Lisa Goldman, the memory of Ariel Sharon evokes images of civilian massacres, suicide bombings, bloody curfews and a political shift in Israeli society to the right. 

Screenshot of Ariel Sharon from the animated Israeli film “Waltz With Bashir.”

My earliest memory of Ariel Sharon involves vivid color photographs of corpses. I was just waking up to the world and intensely interested in current affairs, so I spent quite a bit of time in the library of my quiet, Canadian all girls’ school, thumbing through newsmagazines like Newsweek, Time and Life. Which is how I learned about the massacre of of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila and saw those gut-churning images of sprawled, bloated, bloody bodies — piles of them. Men and women. Children.

More than three decades later, it is those photographs that flicker automatically across my inner movie screen in response to any mention of Ariel Sharon’s name. Not the famous black-and-white photograph of General Sharon with his bandaged head after he was wounded on a Sinai battlefield during the 1973 war. And not the later image of the warrior turned farmer, with a sheep slung over his shoulders. For me he was primarily a war criminal. I do not celebrate his death, but I don’t mourn him either.

I was educated — at my Jewish elementary school, at summer camp and at synagogue — to think of the State of Israel as a special, better place. Sabra and Shatila forced me to question that perception. In a way, Ariel Sharon hovered over every watershed event in the evolution of my political views, from 1982 to 2005. That includes reading as an undergraduate about the Qibya Massacre that he led in 1953, when he and his soldiers killed 69 Palestinian villagers, primarily women and children.

At the Friday night dinner table in September 1982 my stepfather, who had a subscription to Commentary Magazine, told me sharply that it wasn’t the Israelis who killed the Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila. It was the Christian Lebanese. The subtext: Christians were killing Muslims and everyone was trying to blame the Jews, as usual. This was the received narrative, as far as I remember, among mainstream Jews in the diaspora communities.

In Israel the popular view was somewhat different. The government-appointed Kahan Commission, charged with investigating the massacre, wrote in their report that Sharon, then minister of defense, bore personal responsibility for what had happened. In response to that report, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated in central Tel Aviv to demand his resignation. After that Sharon was a pariah for many years, which seemed like the proper fate for a murderer-by-proxy. But in Israel disgraced public figures have a talent for resurrecting themselves from the presumed dead, particularly when they have a sixth sense for populist sentiment. Sharon was the champion of that game.

I was living in Tel Aviv in 2000 when, surrounded by body guards, Sharon stood in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, the golden edifice that is probably the most prominent visual symbol of Palestinian nationhood, and told the assembled media representatives that this place would always be under Israeli control. That incident was a populist tour de force. Then-prime minister Ehud Barak had just returned from the failed Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat and announced that there was “no partner” for peace. He offered no alternative plan to the already shaky Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, no leader or analyst had managed to assuage popular fears that the Jewish holy sites of the Old City — like the Western Wall and the Temple Mount — would become inaccessible to Israelis if East Jerusalem were the capital of a future Palestinian state. Sharon played to those fears. He also added weight to the concerns of Palestinians who suspected that Israel had no intention of withdrawing from the occupied territories, ever.

The Second Intifada, also called the Al Aqsa Intifada, began the following day, with violent clashes in the Old City that soon spread to the rest of the West Bank. Things were falling apart at such a rapid pace that I hardly ever turned off the television, lest I miss yet another news bulletin about a siege or a bombing. One week the news presenters were talking about peace in the Middle East and driving to Damascus for lunch; and the next they were live broadcasting the lynching of two reserve soldiers who lost their way while driving in the West Bank.

It would be shallow and inaccurate to blame any one person for the disastrous events of the following months and years. All the players were short sighted, self serving and mendacious — Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak, the army generals, the PLO leadership and the ambulance-chasing media with their three-inch, red font headlines. But I could not accept that out of all that mess of suicide bombings, army incursions and political collapse, the result was the 2001 election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister. Even more disturbing: that many of my liberal friends were somehow relieved. Because “at least he was a leader” and because he was a military man, the hero of the 1973 war, and in Israel the number one concern is always security. And so, while many of my friends’ opinions shifted rightward, mine began to move in the opposite direction.

