+972 Magazine » Mairav Zonszein http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sun, 01 May 2016 09:49:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 For most Israelis, Palestinian lives don’t matter http://972mag.com/for-most-israelis-palestinian-lives-simply-dont-matter/118945/ http://972mag.com/for-most-israelis-palestinian-lives-simply-dont-matter/118945/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 11:31:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118945 A 24-year-old Palestinian and her teenage brother were shot and killed by Israeli troops after allegedly trying to stab Border Police officers. The police’s version of the events doesn’t add up, but nobody in Israel, including the media, feels the need to ask questions. 

Qalandia checkpoint, where X and her 16-year-old brother Y were killed on Wednesday. (Activestills)

Qalandia checkpoint, where Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail and her 16-year-old brother Ibrahim Salah Taha were killed on Wednesday. (Activestills)

The facts are still unclear, in fact very unclear: the exact number of knives found, the number of bullets shot, the number of meters distance, why exactly they were there. But even if we accept Israel Police’s highly terse account of the events, we are still left with a bottom line: Two Palestinians, Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail, 24, and her younger brother Ibrahim Salah Taha, 16, were shot and killed on the spot by Israeli forces at the Qalandiya checkpoint on Wednesday, while posing no immediate threat to anyone. Even if we accept the police version that the woman attempted to stab them, there is still no justification for shooting the teenager, who the police themselves claim was not brandishing a weapon or close enough to present a threat.

We also know that Israeli mainstream media barely covered the story, didn’t send any reporters to gather eyewitness testimonies and didn’t speak to any Palestinians. A Haaretz report mentions that Palestinians claim that “Israeli forces fired numerous bullets at the two and prevented medics from treating them.” Of course, whether and when medics were able to treat the victims shouldn’t be a matter of Palestinian claims. There are plenty of cameras at what is the busiest checkpoint in the West Bank, there is video footage, probably from several angles. The footage should clarify this, and other aspects that are not a matter of opinion. But Israel Police has not yet released any footage. According to a report in Local Call, police have in the past been quick to release video footage – when it corroborates their version of the events.

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According to Israel Police spokesperson Luba al-Samri, two suspects – a woman and a youth – approached the vehicular path (instead of the pedestrian path) leading through the military checkpoint and walked towards Border Police officers stationed there, the woman with her hand in her bag and the youth with his hands behind his back. Officers ordered them to halt several times and they began to turn back before the woman threw a knife at an officer. Police and security guards then shot the two, killing them both. The police didn’t specify this but most reports cite that the siblings were 20 meters away from the forces, and they were positioned inside a cement sentry box.

These events didn’t even make it into the evening news in Israel Wednesday night. Except for Joint List MK Dov Khenin, no Israeli politician has expressed dismay or called on the police to release the footage or open an investigation. There hasn’t been any questioning of what the hell happened there. Rather, there has been deafening silence. It’s almost as if it didn’t happen.

There have been numerous similar incidents over the last half a year where Israel has justified the shooting of Palestinian assailants or alleged assailants and Palestinians have insisted it was murder in cold blood.

But this incident, whose factual information still needs to be exposed and reported, strikes me as unique due particularly to the way it was (not) covered in Israeli media and the fact that it was such a brief story that just disappeared.

It’s no surprise that most Israelis generally take the authorities’ version of events at face value, but this time the version of the events isn’t even convincing. And yet no one feels the need to ask questions. No one cares that a 16-year-old kid was shot dead without cause. In the Israeli narrative, the facts don’t seem to make a difference anymore (maybe they never did).

As the incident of IDF soldier Elor Azaria executing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron demonstrated, even when there is clear documentation of a crime – in that case an execution in broad daylight – there is still a groundswell of Israeli support for the army and state authorities that finds a way around the facts. As Orly Noy pointed out at the time

The number of people who are willing to justify the murder without batting an eyelash is stunning. Our collective moral compass has become so fundamentally twisted that even the most decent of people, those who are not considered extremists, believe that there is nothing wrong with shooting a man as he lies dying on the ground, while finding any way to excuse the act — including claiming that the Palestinian may have been armed with a suicide belt.

In that case, the facts were played around with a little to justify the soldier’s actions, but in the case in Qalandiya on Wednesday, there doesn’t even seem to be a bending of the facts. There is no need to try and justify anything. It doesn’t even matter anymore what exactly happened. In the permanent situation of occupier and occupied, oppressor and resistant, it’s just par for the course.

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In Israel, BDS is winning http://972mag.com/in-israel-bds-is-winning/118198/ http://972mag.com/in-israel-bds-is-winning/118198/#comments Mon, 28 Mar 2016 20:47:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118198 The first ever anti-BDS conference in Israel brought together politicians of all stripes to show their commitment to the fight against boycotts. In doing so, however, they showed just how effective the boycott movement really is.

