+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 27 Nov 2015 08:23:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The real danger of outlawing Palestinian political movements http://972mag.com/the-real-danger-of-outlawing-palestinian-political-movements/113970/ http://972mag.com/the-real-danger-of-outlawing-palestinian-political-movements/113970/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 13:56:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113970 Banning and persecuting political groups like the Islamic Movement and Balad has the effect of disengaging Palestinian citizens of Israel from the state and its political system. That is very, very dangerous.

Israeli police carry away documents and computers from offices of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, November 17, 2015. (Photo by Israel Police Spokesperson)

Israeli police carry away documents and computers from offices of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, November 17, 2015. (Photo by Israel Police Spokesperson)

The Israeli government has done very few things that worry me more than its ongoing assault on the country’s Palestinian citizens’ political representation. In the latest such move, the government outlawed the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and seized assets and properties belonging to 17 affiliated organizations on Tuesday.

One of the things that enables Jews and Arabs to live together in this country, which despite everything is still happening, is that both sides participate in civil society and politics (Arab society’s political and economic grievances are debated in the Knesset and the court system, and religious and civil institutions operate under the laws of the state and with its acceptance of them).


There is no love lost: the Jews don’t share power with the Arabs, and the Palestinians clearly don’t identify with the idea of a Jewish state, and even boycott some of its institutions. Yet system works, more or less. That is no small accomplishment, especially considering both the internal and external pressures at play here, like the fact that Israel keeps millions of Palestinians under military rule.

The Jewish side decided in the past few years that it has had enough. If its red line used to be aiding the enemy (a line only a very small number of people actually crossed), today, rejecting the idea of the State of Israel has become cause for delegitimizing Palestinian political parties and movements. That is a very dangerous development.

The decision to outlaw the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and efforts to disqualify the Balad political party from running in elections do not stem from incitement or support for terrorism — those are crimes that already exist in the law books and are regularly enforced — but rather because both movements represent radical schools of thought. The accusations suggesting Sheikh Raed Salah and Haneen Zoabi are somehow responsible for the wave of stabbing attacks are ludicrous. Most of the attackers have come from areas like Hebron and East Jerusalem, where the influence of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and Balad are marginal compared to, say, Hamas (which won the last Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem). It takes a special kind of crazy to think that Sheikh Salah or a few op-eds or speeches by Balad politicians could make a 13 year old stab someone — and if there is anyone “inciting,” one can easily find far worse things on the Internet.

MK Haneen Zoabi sits alongside members of the Joint List during a Supreme Court hearing on her disqualification from the Knesset. (photo courtesy of the Joint List)

MK Haneen Zoabi sits alongside members of the Joint List during a Supreme Court hearing on her disqualification from the Knesset. The court reversed an Election Commission decision to disqualify her. (photo courtesy of the Joint List)

The significance of outlawing these movements and parties is that it pushes large portions of Palestinian politics beyond the confines of the law. The Islamic Movement and the charitable and religious institutions operating under its aegis provide important services to Arab citizens of Israel — and more importantly, they serve as an outlet for expressing Palestinian political and social grievances. Balad has the support, or at least the appreciation, of a lot of the Palestinian intelligentsia in Israel. And it is clear that the government’s assault won’t stop here. The spotlight will soon shift onto the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement (the differences between the two aren’t all that great), and to Hadash, the communist party. In the end, only those Arabs willing to join Zionist movements will be allowed to participate in politics, and there aren’t very many of those.

People ask: why should the Israeli establishment permit a movement that denounces its very existence? There are two answers. Firstly, Balad or the Islamic Movement (or any other non-Zionist political party) do not want to annihilate Israel’s citizens — they want to change the legal system in the country, which is a legitimate demand in a democracy. The political right wing intentionally distorts that very important distinction. Secondly, Palestinians in Israel will never see themselves as part of a Jewish state — because they are not and cannot be Jewish. That they accept the state in practice, that they interact with its institutions and follow its laws is the best thing the Jews could hope for. Yet for some reason the Jewish public decided to take that miracle and throw it into the trash.

A dangerous consensus

From a security perspective, of course, that is a disaster. As long as the Islamic Movement operates within the confines of Israeli law its leaders know they are being scrupulously watched, thereby dramatically reducing the risk that they will engage in subversive activities. When political movements are made covert, their obligation to follow the law disappears and the process of radicalization is almost inevitable. Think about all the effort going into getting the Palestinian political movements in the territories to accept the State of Israel and reduce the violence. That’s the point of departure with the Palestinian political movements in Israel, and we are pushing them away from that point. There is no shortage of examples of Islamic movements that became militant the moment they were outlawed — the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example. There is a good chance that one day we’re going to miss the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which may have talked about attacks on the State of Israel but never actually did much of anything about it.

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement and former mayor of Umm al-Fahm. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement and former mayor of Umm al-Fahm. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

But the worst part about banning the Northern Branch this week was the complete consensus behind it — the exact same consensus that formed around efforts to disqualify Haneen Zoabi from running for office. The Labor party not only participated in the foolishness, it complained that it didn’t happen sooner. And that is most menacing phenomenon of the past decade in Israel. Among Jews, an absolute consensus has formed around the ideas that: Palestinians are not a legitimate part of the Israeli political system; that Israeli means Jewish; that the minimum requirement of Arabs is absolute obedience; that Arabs’ rights are guaranteed only in the economic realm, and only on a personal basis; and that those rights are not actually rights, but favors that we bestow upon them.