For awhile in 2001-2, there was a suicide bombing nearly every day. People were getting blown up while sitting in a cafe, traveling on a bus, shopping for groceries or dancing in a club. The randomness was discombobulating and the fear was pervasive. On more than one occasion I was at home in my apartment when there was another window-rattling explosion, followed by the nearly immediate wail of sirens from what often sounded like every emergency vehicle in Tel Aviv approaching from six different directions. Civilians were dying every day, but Sharon remained a popular prime minister. A warrior.

Sharon’s response to the bombings was to have the army re-invade the West Bank. Tanks rolled into Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and Bethlehem. Heavy weapons were fired into densely populated civilian areas. The Hebrew media reported the deaths of many nameless Palestinian civilians, often omitting or glossing over the circumstances. Houses were crushed and people lived for days under curfew, without water or electricity.

One of my most vivid memories of that time is of sitting at an outdoor cafe on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv as a taxi driver passed by, his radio broadcasting a report about the army’s actions in Ramallah. As he listened, the driver pumped his fist out the window and yelled, “Give it to them, Sharon! Give it to them hard!”

Three years later, sitting in a Ramallah cafe with a Palestinian colleague, I listened as she told me about watching her fiance die from an Israeli bullet that hit him in the abdomen, and about a mutual acquaintance who was prevented by the army from attending his mother’s funeral.

So Sharon “gave it to them.” And he started building the wall/fence/barrier that so many people credit with preventing suicide bombers. Never mind that correlation is not the same as causality. Or that the barrier is porous and was never finished. Or, ethically speaking, that it dug deep into the West Bank, gobbled up Palestinian land, destroyed their livelihoods and made their homes into prisons. It made Israelis feel safer.

During this time, Sharon was dogged by widely reported corruption scandals involving kickbacks and ill-acquired campaign funding. But somehow he evaded prosecution. Or his son Omri took the fall, resigning his Knesset seat and serving nine months in jail.

And then in 2003 Sharon announced the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli settlements and the army from Gaza, which he scheduled for the summer of 2005. For this, the godfather of the settlement movement was credited with being a visionary leader who had seen the light. He had come to understand that the settlements were unsustainable and was willing to undertake the politically risky, unpopular but necessary job of dismantling them.

But in an interview with Ari Shavit for Haaretz, Dov Weissglass, one of Sharon’s closest advisors, said explicitly that the point of withdrawing from the relatively insignificant settlements, where only about 7,000 Israelis lived, was to consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank. Weissglass’s assertion has not been absorbed into the popular narrative.

For the Palestinians, Gaza became an open air prison after the withdrawal of 2005. The Israeli army continues to control the sea and the border crossings. They decide who and what may enter or leave the territory. Army drones hover overhead, keeping track of movement below. People with family members in the West Bank are almost never allowed to visit them; nor are residents of the West Bank allowed to visit Gaza.

The former settlers, meanwhile, have not succeeded in rebuilding their lives. More than eight years after the disengagement, they still suffer from depression and various related illnesses, and complain that they were not adequately compensated for their homes and lost income. Their children feel betrayed by the state; they are angry and radicalized. When I spoke to them in Gaza back in 2005, they scared me with their violent racism and their hyper nationalism. They still scare me. And they should scare you, too.

Related:
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dies at 85
When Sharon was great 

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Film review: A documentary explores Israeli attitudes to the Nakba http://972mag.com/film-review-a-documentary-explores-israeli-attitudes-to-the-nakba/82584/ http://972mag.com/film-review-a-documentary-explores-israeli-attitudes-to-the-nakba/82584/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 23:00:51 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=82584 The eponymous scene of On the Side of the Road, a documentary that explores Israeli attitudes toward the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, occurs midway through the film on an unpaved road just outside the West Bank settlement of Ariel. Interrupted by a curious Israeli family out for a pastoral drive, director Lia Tarachansky stops to answer their questions about what she is filming (“what TV channel will it be on?”). As they drive on, the children waving and smiling their good byes, Tarachansky stands alone on the side of the road and suddenly bursts into tears. “I mean, everyone I love is here,” she weeps, as she faces the sprawling settlement. “You know?”