President Reuven Rivlin is interviewed during Yedioth Ahronoth's Stop BDS conference, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

President Reuven Rivlin is interviewed during Yedioth Ahronoth’s Stop BDS conference, Jerusalem, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel’s best selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, and its online platform Ynet, hosted a conference Monday in Jerusalem’s Convention Center dedicated entirely to combatting the BDS movement. The very existence of the spectacle — the first national conference of its kind co-sponsored by StandWithUs and attended by over a thousand people — gave BDS (short for boycott, divestment, and sanctions) more attention in Israel than it could have ever hoped for.

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It was a tell-tale sign that the global movement to boycott Israel has become significant enough to warrant such an event, whose speakers included President Reuven Rivlin, senior Knesset ministers, members of the opposition, World Jewish Congress head Ron Lauder and comedian Roseanne Barr. (There were, of course, no speakers at the conference who represent or support BDS).

The cognitive dissonance became clear the moment the conference began. Yedioth Ahronoth Editor-in-Chief Ron Yaron told the crowd that the power of BDS cannot be underestimated, and that Israel does not want to find itself in the position Apartheid South Africa was in 5 t0 10 years’ time. Yaron immediately caveated that there is no connection between Israel and South Africa. Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who oversees government efforts at combating BDS, opened by saying that people should not “overemphasize” BDS.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Yedioth Ahronoth's Stop BDS conference, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Yedioth Ahronoth’s Stop BDS conference, Jerusalem, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Speaker after speaker stepped up to the podium and said, in the same breath, that although BDS is succeeding, it is not a success; that it is not a threat but must be taken as a serious threat; that it has not negatively impacted Israel’s economy but that Israel must allocate more of its budget to fighting it. Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said (Heb) that Israel should engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence, intentionally using language that plays on the Hebrew term for “targeted assassinations.” Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, said that it is really trendy these days to “be vegan and hate on Israel.” At one point, World Jewish Congress head Ron Lauder compared efforts at implementing economic boycotts of Israel to the Nuremberg Laws, while Roseanne Barr, the keynote speaker of the conference, called the BDS movement “fake-left” and “fascist.”

While the BDS movement and its most dominant spokesperson, Omar Barghouti, were the main target of the conference (Barghouti came up several times when speakers described the Israeli government’s recent efforts to revoke his permanent residency status), speakers also went after Israeli human rights groups for allegedly aiding BDS efforts.

Anti-BDS posters adorn the walls of the Jerusalem Convention Center during the first ever conference to combat BDS in Israel, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Anti-BDS posters adorn the walls of the Jerusalem Convention Center during the first ever conference to combat BDS in Israel, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Within the first hour of the conference, President Reuven Rivlin was asked whether Breaking the Silence is a legitimate organization, since it takes “anonymous testimonies” given by Israeli soldiers and presents them abroad. Rivlin replied that it is important to distinguish between “legitimate criticism” and “incitement,” adding that criticism must remain internal. Yedioth columnist Ben Dror Yemini boasted about how proud he is to live in a democratic country where free speech is so sanctified that it even makes room for those who support BDS (he failed to mention that there is now a law on the book that penalizes Israelis who call for boycotts).

The word occupation wasn’t mentioned once at the conference — although many speakers stridently defended Israeli democracy against claims that Israel is an undemocratic or apartheid state. The fact that the question of Israel’s democratic character is brought up at all is a sign of the inculcation of the language of BDS into Israeli discourse.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni is interviewed during Yedioth Ahronoth's Stop BDS conference, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni is interviewed during Yedioth Ahronoth’s Stop BDS conference, Jerusalem, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

BDS, as a multi-pronged movement with many activists and groups claiming to speak on its behalf, is of course not above criticism. As recently pointed out here, the movement could do far better when it comes to distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate acts of boycott, and specifically distancing itself from anti-Semitism, as distinct from anti- or non-Zionism.

No matter how much the speakers tried to downplay its importance, the fact is that Monday’s conference was a clear admission that Israeli politicians, journalists, security experts, businesspeople, and lay leaders feel compelled to do something about the damage — to Israel’s economy and image — that the BDS movement is creating.

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VIDEO: Israeli soldier executes unarmed, wounded Palestinian attacker http://972mag.com/video-israeli-soldier-executes-wounded-palestinian-in-hebron/118093/ http://972mag.com/video-israeli-soldier-executes-wounded-palestinian-in-hebron/118093/#comments Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:43:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118093 Maybe even worse than the murder itself is the fact that no one in the vicinity seems at all moved by it.

WARNING: This post contains a highly graphic video and images.

An IDF soldier is seen seconds before shooting a wounded Palestinian man in the head. (Screenshot/B’Tselem)

An IDF soldier is seen seconds before shooting a wounded Palestinian man in the head. (Screenshot/B’Tselem)

An IDF soldier was filmed shooting a Palestinian in the head at close range in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of occupied Hebron Thursday, after he and another Palestinian reportedly stabbed a different soldier, lightly wounding him.

Most Israeli media outlets initially went with the usual headline, “Soldier stabbed, assailants killed.” A few hours later, however, video of the incident was released showing that the Palestinian man was already shot and lying on the ground wounded, presenting absolutely no threat to anyone at the time he was shot in the head, murdered.

The video was captured by local Palestinian resident Emad abu-Shamsiyah and distributed by B’Tselem.