Faced with that worldview it would be prudent to remember that there is and always has been a bi-national reality in Israel, even if its institutions don’t reflect that. The proportion of Palestinian citizens in Israel is larger than the population of African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans in the United States — and that count leaves out the Palestinians in the territories, who also live under de facto Israeli sovereignty. Without mentioning the region in which we live, even if we are a white villa in the jungle, there is clearly no future in this land that isn’t a shared future, for Jews and Arabs. It is not a question of democracy or human rights; this is our life here.

I don’t get how people think that France can’t manage a five-percent Muslim minority but that Israel can control a 20-percent Muslim minority of which it demands compete obedience. It is madness for a country stuck in the middle of an entirely Arab region to espouse the idea of a war of civilizations between Muslims and Christians and Jews. Even if there were some legitimacy to that worldview (and there isn’t), the fact is that Europeans and Americans can afford that Armageddon — we cannot. And despite all that, we are taking the political spaces in which Jews and Arabs are succeeding to exist together, and we’re systematically dismantling them. For that, there is no rhyme or reason.

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

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Plenty of talk about ‘peace,’ little commitment http://972mag.com/haaretz-conference-plenty-of-talk-about-peace-little-commitment/113859/ http://972mag.com/haaretz-conference-plenty-of-talk-about-peace-little-commitment/113859/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2015 14:19:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113859 When leaders from center-left aren’t willing to deepen the struggle against the occupation, it’s hard not to feel that they, too, prefer the status quo. Notes from the Haaretz Conference for Peace.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is interviewed by Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit at the Haaretz Conference on Peace, November 12, 2015. (photo: Tomer Appelbaum)

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is interviewed by Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit at the Haaretz Conference on Peace, Tel Aviv, November 12, 2015. (photo: Tomer Appelbaum)

The most genuine moments at Thursday’s Haaretz Conference on Peace came from two right-wing speakers — Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin, both ministers in Netanyahu’s government — who unequivocally called the two state-solution a “hallucination,” which they have no plans of ever implementing. Since neither of them have any intention of granting citizenship to Palestinians under occupation, they view the current situation as the solution.

Around the same time Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted that despite what he may have said during his recent trip to the United States, he has no intention of unilaterally evacuating West Bank settlements:

(Translation: I have no intention of evacuating or uprooting settlements, this mistake will not be repeated) 

And just as Netanyahu is not willing on signing an agreement that any sane Palestinian leadership could live with, he also believes that the status quo is the solution — at least in the near future.

Likud MK Elkin and Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze'ev Elkin speaks during the Haaretz Conference on Peace, Tel Aviv, November 12, 2015. (photo: Tomer Appelbaum)

Likud MK Elkin and Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin speaks during the Haaretz Conference on Peace, Tel Aviv, November 12, 2015. (photo: Tomer Appelbaum)

I spent a good part of the day at Haaretz’s conference (I did not stay until the end), and the incredible thing is that these declarations — which did not come from the fringes of the right, but from the Israeli government and its spokespeople — did not seem to make an impression on anyone there. Very few of the speakers or panelists referred to them, and those who did — such as Joint List head Ayman Odeh or Amir Peretz of the Zionist Union — argued with Elkin and Levin, rather than dealing with the significance of their statements. As if Levin and Elkin were two internet trolls who happened upon the conference and decided to disrupt us while we were busy drawing up maps and tried to restart negotiations.


Martin Indyk, who was interviewed onstage by Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn, implored the crowd not to give up hope, saying that the problem between the two sides has been a “lack of trust.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes that Netanyahu is not interested in maintaining the current situation, and that if we only create the “right conditions,” the Israeli public will support an agreement (Blair’s new ticket is a regional peace initiative, although similar ideas have been on the table since 2002. In any case it doesn’t seem like the Israelis were all that impressed). Peretz presented his own political plan, as if he is about to represent Israel in peace talks with Palestinians. The rest of the speakers, both Israelis and foreigners, all spoke of trust, peace, hope — as if we were at a conference for mystics or poets, rather than a political forum.

Did the crowd simply not take Elkin, Levin, or Netanyahu seriously? Or perhaps they just didn’t hear them? If they had, the only relevant question is what steps are we we willing to take to end the occupation. What is everyone willing to do within their sphere of influence. What does she support, what does he oppose.

The Labor Party doesn’t need to present its own peace plan — we have enough of those. Instead it needs to present a plan for the opposition. For example, do none of the leaders of Labor believe that labeling settlement products is a legitimate step? Are any of them willing to speak to Hamas?

I may be complaining about those who spoke at the conference, but among the leaders of the center-left — Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog, Yair Lapid, or all the security-oriented backbenchers who did not come speak — the situation is far worse. Do Herzog and Lapid really need to keep competing over who is the better Netanyahu spokesperson.

No one is willing to take the chance. No one is willing to waste their political capital, as if whatever is left of it will help them win the next election (it won’t). And if no Israeli politician from the center-left is willing to take the chance and deepen the struggle against the occupation, maybe what they are telling us, that the occupation is the biggest threat to Israel’s existence, is simply untrue? After all, when it comes to existential threats, shouldn’t all the calculations go out the window? Perhaps they think that we can continue living with the status quo? And if so, how are they any better than Netanyahu?