Tarachansky, a journalist who works for The Real News, was raised from the age of six in Ariel, one of the largest settlements on the West Bank. Standing on that quiet stretch of road, surrounded by Palestinian villages, she says, “This is where I am from. I don’t know anything else.” Both statements are heartfelt, but neither is completely true. Tarachansky was born in Kiev, in the former Soviet Union, but raised from the age of six in Ariel. Like most Israeli children she learned nothing in school about the Nakba, or catastrophe— the Arabic name for the dispossession and exile of the Palestinian people in 1948.

Reading Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine as a young adult “was my first encounter with this history,” she said in an interview conducted via Skype.

Still image from the documentary “Standing by the Side of the Road”

Her search for more information led her to the Israeli NGO Zochrot, which documents destroyed Palestinian villages and towns in an effort to raise awareness of the dispossession of 1948. Ultimately, she decided to make a documentary film about the subject, and how it is viewed by Israeli society. Today she lives in Jaffa, and is deeply immersed in the activist community. But what she is saying and showing in this scene outside Ariel is that the community in which she is rooted is the one that nurtured her and which she still loves, even though the divergence in their political views has now left her marginalized from mainstream Israeli society—and thus metaphorically “on the side of the road.” Asking questions about the Nakba is the biggest taboo in Israeli Jewish society.

The film’s opening scenes occur in Tel Aviv, on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day. People are dancing to live music in Rabin Square and spraying one another with foam while fireworks light up the sky. Meanwhile, at the Zochrot office just off the square, a group of volunteers are preparing to go out with posters to raise awareness of the Nakba Law. Passed by the Knesset in 2011, the law grants the government the authority to impose severe financial penalties on any publicly-funded organization that marks Independence Day as a day of mourning. Not everyone on the street is overtly hostile to the Zochrot volunteers with their posters, but those who are express their rage with extreme language. One woman, who describes herself as the child of survivors who lost three brothers during the Holocaust, says proudly to an activist, “I am a racist. I don’t want Arabs here and I don’t want you here, either.” Ultimately, the police step in and call a halt to Zochrot’s activism, claiming they are causing a provocation that amounts to disturbing the peace.

One of the interesting and impressive aspects of this scene in particular, and the entire film in general, is that Tarachansky manages to show an upsetting reality without dehumanizing the people she interviews and films. It is clear that she identifies or empathizes more with some of her interview subjects than others, but she maintains a detached compassion for everyone.

The question Tarachansky explores in the film is how Israelis respond to the subject of the Nakba. Israelis are surrounded by the ghosts of that great Palestinian dispossession—for example the weed-choked ruins of villages like Lifta, its half-crumbled homes picturesquely clutching the hills just outside of Jerusalem. In interviews with former Palmach fighters of the ’48 war like Tikva Honig Parnass, who became an anti-Zionist activist in the 1960s, and Amnon Noiman, now active in Zochrot, the two veteran Israelis speak openly about the shocking experience of becoming aware of memories they had repressed—of villages they had helped destroy and civilians they had seen killed. Honig Parnass recalls her astonishment upon realizing that she had for years completely forgotten wandering through an abandoned village where the dishes were still on the table.

Tarachansky, too, remembers her own shock when she heard the Muslim call for prayer from the mosques in the villages around Ariel. She had grown up in Ariel, but only after she spent some years away from the place, during which she became aware of the Nakba, did she really notice her surroundings.

“To understand denial,” explained Tarachansky, “You need to understand dehumanization. If you look at every place where there was a mass dispossession, there was first a massive campaign of dehumanization. The Zionists were no different in this sense. It wasn’t the Holocaust survivors who planned the dispossession. They came into a situation that was pre-determined long before. There’s no way they would have been expelling if they hadn’t planned for it.”

But Tarachansky’s goal is not to blame or even to teach. It is just to examine and narrate.