Minutes earlier, before the start of the video, the two young Palestinian men, Abed al Fatah a-Sharif and Ramzi al-Qasrawi, reportedly stabbed a soldier in the Hebron neighborhood. They were shot in the aftermath of the stabbing.

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In the video, which begins only after the stabbing already took place, an Israeli soldier can be seen shooting the injured Sharif in the head as he lies on the ground. The soldier is facing the camera with Sharif in between.

In a separate video we have deemed too graphic to upload, a prominent settler from Hebron can be heard telling soldiers, “this dog is still alive.”

No one in the vicinity seems bothered or surprised at all by the shooting — neither the soldiers nor a couple of police officers present nor the medical teams seen treating the wounded soldier. They completely ignore the two wounded Palestinians (al-Qasrawi is lying several feet behind a-Sharif, and can be seen at the end of the video). This total apathy reflects not only the regularity of such incidents of stabbings and responsive shootings, but also the culture of impunity in which IDF soldiers feel free to shoot and kill Palestinians against the IDF’s own rules of engagement.

The Israeli military immediately sought to distance itself from the murder. Israeli security forces have been accused by Palestinians and others of unnecessarily killing Palestinian stabbing suspects since the latest wave of violence began. Israel has consistently denied the practice, although senior ministers have in recent years given what many interpreted as a green light to killing suspected terrorists.

In October 2015, video footage show Fadi Alloun, a young Palestinian man from East Jerusalem, being shot and killed by police officers despite not appearing to pose an immediate threat. In November, two Palestinian girls were shot after stabbing an elderly man with scissors. In response to that incident, IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizencot said he doesn’t want Israeli soldiers to “empty a [rifle] magazine into a girl with scissors.”

The IDF Spokesperson issued the following statement: ”An initial investigation shows that this is a severe incident that contradicts the IDF’s ethical code and what is expected from the IDF’s soldiers and commanders. A military police investigation has been opened following the findings of the initial investigation that was carried out by the commanders. The soldier has been suspended from his position until the culmination of the investigation.”

Update: Military police arrested the soldier, and high ranking officers ordered that all other soldiers who were in the vicinity at the time of the shooting should also be investigated.

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American Jews should protest AIPAC, not Trump http://972mag.com/american-jews-should-protest-aipac-not-trump/117948/ http://972mag.com/american-jews-should-protest-aipac-not-trump/117948/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2016 13:47:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=117948 AIPAC has never cared about Israel’s disregard for civil and human rights. So why should it care about Trump’s?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign event in Las Vegas. (Photo by Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign event in Las Vegas. (Photo by Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com)

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been making headlines for weeks as he wins primary after primary across the U.S.

But over the past few days he has also been making headlines in the Jewish-American press for a different reason: the mounting opposition to his scheduled address to AIPAC’s annual conference this Monday. (Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden will also be speaking there, Cruz and Kasich have also reportedly confirmed their presence and Bernie Sanders was invited, but it is unclear whether he will attend.)

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Two East Coast rabbis created an ad hoc group, Come Together Against Hate, that is organizing a silent walkout of Trump’s speech. Another group calling itself Jews Against Trump has launched an online petition calling on AIPAC to rescind its invitation, according to a report in Think Progress.

The Reform Movement, meanwhile, has criticized Trump for his “hate speech” and implied in a press release that it would oppose his presence at AIPAC, but did not make clear how.

On its Facebook page, “Come Together Against Hate,” which at the time of writing had nearly 1,000 members, states: “We support AIPAC and the importance of continuing to build a strong U.S.-Israel partnership and we denounce hatred.” The group goes on to state: “We are committed to saying that Donald Trump does not speak for us or represent us, and his values are not AIPAC’s values.”

On the site JewSchool, Sarah Brummer-Shlay writes: “By allowing Donald Trump to speak at a major Jewish event, we have turned our backs on marginalized communities. It is that simple. We are not neutral, we are complicit.”

What all these groups and individuals rallying together against Trump have in common is the visceral confidence that Republican frontrunner defies their Jewish values and does not represent the larger American Jewish community. That his incendiary speech and anti-immigrant rhetoric is a red line. That even if he is currently the Republican presidential favorite, he doesn’t deserve a podium at an American Jewish event, much less the largest and most high profile one in the community.

But what exactly are AIPAC’s values? Its mission statement is devoid of values. It does not talk about equal rights or freedoms. Rather, it is “to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.”

Anyone familiar with the Israel lobby’s policies and conduct over the last few decades knows that it long ago turned its back on marginalized communities by continuing to embolden a state that systematically denies rights to millions of people under its control.

AIPAC’s active fortification of Israel’s near 50-year occupation is the single most obvious reason why it doesn’t represent most American Jews’ stated values. If we look at other major issues that divide Israel and U.S. Jews in recent years, AIPAC has continuously gone against the general zeitgeist of American Jewish society.

While most American Jews polled supported the Iran deal, AIPAC waged an aggressive, well-funded mass lobbying and public relations campaign against it. It went full throttle with the Netanyahu doctrine, disregarding American Jewish public opinion, not to mention the interests of American national security.