Last year I praised Haaretz [Hebrew link] for including people who still insisted on speaking about peace and hope, and that’s important. But “let’s not lose hope” is not the appropriate message for a political conference. These days, the gap between the Israeli Left’s warnings on the coming catastrophe and its lack of political commitment is far more frustrating than the Right’s declarations.

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

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Another Netanyahu lie at CAP http://972mag.com/another-netanyahu-lie-at-cap/113810/ http://972mag.com/another-netanyahu-lie-at-cap/113810/#comments Wed, 11 Nov 2015 11:32:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113810 Netanyahu claims that more Arabs voted for him than Labor in the last election. That’s simply false.

Think Progress, the internet news arm of the Center for American Progress, fact-checked Netanyahu’s talk at the influential Democratic think-tank yesterday. They found no less than 10 problematic statements on “the big issues.” As many observers were quick to point out, the problem was that nobody at the event knew enough to directly challenge Netanyahu on his statements — many of them inaccurate, out of context, or completely false.


Here is a little something Think Progress missed: Netanyahu was asked about his infamous “Arabs on buses” remarks on election day, in which he tried — and succeeded — in scaring right-wing voters to go the polls. Netanyahu admitted the comments should never had been made in the first place, but only before he went on to celebrate his government record on advancing Palestinian citizens, noting that more Arabs voted for his Likud party than Labor, his primary contender in the elections.

“First of all you should know that Arabs voted for me, and I welcome that. In fact, you may check this but I think they voted for me in considerably larger numbers than they voted for the Labor Party,” Netanyahu told CAP President and event moderator Neera Tanden.

(Watch from 7:30 for Netanyahu’s comments on Arab voters)

This statement, however, is simply not true. While it’s impossible to know the exact numbers (some polls in the mixed cities have both Jewish and Palestinian voters), a survey of the Arab cities and villages in Israel shows Labor getting more than three times as many votes as Likud. In the two biggest Palestinian cities, Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth, for example, Labor got 869 and 69 votes,respectively, while Likud only got 343 and 21. According to this count by Neer Ilin, Labor got more votes than Likud in 117 out of 132 Arab towns and villages in Israel. While this doesn’t include mixed cities, we can assume that the votes follow a very similar pattern.

The following is a table of the 24 largest Arab towns or villages. Labor outperformed Likud in them all except one, which ended in a tie (if the Facebook embedding doesn’t work, use this link).

אז ראש הממשלה שלנו, מנסה בכל כוחו לצאת שקרן, כנראה. ופולט את השטות שיותר ערבים הצביעו לליכוד מאשר לעבודה . ובכן, בבחינה …

Posted by Neer Ilin on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Likud actually performed miserably among Palestinian voters. While in the past hawkish coalition parties who helped local Arab leaders on civil, day-to-day issues were rewarded in the polls — in the nineties, it was said that Shas used to get almost a full Knesset seat from Arab voters alone — Likud received no more than a few thousands votes. To put things in perspective, the Joint List, the big winner among Palestinian voters, came close to half a million. Arab voters in Israel, it seems, know Netanyahu for who he is. Unfortunately there was nobody at CAP to call his bluff.

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The side of Rabin’s legacy Israelis love to forget http://972mag.com/the-side-of-rabins-legacy-israelis-love-to-forget/113236/ http://972mag.com/the-side-of-rabins-legacy-israelis-love-to-forget/113236/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2015 13:33:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113236 Over 20 years later, the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO teaches us one thing: despite the hatred, we have no choice but to live together.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accord (photo: Vince Musi / The White House)

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accord (photo: Vince Musi / The White House)

From year to year, the memory of Yitzhak Rabin goes from a political issue to a nostalgic one. Twenty years after his assassination, the Israeli public is inundated with memories of Rabin the IDF chief of staff, Rabin the smoker, Rabin the straight-talker, etc. The films and articles memorializing him usually obscure (and often do not even include) one specific image: Rabin shaking hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993. This photo, of course, shows Rabin’s greatest achievement. If anything is worth remembering over the next dozen or hundreds of years, it is this.


This image, as well as the Oslo Accords, was made possible through the mutual letters of recognition between Israel and the PLO (Rabin was once again elected prime minister in 1992, when contact with the PLO were still illegal according to Israeli law) that Arafat and Rabin exchanged just days prior. In the letter to the prime minister, Arafat recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, while Rabin recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Beyond Oslo, these letters were momentous in and of themselves. Many agreements followed, but the moment of mutual recognition was singular in the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it reverberates until this very day — despite all the blood that has been shed.

Oslo was problematic — it perpetuated unequal relations between the two sides, left fundamental problems for the future, gave its opponents the time and opportunity to try and undermine it, and became a platform to continue the occupation, rather than end it. The mutual recognition, however, towers above the agreement and its many failures. It was a pragmatic recognition: Israel did not recognize the Palestinian people’s rights to the land, and the Palestinians did not recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” But throughout Israeli/Palestinian history, it has proven to be the most profound and significant expression for the understanding that both peoples live in this land, and that the only chance for a better future is if they live side by side as equals.