“I don’t think I’m some enlightened being. This place does not fit into any kind of black and white prescription, even though there are some elements that resemble apartheid and totalitarianism, Weimar and the Soviet Union. But there is no one category that it falls into. The Israeli nationalist narrative has been so speeded up by the trauma of the Holocaust and the government’s campaign that besides being destructive it’s also fascinating. But I am an Israeli and I love this place and its people.”

Will the film change minds? “I don’t know,” she answered. “There has never been an Israeli film that connects 1948 to 1967 and the stories of Israelis and settlers and Palestinians. In that sense it’s a unique film. I personally don’t think it’s a radical film. But in Israel today talking about equality and historical justice is very radical.

On the Side of the Road” will have its premier screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Thursday evening at 6 p.m., under the auspices of Zochrot’s  International Film Festival on Nakba and Return.

This review is cross-posted from the Daily Beast’s Open Zion.

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Book review: ‘What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?’ http://972mag.com/book-review-what-do-you-buy-the-children-of-the-terrorist-who-tried-to-kill-your-wife/78911/ http://972mag.com/book-review-what-do-you-buy-the-children-of-the-terrorist-who-tried-to-kill-your-wife/78911/#comments Sun, 15 Sep 2013 16:54:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=78911 NEW YORK– Twelve years ago, David Harris-Gershon’s young wife, Jamie, was having lunch at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Frank Sinatra cafeteria when a remote controlled bomb exploded near their table, killing two of their friends. All told, the bomb killed nine people and injured about 100. Harris-Gerson was at home when an acquaintance called to inform him that Jamie had been “lightly injured.” He should come to the hospital, the acquaintance said laconically.

Panicked, the young American careened in a taxi to Hadassah Hospital, the initially recalcitrant driver circumventing roadblocks after he learns that his passenger’s wife is amongst those wounded in the bombing. Upon arriving at the emergency room, he discovers that “lightly injured” means, in Jamie’s case, a familiar face that has been rendered unrecognizable. She had second-and- third degree burns over 30 percent of her body, and internal injuries that required emergency surgery, followed by more surgeries for skin grafts.

This is the central event in Harris-Gershon’s memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? It is a story about how a great personal trauma can lead to a personal journey that upends long-held beliefs and ideas. The terrific thing about this book is that the author manages to tell his story without sentimentality, grandiose pronouncements, or false humility. He pulls the reader in with his unpretentious, laconic style, and with his refusal to shy away from acknowledging his own flaws.

David Harrison-Gershon (credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The first half of the book, roughly 140 pages, is about the physical wounds that healed and the psychic wounds that did not. It is also about two normative American Jews who grew up in a liberal suburban milieu, met at a university Hillel event, married and, searching for a deeper understanding of their identities, came to Jerusalem to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. The second half is about the author’s search for reconciliation and psychic healing, culminating in a meeting in the East Jerusalem home of the family of the man who had planted the bomb that nearly killed his wife.

The story of meeting, falling in love with and marrying his wife frames Harris-Gershon’s vivid, urgent descriptions of the guilt, rage and grief he feels as he watches Jamie endure her excruciatingly painful recovery in Jerusalem. “I would stand guard outside Jamie’s room and listen to her wail,” he writes in the first half of his memoir, as the nurses unwound her bandages, took her to the shower, scrubbed her third-degree burns and applied an alcohol-based antiseptic—twice a day. When she was returned to her bed, he writes, her body would convulse spontaneously as an effect from the pain. These passages were written a decade after the event, but convey a very immediate sense of the author’s trauma. As does his rage at those who wanted a piece of his grief, like visiting American Jews on an Israel-advocacy tour who appear at the hospital unannounced (he throws them out), or the landlady who offers sentimental cliches that mimic genuine grief.

During this time, Harris-Gershon discovers that prayer is no longer a comfort. Instead, he “prayed to pass the time.” So he continued each morning to wind the straps of his phylacteries around his arm, drape himself in his prayer shawl and face east for shacharit. As he mouthed “words of praise that [he] couldn’t believe,” he could hear the azhan, the Muslim call to prayer, as it “echoed from a nearby hill.” Later, as he searches for reconciliation, the peripheral awareness of the Palestinians amongst whom he lived becomes central.