On the issue of the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, AIPAC has continuously lobbied against. When the Palestinians announced they would petition the UN for statehood in 2011, AIPAC helped persuade 446 members of Congress to co-sponsor resolutions opposing the idea.

When mounting civilian casualties led many progressive American Jews to question Israel’s deadly war on Gaza in 2014, AIPAC doubled down with its unquestioning support and lobbying for the war.

So knowing AIPAC’s declared mission and record, knowing that it has consistently guaranteed that Israel has carte blanche to continue doing as it pleases militarily, regardless of the rationale or the outcome, and its continued enabling of the denial of basic civil and human rights to millions of Palestinians, Trump’s appearance isn’t really that shocking or anomalous.

It is not Trump who doesn’t represent American Jewish values. First and foremost, that role is filled by AIPAC. American Jews should not be surprised or dismayed by the organization’s invitation to Trump, not just because it is customary policy to host leading presidential candidates. American Jews should be dismayed by the fact that AIPAC isn’t an organization about values — certainly not their values.

AIPAC is an organization whose sole purpose is to ensure Israel has the political and financial wherewithal to maintain its position as the supreme military power in the Middle East — no matter what. It has never cared about Israel’s disregard for human and civil rights. So why should it care about Trump’s?

The protests and organizers shouldn’t focus on Trump, but rather on AIPAC itself. For these American Jews, AIPAC has never represented their values anyway, so the heat should be on the lobby, not on the candidate with the big mouth.

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Israelis can only ignore Gaza for so long http://972mag.com/israelis-can-only-ignore-gaza-for-so-long/117362/ http://972mag.com/israelis-can-only-ignore-gaza-for-so-long/117362/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 16:30:52 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=117362 Try as it may, the Israeli government will never be able to detach Palestinian human rights from its own security situation.

A Palestinian child stands in front of his destroyed home in the Tuffah neighboorhood of Gaza city, Gaza Strip, February 9, 2015. Six months after the Israeli military offensive, tens of thousands of Palestinians are still displaced. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian child stands in front of his destroyed home in the Tuffah neighboorhood of Gaza city, Gaza Strip, February 9, 2015. Six months after the Israeli military offensive, tens of thousands of Palestinians are still displaced. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

This week marks exactly one and a half years since the last Gaza war, although most of the time the tiny strip of land barely exists in the Israeli public consciousness. Now that the possibility of another round of fighting has emerged, Gaza is back in the headlines.

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Recent weeks have seen multiple reports by the Israeli military on Hamas’s attempts to re-build its tunnel infrastructure, with some tunnels already projected to have been dug into Israeli territory. Israeli satirical comedy show Eretz Nehederet recently poked fun at the situation with a sketch featuring an Israeli resident of a Gaza border town who complains about the insufferable noise caused by the drilling below her kitchen. A Hamas militant then pokes his head up from under the dirt, asking the Israeli why she hasn’t yet offered him a cup of coffee. Business as usual.

As if the tunnels weren’t enough to remind us that the 2014 Gaza offensive failed to provide Israelis with security — and that’s without even getting into its lasting effect on the Palestinians — the head of Israeli Military Intelligence, Herzl Halevi, told a closed-door meeting by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Gaza is on the brink of economic collapse. Despite Hamas’s genuine efforts to restrain violence, Halevi said, the situation in Gaza is so bad that it could lead to more violence. In other words: Israel’s blockade policy is not working.

Various Israeli proposals to build a seaport in Gaza, a Hamas demand during ceasefire negotiations, are now resurfacing as a way to try and avoid another conflict. The idea is to provide some form of life raft to stave off the Strip’s total collapse. The IDF and several Knesset members openly support such measures, claiming it will provide jobs and incentives for Hamas to maintain “quiet.” Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon are firmly against the construction of a port due to “security concerns.” Any outsourcing of security, they claim, still runs the risk of weapons smuggling.

Fadi Ibrahim Abu Khusa (4) holds the photo of his two killed siblings, Shahed (9) and Mohammed (2), in their home in Zawaida village, central Gaza Strip, February 24, 2015.  The two children were killed with their parents, Ibrahim and Sabreen, and 4 other members of their family by an Israeli attack on their home which occured on July, 30, 2014. Ibrahim and Sabreen went to the home of Sabreen's father one week before the attack thinking they would be safer. (Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

Fadi Ibrahim Abu Khusa (4) holds the photo of his two killed siblings, Shahed (9) and Mohammed (2), in their home in Zawaida village, central Gaza Strip, February 24, 2015. The two children were killed with their parents, Ibrahim and Sabreen, and 4 other members of their family by an Israeli attack on their home which occured on July, 30, 2014. Ibrahim and Sabreen went to the home of Sabreen’s father one week before the attack thinking they would be safer. (Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

However, it is clear that  Gaza appears in Israeli public discourse solely when there is a fear of violence. For mainstream Israel, Palestinian suffering exists only when it is attached to some kind of threat. Israelis generally don’t care about the humanitarian situation in Gaza unless it affects them. That same logic applies to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is the crux of the issue: the Israeli government will never be able to detach Palestinian human rights from its own security situation.