Most Israelis hate this image. I assume that many Palestinians also deplore it. Rabin, after all, was responsible for one of the biggest expulsions of Palestinians during the 1948 war. For Palestinians Rabin is the Nakba, for Israelis Arafat is terrorism. Israelis view the agreement as one that brought about thousands of victims; for Palestinians it meant not only many more victims, but also the outline for the borders of the prison they currently live in, more than 20 years later. But this image also represents that single, fleeting moment in which the two leaders forgot the past and looked to the future.

It is for this reason that I thank the Israeli Right, which continues to loathe Rabin and the yearly festival in his honor. By doing so, it reminds us that the prime minister’s assassination was a political act that took place in a political context, in a unique moment in history. If it were up to the pathetic leadership of the Labor Party or Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid (can we even imagine any of them taking such a controversial and historic step?) — we would likely be under the impression that Rabin was murdered because he was chief of staff. Or because he smoked. Or because he had a bad temper and a limited vocabulary.

Rabin was murdered because of the image above. And this image, which everyone hates so much, is Rabin’s real legacy — and it’s an important one: that with all the hatred of the past and present, we have no choice but to live together.

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

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The real problem with Netanyahu’s mufti speech http://972mag.com/the-real-problem-with-netanyahus-mufti-speech/113138/ http://972mag.com/the-real-problem-with-netanyahus-mufti-speech/113138/#comments Fri, 23 Oct 2015 10:41:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113138 By calling the Palestinians Nazis, the Israeli prime minister was saying they can never be negotiated with — that Israel must fight them to the bloody end.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at the World Zionist Congress, Jerusalem, October 20, 2015. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at the World Zionist Congress, Jerusalem, October 20, 2015. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Despite the festival of mockery taking place on social media, Benjamin Netanyahu clearly does not believe that Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini is more responsible than Hitler for the Holocaust. (Although that is exactly what the prime minister said in his speech at the World Zionist Conference on Tuesday.) Netanyahu is a smart guy who knows World War II history better than most of his critics. The idea that the mufti is responsible for the extermination of European Jewry is completely absurd, and Netanyahu knows that. Just like he explained the next day, he wasn’t even talking about the Nazis, and he certainly never meant to absolve them for the Holocaust. The prime minister was trying to make a statement about the Palestinians and that’s the real problem.


Saying that the Palestinians are Nazis — very much like the comparison between Israel and the Nazis — has no place in a fact-based or historically accurate discourse. That should go without saying. The only reason to do so would be to illustrate that it is impossible to negotiate, or even speak with, the other side — that they must be fought to the bloody end. That is the historical historical context and significance of comparing somebody to the Nazis. They are one of the few regimes in all of history whose illegitimacy is absolute — to everyone in the world. Even those who had the most remote ties with the Nazis, even those who tried to make deals with them to save Jews, were later classified as traitors. Because one wages only war against Nazis. Look at every WWII film ever made — there is no such thing as a good Nazi.

The Palestinians, of course, are not Nazis. Their resistance to the establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine in the first half of the 20th century is similar to the resistance of nearly every indigenous group to European settlers who arrived in their lands. The fact that the Jews felt they had no other choice and were being persecuted, the fact that they believed this was their homeland, that changed nothing for the Palestinians. It may unpleasant, but it’s also not incomprehensible.

None of that applies to the present reality, however. Excluding Gaza, more than 10 million people live under Israeli sovereign rule today. Four million Palestinians and 6 million Jews. If you count Gaza, the numbers are almost even. These populations are completely intertwined almost everywhere in the whole territory. And since nobody is going anywhere, the fundamental political question is how can we live together?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars toward the Gaza Strip during a visit to an army base in southern Israel, October 20, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars toward the Gaza Strip during a visit to an army base in southern Israel, October 20, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Netanyahu rejects the premise of that question. He talks of total war. Of Nazis. And when it’s not Nazis it’s Islamic State, another group the entire world agrees must be completely eradicated. In that regard the Israeli prime minister is reminiscent of his father, who said in a 2009 interview (Hebrew) that “the Arab enemy is so difficult because his tendency is toward conflict is part of his nature. Enmity is part of his personality and character. That is the personality of the Arab, that he is not willing to reach compromises or agreements. It doesn’t matter what level of resistance he meets or what price he is forced to pay. His existence is that of permanent war.” In the same interview, Netanyahu the elder proposed seizing as much territory as possible, holding onto it by force and levying collective punishment — such as withholding food to entire cities and cutting off electricity and education — on all those who resist. He said even worse things that didn’t make it into print.

Luckily for us, Netanyahu may have inherited his father’s worldview but he didn’t inherit a plan of action. He is a more measured and level-headed person. We’ve had political leaders in Israel who were much more prone to jumping straight into military operations and collective punishment than Netanyahu. But no leader, certainly not in recent years, has spoken like Bibi. Nobody else speaks in such abstract, absolute terms — of a world defined by total, uncompromising war between Jews and Arabs. Definitely not since Menachem Begin.

If the Palestinians are indeed Islamic State or Nazis, Netanyahu would be insanely irresponsible for advancing any kind of arrangement or agreement with them. If they were ISIL or Nazis, even living as neighbors in the same building with them would be putting lives at risk. Netanyahu’s vision amounts to perpetual civil war. Netanyahu’s famous military cautiousness isn’t worth anything as long as he continues poisoning relations between Jews and Arabs, and as long as he is advancing a vision in which Jews are the frontline in a global war against Muslim civilization. The frontline, remember, is pulverized and destroyed before anything else.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s “mufti speech” was not delivered in a vacuum. It comes in the midst of the worst deterioration of relations between Jews and Arabs inside the Green Line since October 2000. And Netanyahu is no observer on the sidelines. He is the prime minister. His exegeses and commentary help shape the world around us.