Jamie’s physical wounds heal within a few months, but the psychic trauma takes much longer. After her release from the hospital, she cannot walk the streets of Jerusalem without flinching at every perceived danger—a municipal bus that might explode, for example. Life in the holy city has become unsustainable for the couple, so they return to the United States and build a life there.

But even as Jamie actively seeks emotional recovery, Harris-Gershon becomes increasingly disturbed. He suffers from insomnia and panic attacks, bursts of rage and survivor’s guilt. Writing becomes a healing tool. Which is how he came, with his wife’s encouragement, to write this memoir about his own journey to a closure that he describes, at the end of the book, in a rush of vivid prose.

The catalyst for the journey to reconciliation is Harris-Gershon’s discovery that Mohammad Odeh, the now-jailed man responsible for planting the bomb in the cafeteria, was the only member of his Hamas cell to express remorse to his Israeli interrogators. The terrorist had a name, and he had told Israeli investigators that he was sorry for what he had done. He is, realizes Harris-Gershon, a human being. Not a nameless monster. It takes him some time to digest this idea. He emphasizes several times that recognizing the humanity of the terrorist does not mean he accepts the context of his crime. But he is intrigued and he feels instinctively that restorative justice, which post-apartheid South Africa pioneered with its truth and reconciliation committees, is a way for him to gain some closure and healing.

As he delves deeper into the research that leads to his trip back to Israel and his meeting with Odeh’s family in East Jerusalem, Harris-Gershon finds that his generally progressive views clash with the ideas he had absorbed and been taught about Palestinians. Reading information on the websites of Israeli human rights NGOs like B’Tselem, he realizes that “there was a time…when I would have viewed such organizations as anti-Israel, anti-Semitic.” He had not, he muses, seen “Palestinians as human—they taught their children to champion martyrdom and spilled blood joyfully…” This leads to a re-examination of the historical narrative he had been taught, and to considering for the first time the Palestinian narrative as well. He is very aware of the supreme irony: He has come to consider Palestinian humanity because he was directly affected by Palestinian terror.

Harris-Gershon’s inner journey leads to his physical journey back to Jerusalem, where he ultimately meets with the family of Muhammad Odeh after his repeated requests to visit the jailed bomber are stonewalled by the Israeli prison authorities. Many people, from a taxi driver who says he “knows the Palestinians better than they know themselves,” to prominent reconciliation activists like Robi Damelin of The Forgiveness Project, repeatedly warn him against meeting the family. There could be a horrible confrontation, they say. Political anger. Physical violence. Who knows?

Harris-Gershon listens to everyone, but continues to follow his own instincts. Which means carrying out his intention to meet with the family of Mohammad Odeh, despite the fears that he does not shy away from describing.

The meeting with the family comes at the very end of the book. It is somewhat anti-climactic in its lack of drama, yet also deeply moving in its completely matter-of-fact description of ordinary human beings connecting over glasses of tea and affection for children. It is easy to picture the scene, as Odeh offspring tumble about playing with a plastic ball found in Harris-Gershon’s bag, and the adults smile over photos of his two little girls.

I won’t be giving anything away by quoting an excerpt that comes at the very end:

Reconciliation. It had happened, to some degree. And in happening, had impressed upon me the force of restorative dialogue. Its capacity for release, for unclogging the synaptic pores and letting loose all the filth which was contained within.

This is a deeply felt book. It is also not without its flaws. The transliterated Hebrew terms sprinkled here and there are often incorrect, or the pronunciation badly rendered. The device of reconstructing internal dialogues sometimes feels a bit forced or superfluous. Occasionally, I found myself skimming those italicized “Me and I” conversations. But these are minor quibbles that do not detract from an engaging reading experience that had me carrying the book with me everywhere I went until I had read the last page, and then flipping back to re-read several sections.

David Harris-Gershon’s memoir might unsettle some, because his background is so recognizable and familiar, while the journey he chooses to take is so radical. But his unpretentious approach makes it accessible and real, and his insistence on listening to his own instincts is a salutary lesson in how to live one’s life. For these and many other reasons, this is a particularly valuable story. One can only hope that it will be widely read.

This is an extended version of my review that was originally published on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion

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