Israel excels at putting Palestinians living under its control in intolerable conditions that perpetually verge on humanitarian catastrophe. As Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir wrote in their book “The One State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine” (originally published in Hebrew in 2008):

The ruling apparatus takes the liberty to enter and even sabotage the activity of these groups [welfare bodies, UN agencies, local charities and humanitarian groups] whenever it spots a threat to security, familiarly a sweeping consideration, while explicitly encouraging their activity whenever it fears an approaching humanitarian crisis….

…Abandoning the Palestinians to disaster conditions — especially in the Gaza Strip, where economic conditions had always been worse than in the West Bank and further deteriorate following the disengagement — is a result of the decision to control and dominate them without actually ruling them, and certainly without governing them. More accurately, abandoning the Gaza Strip and pushing its population to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe has become a mode of governance specifically designated for this region.

Every time the Strip reaches the brink, a group of military experts, former generals and Knesset members offer all kinds of diplomatic solutions for dealing with Gaza. But “dealing” only proves that Israel still controls Gaza — and that is a significant part of the obstacle to any solution.

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Knesset hearing on unflattering press coverage looks like ‘witch-hunt’ http://972mag.com/knesset-hearing-on-unflattering-press-coverage-looks-like-witch-hunt/116858/ http://972mag.com/knesset-hearing-on-unflattering-press-coverage-looks-like-witch-hunt/116858/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 12:58:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116858 Chairwoman Tzipi Livni asks government agencies to present examples of ‘biased reporting,’ suggestions for legal and diplomatic tools for countering unflattering news coverage. Foreign Press Association slams the very premise of the hearing.

Tzipi Livni (photo: Yotam Ronen / activestills)

Tzipi Livni (photo: Yotam Ronen / activestills)

The influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee held an urgent hearing on Tuesday on “legal warfare with respect to foreign media coverage – coverage which in the long term erodes the legitimacy of [Israel's] fight against terrorism” (Emphasis mine).

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Subcommittee chairwoman Tzipi Livni asked representatives of various government agencies, among them the Government Press Office, Prime Minister’s Office, Defense Ministry, Border Police and IDF to bring specific examples of “biased, one sided reporting against soldiers and police following terror incidents” and to suggest diplomatic and legal steps to counter the phenomenon.

The Knesset committee requested that the Foreign Press Association — which represents some 400 journalists from a wide range of outlets including The New York Times, Reuters, Associated Press, and CBC and Financial Times — also attend the hearing. Ironically, the “invitation” also asked them to present examples of their own biased, errant reporting, in what can only be understood as an indictment of their work.

In response, the FPA drafted a letter that challenged the very idea of holding such a hearing and emphasizing the level of influence the government already has on reporters.

“May we state first that we disagree with the premise of the hearing – it presupposes two things: that the foreign media are biased and that that supposed bias undermines Israel’s ability to quell terrorist attacks. We do not agree that the foreign media are biased, and the legitimacy of Israel’s campaign against terrorism is entirely determined by how Israel conducts that campaign. It has nothing to do with the foreign media.”

The letter goes on to list the variety of recourses the Israeli government already has for filing legal and other complaints regarding foreign reporting and admits that there are isolated incidents in which inaccurate or poorly worded headlines are drafted — but by editors sitting in their offices abroad, and these are quickly corrected when necessary.

The letter closes by stating: “A free and open media is the bedrock of a democratic society. Parliamentary subcommittee hearings that start from the premise that the foreign media is biased tend to look like poorly conceived witch-hunts.”

The hearing was called following a CBS news headline from last week about the murder of Border Police officer Hadar Cohen by three Palestinian assailants. The headline read: “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.”

In response, the head of the GPO Nitzan Chen threatened to revoke the credentials of reporters for inaccurate headlines. Following Israeli intervention, the CBS headline was changed to: “Palestinians kill Israeli officer, wound another before being killed.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement Monday expressing concern over increasing pressure and interference by the Israeli government on foreign journalists.

Last week, the same Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held a discussion on violent incidents between security forces and the press, in which Knesset members and the IDF accused journalists of orchestrating events in order to negatively portray Israel.

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How Im Tirtzu dominates Israel’s public debate http://972mag.com/how-im-tirzu-dominates-israels-public-debate/116498/ http://972mag.com/how-im-tirzu-dominates-israels-public-debate/116498/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 16:31:38 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116498 While its campaign of intimidation against supposed left-wing Israeli artists seems to have backfired, Im Tirtzu’s role in Israel’s current political climate cannot be overstated.

Right-wing activists from ‘Im Tirzu’ protest at the entrance to the Tel Aviv University, November 20, 2014. (photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Right-wing activists from ‘Im Tirzu’ protest at the entrance to the Tel Aviv University, November 20, 2014. (photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

The political climate in Israel has become so draconian and repressive lately that it was slightly surprising how quickly everyone rushed to denounce Im Tirtzu’s latest campaign against mainstream artists and celebrities who sit or have sat on the boards of human rights organizations. Leaders across the political spectrum condemned the campaign, including Netanyahu, who has previously sung Im Tirtzu’s praises on camera.  Following the backlash, the group told the Israeli press they had made a mistake and gone too far, with director Matan Peleg going as far as suspending himself.