There is also another way of looking at things. The situation is very, very bad but it is not irreparable. Violence is taking place here and there, but millions of Jews and Palestinians are going about their lives. Anxious and suspicious, but going about their lives. This is not Syria. It is not a religious war. It’s important to look around every once in a while and remember that. There are no Nazis here.

The conflict is still taking place in a political framework, a framework over which Israel still has control. The vision of living together — in two states, one state or a confederation — has not vanished. The problem is that for Netanyahu there is no such vision. There are only Arabs in droves. There is Islamic State. There are Nazis. And a prime minister’s speech carries weight and has dramatic influence over the world.

A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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Jerusalem, in context http://972mag.com/jerusalem-in-context/112963/ http://972mag.com/jerusalem-in-context/112963/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 12:06:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112963 The current events in Jerusalem have a political history and context. Attempts to attribute the violence to some kind of Palestinian pathology while ignoring other factors is a recipe for making things worse. A response to Jeffrey Goldberg.

Israeli riot police run during clashes in the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, October 5, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Israeli riot police run during clashes in the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, October 5, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a powerful piece in The Atlantic last week claiming to scrutinize Palestinian violence through the history of Jewish and Arab ties to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif over the past 100 years. (“The paranoid, supremacist roots of the stabbing Intifada,” the headline reads.) Goldberg starts by discussing Palestinian “paranoia” over Israel’s actions in Jerusalem and ends with a broader, more common claim: that the Palestinian refusal to recognize Jewish ties to the land of Israel is the primary source of the conflict’s intractability, replete with its frequent rounds of violence.


There are many holes in this theory, and I’d like to point some of them out. But first a word of caution. I recently got the impression that some of my past writing has downplayed the importance of religious sentiments in leading to violence and I’d like to avoid repeating that mistake. I do not deny that some Palestinians reject the very idea of any Jewish ties to the land, although that is way less common among the PLO and the Palestinian-Israeli political leadership, to which Goldberg refers. However, it’s only fair to point out that there has never been any formal Israeli recognition of historical Palestinian ties to the land. The belief that Palestinians are invaders or mere guests in this land and that their own ties to the Temple Mount are a political hoax is widely held in Israel’s right wing.

Furthermore, history has proven that Palestinian fears about Jewish intentions regarding the Temple Mount and Old City of Jerusalem were not entirely irrational. There is a large, powerful camp in Israel that would like to change the status quo on the mount; it includes more than half of the Likud party, which has always been obsessed with the Temple Mount. Polls find that an overwhelming majority of the national-religious public supports Jewish visits to the site, and one-fifth have already visited it.

Right-wing activist Yehuda Glick holding a book depicting the Jewish Temple while standing in front of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, May 21, 2009. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Right-wing ‘Temple activist’ Yehuda Glick holding a book depicting the Jewish Temple while standing in front of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, May 21, 2009. Glick survived an assassination attempt by a Palestinian man in 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

There are also those who would support way more radical actions: between 1982 and 1984 Israel’s Shin Bet uncovered no fewer than three Jewish terrorist groups that sought to blow up the holy mosques. The most famous of them was the Jewish Underground, which included well known public figures, at least two of whom went on to become members of Knesset. The Underground got as far as assembling explosives and surveilling the site in preparation for an attack. Today there is a new generation of Jewish fundamentalists: Before the 2013 elections I published a video on +972 showing a candidate for the Jewish Home party speaking on television about destroying the mosques on the Temple Mount.

The growing interest in the Temple Mount by dominant Israeli political forces hasn’t been lost on Palestinians, whose fears and concerns have been fueled by large-scale excavations Israel is conducting in the area (though not below the mosques themselves). Less than a month before the outbreak of the current escalation, and under pressure from his right-wing constituents, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon outlawed a couple of Palestinian organizations that operated on Temple Mount. Two weeks ago, Elad, a right-wing settler organization identified with the Right, scored a major court victory and won the rights to administer archeological activities near the Western Wall. For years Elad has been involved in efforts to evict Palestinian families in the nearby neighborhood of Silwan.

Does any of that justify attacks against Jewish civilians? Certainly not. My point is that Palestinian fears over Israeli plans for the holy site aren’t entirely unreasonable. It’s true that some elements of the formal and informal arrangements governing the Temple Mount and its surroundings have been left intact over the years. Others have changed, and the pressure from the Israeli side to do so was clear and out in the open for anyone to see. You don’t have to be paranoid to sense it all.


Yet even in this context, many Palestinian understand the current escalation as political and not religious. I recommend reading this interview with Supreme Sharia Judge of the Palestinian Authority Dr. Mahmoud al-Habash, a former Hamas cleric. While denying the Jewish narrative regarding the Temple Mount, Dr. Habash is ready for a political compromise over the holy site.

Just like with demands to recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” (rather as “the State of Israel,” something the Palestinians already did in 1993), Goldberg’s insistence that the Palestinians abandon their historical narrative in favor of the Jewish or the Israeli one is an attempt to force on them a maximalist abstract notion which prevents the pragmatic, political compromise at hand.

And that’s exactly what’s missing from Goldberg’s piece. History and political context. A closer examination of the stabbing attacks raises serious doubts about the entire theory of religiously motivated violence born out of a Palestinian failure to accept Jewish ties to the land.

An Israeli bus driver uses toilet paper to clean blood from the entrance of his bus following a stabbing attack, Jerusalem, October 12, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

An Israeli bus driver uses toilet paper to clean blood from the entrance of his bus following a stabbing attack, Jerusalem, October 12, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The largest share of stabbing attacks (19 out of 49 incidents, according to analyst Nehemia Gershuni-Aylho’s count) were carried out by Jerusalemites, who comprise less than 15 percent of Palestinians west of the Jordan River, excluding Gaza. (The second largest number of attacks, 12, were in Hebron and the surrounding settlements.) Do religious Muslims from Umm el-Fahm or Nablus care any less about Haram al-Sharif? Are they less “paranoid” or “supremacist?” It seems that some other factors are also at play here and should be taken into account when attempting to put the current wave of violence in context.

What actually makes Jerusalem and Hebron unique is that both have mixed Jewish-Palestinian populations, each  with separate and unequal legal statuses. Following the 1967 war, Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem (including the Old City) and more than 20 villages and towns surrounding it. What is referred to in the Israeli media as “East Jerusalem” is actually an area 10 times larger than what constituted the eastern part of the city under Jordanian rule, with more than 300,000 people living it, including over 50,000 refugees in the Shuafat refugee camp.

Although these people hold blue Israeli identity cards, they are not citizens, only “permanent residents” (a legal term usually reserved for foreigners). They cannot purchase land, participate in general elections, and if they leave the country for several years they risk of losing their status and never being able to return. Furthermore, East Jerusalem is one of the most neglected areas in Israel, with skyrocketing poverty and unemployment and a contemptuous lack of municipal services.

The last decade saw two developments in the city, the importance of which in changing the reality in Jerusalem cannot be exaggerated. The first is the construction of the concrete separation wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank, leaving almost a third of the Palestinians in a no-man’s land, cut off from both Jerusalem and the PA — without municipal services at all. These neighborhoods, along with those left fully on the West Bank side of the wall, have become hotbeds of lawlessness, ranging from unauthorized and unsupervised construction to criminal activity. Israeli police don’t serve and protect the Palestinian population in these areas: when police do go in they enter military style to make an occasional arrest, and then leave.

A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem walks into a checkpoint that separates the entirely walled-off neighborhood of Shuafat Refugee Camp, East Jerusalem, December 27, 2011. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem walks into a checkpoint that separates the entirely walled-off neighborhood of Shuafat Refugee Camp, East Jerusalem, December 27, 2011. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The second important development was a sharp increase in the number of Jewish settlers living in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, from Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan and Mount Scopus, and of course, the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Houses (and sometimes even rooms in apartments) are purchased or confiscated in shady scams and legal maneuvering, their Palestinian tenants evicted. (Just last night another couple of Palestinian families were thrown out of their homes.) Often, right-wing organizations actually pay Jewish tenants a monthly fee for “holding onto” those assets until a critical mass of Jews settle the neighborhood.

Peace groups have warned of these developments for several years, claiming again and again that they would lead to an outbreak of violence. Lefty Jews protested every weekend in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods; one of their common slogans was “Jerusalem will not become Hebron.” Nobody listened, especially not those who are talking about Palestinian incitement these days. Curiously, six years ago or so, I heard that Jeffrey Goldberg was in Israel and invited him to visit Sheikh Jarrah. He wrote back saying that he had already visited the protests there. I have no reason to doubt him, but I wonder what lessons he learned there.


Contextualizing violence, which is what I am trying to do here, is not meant as a justification for it. On top of the loss of innocent lives, the events of the past few weeks will further poison relations between Jews and Arabs for years to come. If you believe that the two peoples are bound to live together here, you should be extremely concerned these days. This escalation, it seems, is spreading rather than dying out, moving beyond Jerusalem, Al Aqsa and Hebron. The denial of the political context of the events is likely to make things worse.

The Israeli government, just like Goldberg, is turning the violence into a kind of pathology, claiming to know something profound about the inner psyche of every Palestinian (paranoid, supremacist). This approach to conflicts, especially ones involving ethnic minorities, has led to disastrous consequences time and time again, yet it remains popular because it allows us to avoid meaningful changes that are costly and complicated. My fear is that it will take many more casualties, Jews and Palestinians, before Israel will be willing to consider a different outlook.

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Israel still holds all the cards http://972mag.com/israel-still-holds-all-the-cards/112510/ http://972mag.com/israel-still-holds-all-the-cards/112510/#comments Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:03:32 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112510 The relative quiet on the ground in recent years, enforced by the Palestinian Authority on Israel’s behalf, led Israelis to believe they can enjoy peace and prosperity without ending the occupation.

Palestinian youths hold Molotov cocktails on as they sit not he sidelines of clashes taking place in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 4, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youths hold Molotov cocktails on as they sit not he sidelines of clashes taking place in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 4, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Thirteen years passed between the First Intifada, which broke out in December 1987, and the start of the second in October 2000. Both intifadas lasted for roughly five years. It has been 15 years since the start of the Second Intifada, and 10 years since it ended.