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Some Israeli commentators have written about how the campaign was actually a gift to those on the Left, since it forced many centrist, mainstream artists to draw a clear political line in the sand between Im Tirtzu’s hyper-nationalism and their own values. It ostensibly forces them to step out of their comfort zones and choose sides.

But a look at the reactions by several of the artists who were targeted by Im Tirtzu reveals just how paralyzed and monopolized the Israeli mainstream discourse is; how it uses the very same language as the Right to try and defend itself.

For example, veteran actress Gila Almagor was invited to speak on Channel 2′s Friday night prime time news broadcast about the recent incitement against her. A horrible incendiary article was printed in an Israeli media outlet that literally called for her to prepare a will, since she should expect to be shot in the back three times in the near future (the article was later taken down). Almagor said that she believes the incitement comes from the leaders, before adding “I always represent this country honorably, I never take my criticism outside the country.”

Israeli actress Gila Almagor. (Right-wing activists from ‘Im Tirzu’ protest at the entrance to the Tel Aviv University, November 20, 2014. (photo: Amir Gilad/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Israeli actress Gila Almagor. (Right-wing activists from ‘Im Tirzu’ protest at the entrance to the Tel Aviv University, November 20, 2014. (photo: Amir Gilad/CC BY-SA 3.0)

The idea that it is somehow disloyal to criticize Israel outside the country is an old and very popular trope. It was not created by the Right, but by Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion, to cover up for massacres against Palestinians that took place upon the state’s establishment. It has been made even more rigid and popular in recent years by the Right, in the form of the bill targeting NGOs that receive funding from foreign governments, as well as the witch hunt against anti-occupation groups such as Breaking the Silence, who take part in speaking tours abroad. To be a “good Israeli” according to this logic, is to keep quiet about Israel’s wrongs, which is exactly why Breaking the Silence has become persona non grata.

The significance of Almagor condemning incitement, while in the same breath assuring that she would never criticize Israel abroad, is a backhanded way of delegitimizing all the other organizations, including +972, that believe the Israeli system of occupation is not an internal Israeli debate but an international human rights issue. Her response was a way of proving her loyalty and patriotism to the state — along the lines Im Tirtzu and its ilk have delineated. After all, why shouldn’t Almagor speak freely against policies that she disagrees with anywhere she likes? Her response indicates she isn’t a genuine advocate of freedom of speech.

Another example came from Dean Oz Salzberger, the grandson of famed Israeli author Amos Oz, who was also on Im Tirtzu’s list. Salzberger used the same rhetoric against Im Tirtzu that Culture Minister Miri Regev once used to describe African asylum seekers: “a cancer in Israel’s society.” This is a form of incitement against Im Tirtzu, or at the least, an attack made in very poor taste.

Salzberger also uploaded to Facebook a photo of himself in IDF uniform with Oz, writing: ”Attached is a photo of my grandfather Amos (‘the foreign agent’) who is crying from excitement at my IDF officer’s graduation ceremony a few months ago.” From Salzberger’s photo we can understand that in order to defend your grandfather against a quasi-fascist group, it is important to prove you are pro-military, or in other words: a good Zionist.

Im Tirtzu first came into the spotlight back in 2010 with its first big campaign targeting the academic freedom of professors at Ben-Gurion University. At the time, all the deans of all the major universities condemned the group, but like Salzberger, also made a point to declare their loyalty to Zionism — a fact that should have no bearing on upholding academic freedom at a public institution. At the time I wrote an oped in Haaretz (Hebrew), warning that such responses created a dangerous precedent that strengthens the bogus connection between one’s own personal identity and affinity to Zionism on the one hand, and one’s commitment to freedom of speech and other universal values on the other.

Israel Prize winner and famed author Amos Oz. (photo: Michiel Hendryckx/CC BY 3.0)

Israel Prize winner and famed author Amos Oz. (photo: Michiel Hendryckx/CC BY 3.0)

Six years laters, Im Tirtzu has gone after the heart of Israel’s mainstream culture, and while the widespread condemnation of their attack is a relief, I would be hard pressed to say they have failed. The artists’ responses shed light on just how skewed Israeli discourse is. Even artists who support human rights work are incapable of stepping outside the boundaries of a debate that have been determined for them. That is where the real challenge lies.

One last note: while one artist, Rivka Michaeli, actually used the word “occupation” in her response to the incitement against her, no one else, as far as I know, has mentioned the people who are the actual victims of Israel’s human rights abuses. Furthermore, while everyone — even the most right-wing Israeli pundits — are busy condemning Im Tirtzu, no one in the media is talking about the fact that there is no security, no peace, no equality, no public housing, no stability, no hope, no justice, etc. In that sense, the ultimate victory of Im Tirtzu’s campaign and in general, that of the Right, is their monopoly over public debate, they are diverting it with unmatched success so as not to deal with the real issues.

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Building an alternative reality means building community http://972mag.com/building-an-alternative-reality-means-building-community/116435/ http://972mag.com/building-an-alternative-reality-means-building-community/116435/#comments Sat, 30 Jan 2016 13:55:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116435 In an era when settlements are a given, when criticizing the occupation is tantamount to treason, and when there is no viable alternative to the Right, building a community is one way to create a new reality.

Bloggers and editors from +972 Magazine and Local Call at the Anna LouLou Bar in Jaffa. (photo: Activestills.org)

Bloggers and editors from +972 Magazine and Local Call at the Anna Loulou Bar in Jaffa. (photo: Activestills.org)

On Thursday night, bloggers, editors, photographers, designers, readers, journalists and supporters of +972 Magazine and its Hebrew sister site, Local Call, gathered together to officially welcome our new executive editor, Sawsan Khalife.

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Arabic, Hebrew and English filled the Anna Loulou, a small bar in Jaffa’s Old City. Some of us hadn’t seen each other in a long time, while others had never met face to face. Some came from afar and others just a five-minute walk away. Some spend their days out in the field, others in front of the keyboard; some of us vote for the same political parties while others can’t agree on almost anything. It was clear that we had all succeeded in building a singular media platform that challenges mainstream discourse. Beyond that, however, we have managed to build a robust collective whose very existence challenges the reality of hyper-nationalism, intolerance and segregation that we live in.

We are not creating Israeli-Palestinian “coexistence,” but rather a network based on a shared determination to confront experiences around us every single day with critical, conscious and sensitive eyes, based on our own personal vantage point and identity. In a post-Oslo era when settlements are a given, when criticizing the occupation is tantamount to treason, and when there is no viable alternative to the Right, how do we challenge the existing reality? +972 Magazine and Local Call have provided me a community — both virtual and actual — in which I can grapple with these issues. In doing so, we are creating new facts on the ground that present an alternative for when, eventually, the occupation does end and something new must be formed in its stead.

A Ta'ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Ta’ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The individuals and groups throughout Israeli and Palestinian society doing this are few, but significant. They are not hoping for or demanding peace — they are laying the foundation for a new reality by embodying the change they envision. Ta’ayush, a group of Israeli Jews who try to protect Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills from settler and military violence — and have recently been one of the victims of the Right’s campaign of incitement and slander — is just one such a group.

Much of my political activism and awakening was shaped by being active with Ta’ayush for several years. Being in these areas and confronting settlers and soldiers changes, albeit slowly, the facts on the ground for the Palestinians living there, not to mention for those settlers and soldiers who see Israelis opposing their actions.

In the current climate, when Israeli Jews are starting to get a small taste of what Palestinians have been living with their whole lives, what matters is not only the demand for equality and human rights, but attempting to embody those values every day.

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The Israeli Left’s challenge: Defeating ideology with facts http://972mag.com/the-israeli-lefts-challenge-defeating-ideology-with-facts/116082/ http://972mag.com/the-israeli-lefts-challenge-defeating-ideology-with-facts/116082/#comments Tue, 19 Jan 2016 11:58:05 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116082 Left-wing and anti-occupation groups in Israel are finally hitting back, but the task seems Sisyphean: how do you win over people who don’t even acknowledge the same sets of facts.

A public reading of Breaking the Silence testimonies in Tel Aviv to mark 10 years since the organization was founded, June 6, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A public reading of Breaking the Silence testimonies of former soldiers to mark 10 years since the organization was founded, Tel Aviv, June 6, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem published a cynical ad in Haaretz Tuesday, in which the veteran watchdog group invited right-wingers on a tour of the West Bank’s South Hebron Hills.

Right-wing groups have published a number of hidden-camera reports in recent weeks in which their “moles” infiltrate left-wing groups in hopes of catching left-wingers saying and doing embarrassing ,and possibly illegal, things. Thus far, the undercover “sting operations” appear to have netted very little, save for one individual activist.

(English translation after the Hebrew below)

Photo B'tselem ad in Haaretz, January 19, 2016

Photo B’tselem ad in Haaretz, January 19, 2016

B’Tselem invites you – right-wing moles, impostors, frauds, to a tour of the South Hebron Hills on Friday January 29. There is no requirement to dress in disguises or bring hidden cameras.

On the agenda: snacks, mingling with Palestinians, discussion circles with B’Tselem researchers about the injustices of occupation, and to conclude: free time for questions, eavesdropping and taking statements out of context.

I appreciate the humor, and it is satisfying to see Israel’s leading human rights organization use some biting wit to take a stab at the people so vehemently trying to delegitimize their critical work. It captures the truly absurd feeling that all the time and money the Right is investing in infiltrating left-wing organizations — and stealing their trash — to expose that they are in fact exactly what they purport to be: organizations that champion human rights and equality.

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But after an initial chuckle, I was left with a feeling of despair. The ad is representative of a desperate attempt, in this case by B’Tselem, to prove its legitimacy within Israeli Jewish society by engaging people with whom it shares no values or even working assumptions. The people B’Tselem is targeting with this ad do not even acknowledge that Israel has for 47 years been engaged in the military control of a foreign population, or that doing so is wrong.