If history and experience teach us anything, the timeframe is exactly right for the arrival of a new generation of young Palestinians who are willing to confront Israel — like their big brothers did, and before them, their parents. That theory also holds if you look at the profile of those carrying out the stabbing attacks and those taking part in demonstrations in recent days — mostly people under the age of 20.

The events of the past few weeks are not an intifada. Attacks and demonstrations against Israeli symbols and targets, civilian and military alike, have taken place since the 1970s with varying frequency. The intifadas, on the other hand, were characterized by an uprising that saw an almost across-the-board mobilization of the whole of Palestinian society and its institutions (although the Second Intifada quickly became an armed struggle carried out by a relatively small number of militants).

The current situation is different. Even Netanyahu has been forced to admit that the Palestinian Authority is not taking part in the current unrest. Things are centered in East Jerusalem, which is under direct Israeli control, and not in the West Bank. That also demonstrates why Israel will do everything it can to prevent the collapse of the PA, thereby preventing a return to the pre-Oslo situation, something for which a number of demagogues on the Israeli Right are calling. The PA, as Israel’s security contractor, is far more efficient at maintaining the peace than the Shin Bet or IDF ever were. Israel will dispose of it only when it completely stops performing its role.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference about the wave of violence across Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, October 8, 2015. Sitting with him are (from left to right): IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisencot, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Acting Police Commissioner Benzi Sau. (GPO/Amos Ben-Gershom)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference about the wave of violence across Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, October 8, 2015. Sitting with him are (from left to right): IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisencot, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Acting Police Commissioner Benzi Sau. (GPO/Amos Ben-Gershom)

The PLO’s international strategy has collapsed

The PA is an unusual institution. A massive part of its budget — 25 percent, it is said — is dedicated to security. Not securing Palestinians but rather securing Israelis. Palestinian police officers are forbidden from protecting Palestinian villagers against settler attacks. They need to call the Israeli police for that.

Over the past decade the Palestinian Authority took upon itself the role of Israel’s operations contractor of the occupation, with an understanding that quiet in the West Bank would create the requisite conditions for progress in peace talks with Israel. That’s what the Palestinians have always been promised, at least — if the violence stops, we’ll talk and you’ll get your state.

But it’s now clear that the dynamic is the exact opposite. The calm on the ground made Israelis believe that they can enjoy peace and prosperity without ending the occupation. The tragic paradox is that it was the intifadas that led to Israeli concessions (Oslo, the Gaza Disengagement), while the peaceful years resulted in more hardline Israeli positions and the expansion of settlements. In weeks like this one, it is sad to recall the commotion Netanyahu raised with his demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” and not just as “The State of Israel,” as if Israel needs Abbas to define its identity. Be sure that if Abbas had recognized Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu would have invented something new to demand. Anything in order to not reach an agreement.

When the PLO leadership understood that it wasn’t going to get anywhere with Israel, it took a gamble by seeking international pressure — first from the United states and then from Europe. The thing is, Washington will never seriously pressure Israel. If one compares America’s commitment to the Iran deal to its flaccid approach to the Palestinian issue, things come into focus rather quickly. The Iran deal was a matter of American interests for the Obama administration. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was little more than an irritation.

Dramatic developments in the Arab world, particularly in Syria, are the final nails in the coffin of Palestine’s international strategy. Syria has gone from an Iranian-Turkish-Saudi proxy war to an American-Russian one, with massive consequences for the entire region and beyond — and as if that weren’t enough, the Americans are now worried about the stability of Jordan. Under these conditions, Israel’s strategy of strengthening and maintaining the status quo in the occupied territories suddenly seams reasonable to the United States. Hillary Clinton, who is still considered the Democratic frontrunner, said last week that Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably have to wait, and it’s clear that no Republican candidate would even ponder putting pressure on Israel to end the occupation. The PLO’s international strategy completely collapsed this year, and Abbas never had a plan B.

An Israeli soldier checks a Palestinian man’s documents at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Hebron on June 17, 2014, as the hunt for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by militants entered its fifth day. (Photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

An Israeli soldier checks a Palestinian man’s documents at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Hebron on June 17, 2014. (Photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

A one-party conflict

I don’t know how much the Palestinian youngsters protesting in the West Bank and East Jerusalem think or care about broad geo-political considerations. What’s absolutely clear is that over the past couple of years diplomatic developments have evoked nothing but utter despondency in the occupied territories. That is something I’ve heard from every single Palestinian with whom I’ve spoken — an inability to even imagine what theoretic chain of events might one day bring about the end of the occupation. Under these circumstances, some hold to their daily lives in Ramallah or Jenin, which recovered a bit in the past decade, while others are willing to take desperate measures.

Israelis love to talk about “incitement” in the occupied territories. It provides a comforting explanation for the violence that breaks out now and again. Israel’s sense of righteousness is only reinforced by the feeling that Palestinians support violence, and that the Israeli side only wants peace and quiet — a little bit of normalcy, commerce, removing a few checkpoints here and there as signs of goodwill, etc.

But the situation, of course, is entirely different. The Palestinians are always subject to the violence of the occupation, which is daily as it is arbitrary, while Israelis primarily enjoy quiet and prosperity. The “Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” most of the time, exists for one side and one side only.