The fact that B’Tselem is engaging with such ideas at all is sad. But the even sadder reality is that it has to.

This is not just a a few trolls, a small group of extremists with no legitimacy: it is the prevailing zeitgeist in Israel, as expressed by the vast majority of government representatives, large parts of the media, the justice system, and by the silent majority of citizens who seem to have lost interest in what is being done to Palestinians in their name. If they truly did care, surely Israelis of all stripes would have used the ballot box to do something about it.

Breaking the Silence has also been engaging with its attackers. The anti-occupation group of former Israeli soldiers has put out a series of short videos in recent weeks, the latest of which tries to disprove allegations that it is spreading lies. (Allegations that the BtS publishes, or has ever published lies, has never been proven.) For example, this week it released a video (see below) composed of several testimonies and actual footage from the Second Intifada that proves Israeli soldiers routinely fire automatic grenade launchers toward densely populated areas in the West Bank. Will this proof defuse the attacks against it?

How utterly depressing that soldiers who want to talk about their experiences in the occupied territories are guilty until proven innocent; they have to prove that they are not lying, they have to prove their credibility and loyalty to the Israeli public. They were credible enough to serve in its army, to protect its civilians, but they are not credible enough to question what they did after the fact.

These organizations are essentially fighting ideology with facts. They are trying to reach out to people who either do not share their basic working assumptions or who do not care enough to find out. They seem to be fighting a battle that cannot be won. This is the real challenge facing the Israeli Left today. How are we supposed to engage in a dialogue with people with whom we have practically no common values or accepted sets of facts? I have been grappling with this question for years now.

I don't have the answer, but the tiny community of Jewish Israeli leftists needs to figure it out.

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The new normal in Israel http://972mag.com/the-new-normal-in-israel/115594/ http://972mag.com/the-new-normal-in-israel/115594/#comments Tue, 05 Jan 2016 14:03:16 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115594 Violence, racism, fear and no political horizon: that is what Israel’s leadership has to offer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the scene of a mass shooting in central Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff St., January 2, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the scene of a mass shooting in central Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff St., January 2, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Two Arab residents of Israel were taken off an Aegean Airlines flight to Tel Aviv Monday night after several Jewish Israeli passengers demanded they be removed, simply for being Arab. The Jewish Israeli passengers refused to take their seats — thereby preventing the flight from departing — until the two Arab men deplaned, Israel Radio reported.

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After a couple of hours, in an effort to de-escalate, the airline ended up offering the two Arab men a different flight and a free night at a hotel if they agreed to stay behind, according to the report. The pair arrived back in Israel today.

There was no mention in the report of any other Israeli passengers trying to step in and oppose the move, or get off the plane in protest or solidarity.

The Israel Radio report did note that the Israeli Embassy in Athens was notified of what happened, but that it chose not to make any statement or take any action because the matter had been “resolved.”

That silence in the face of such a clear wrong, both by the other passengers and the embassy, speaks volumes.

Welcome to the “new normal” in Israel 2016. Similar such incidents happen all the time. There were the Israeli hotels that warned Jewish guests about Arab citizens who would also be staying there.

There was that time in 2013 when the “Superland” amusement park was caught segregating Jewish and Arab student groups in order to “avoid confrontations.”

So should it really come as a surprise that the Education Ministry has banned a book that discusses a romance between an Arab and a Jew from its curriculum ? (Or is it actually because it portrays IDF soldiers in a bad light, as Education Minister Naftali Bennett has now said?)

These acts are not an aberration from the norm. They are the new normal.

The fact that police automatically raided and ransacked the dorms and apartments of Arab citizens in search of the suspect in Friday’s Tel Aviv shooting attack appears to be a matter of policy. The only probable cause was having the wrong ethnicity — which is precisely what happened on the Greek airplane.

These are not a few random incidents by a few crazy citizens or a few radical Knesset members. This is the new normal.

Prime Minister Netanyahu on Saturday gave a short speech at the scene of the Tel Aviv shooting attack that many commentators have described as incendiary and racist: the prime minister essentially blamed the entire Arab citizen population for the acts of one individual person. It was basically a sequel to his Election Day warning this past March that “the Arabs are going to the polls in droves.”

But it is also important to pause on something else Netanyahu said over the weekend: ”Whoever wants to be Israeli must be Israeli all the way.”

What on earth is being “Israeli all the way?”

I can tell you what it is not. It is not being a combat soldier who feels the need to talk about the things he or she was ordered to do in the occupied territories. It is not working for a non-profit organization whose primary funding comes from European governments. It is not a Jewish citizen in a romantic relationship with a Palestinian. It is not someone who refuses to buy settlement products, someone who goes out to protest military operations, or somebody who actively opposes the systematic control and oppression of millions of Palestinians.

With no end to the violence in sight — against both Palestinians as well as against Israeli citizens and security forces — and no political resolution on the horizon, all Israeli leaders have left to do, it seems, is fan the flames of fear, trauma and mayhem. As long as violence and fear envelop the country like a fog, the public remains distracted from the leadership’s total incompetence at providing a viable future for anyone living here.

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