The Palestinians are prisoners in their own land. They cannot move around freely, they cannot enter and exit their country. Receiving visitors is dependent on the goodwill of the Israeli military regime. The same goes for keeping roads open and building new neighborhoods and even individual homes. They are entirely dependent on the goodwill of Israel for protection against attacks by Jews, and the Israeli army has never viewed protecting the Palestinian population as part of its mission in controlling the Palestinian territories. They are judged in Israeli military courts, they can be imprisoned without charge or trial, and on and on. And of course, they have no political rights like voting or political representation.

Politics has always been a substitute for violence in managing relations between various populations, and those who have no right to participate in politics quickly reach the conclusion that they have nothing but violence at their disposal. Even if every last social media post against Israel, the Jews or the Zionists was deleted from the Internet, the violence would still continue. Likewise, even completely dismantling every single organ and network of Hamas would not stop the organization from sprouting right back up, time and again.

We have to remind ourselves over and over and over again: the occupation is the ultimate terrorist infrastructure. One must be especially blind to think that extreme inequality and more than half a century of oppression could bring about any other result. We also needn’t delude ourselves about the reverse: ending the occupation may not bring peace, certainly not in the short term, but continuing it will definitely lead to a civil war, of which we’ve gotten a small taste this week. True, it’s not Syria or Yugoslavia. Not even close. But even Syria and Yugoslavia weren’t Syria and Yugoslavia until they were, either. The situation in Israel — two mixed populations that have zero-sum outlooks, and in which one side has all the power and the rights and the other has only crumbs — is the fundamental problem.

In that context, the most worrying phenomenon this week has been the spontaneous violence by regular citizens on both sides. Part of the reason for that is that both sides are exposed only to the terror wrought by the other. Jews saw the video of Adelle Bennett screaming for help and receiving only ridicule from shopkeepers in East Jerusalem. Arabs saw the mob chasing Fadi Alloun — one of the alleged Jerusalem stabbers — until police executed him in cold blood. Maybe that’s another explanation for the young age of the stabbers: they are the ones who are most exposed to social media, where all of the videos and reports are circulating.

Quiet comes with a price

The bad news is two-fold. Firstly, it is much more difficult to reach political solutions in the absence of central power structures. Secondly, in previous rounds it took four to five years of reciprocal bloodletting — during which Israel paid a heavy price, and the Palestinians several times that — until there formed an Israeli consensus that was willing to consider real concessions (Oslo and the Gaza Disengagement). There is no prospect for a temporary or permanent solution at the moment. There is no public support and there are no politicians to lead us in that direction.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog this week demanded that the government put the entire occupied territories under siege. Collective punishment that would not bring us a meter closer to any solution, military or diplomatic. Minister Naftali Bennett proposed establishing new West Bank settlements. Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman called on the public to take revenge on Arabs. Yair Lapid proposed activating a “lawnmower” policy (god only knows what that means), and expressed support for Jewish settlers living in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu looks like the most rational and cool-headed among all those who want to dethrone him, but it’s clear that he’s not going to be the one who leads us to a major breakthrough.

And yet, there is no way to justify for the feeling of helplessness and victimhood with which the streets of Israel are lined at the moment. Our current situation is not a “tragedy,” but rather a reality that elected Israel’s political leadership, with the backing of the vast majority of Jewish voters, marched directly into with eyes wide open.

The cards are still in Israel’s hands, and they hold great power. Israel can initiate new peace talks with a few simple gestures. It can even decide with whom: Fatah or a Palestinian unity government. It can rally an international coalition to support it — from the Arab states to Turkey, Russia, the United States and the European Union. Ours is one of the few issues in the world on which all of those states would happily cooperate. It could unilaterally end its military regime in the West Bank. In a nutshell, Israel has a full set of tools at its disposal that, in the medium- to long-term, could fundamentally alter relations between Jews and Arabs in this land. But doing so carries a price: putting an end to settlement building, releasing prisoners, and all of the rest of the steps that not only the political leadership, but also the majority of the Jewish public, rejects out of hand at the moment.

A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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‘The problem isn’t Arab protesters, it’s the society that sees them as an enemy’ http://972mag.com/the-problem-isnt-arab-protesters-its-the-society-that-sees-them-as-an-enemy/112371/ http://972mag.com/the-problem-isnt-arab-protesters-its-the-society-that-sees-them-as-an-enemy/112371/#comments Tue, 06 Oct 2015 11:44:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112371 Fifteen years since the events of October 2000, in which Israeli police killed 13 Arab protesters, Hassan Jabareen, head of Israel’s leading Arab civil rights organization, talks to +972 about the lessons Israel’s Palestinian population learned from the killings, the escalation of systematic discrimination since, and the vision of a democratic state of all its citizens. ‘If Arabs in Israel determined their political leanings in accordance with what Jews said, they would always be inferior.’

Atty. Hassan Jabareen (Photo by Amal Shufani/Adalah)

Atty. Hassan Jabareen (Photo by Amal Shufani/Adalah)

The Arab public in Israel this week marked 15 years since protests that resulted in the police killings of 13 people and left hundreds wounded. “October 2000 led our public to understand that the existing parliamentary and legal tools are not enough to defend our rights,” says Attorney Hassan Jabareen, founder and executive director of Adalah, in an interview to +972 Magazine. October 2000, Jabareen explains, was a pivotal moment for Palestinian citizens of Israel, one that changed the way they viewed the State of Israel and forever altered their political relationship to it.

Only five years after establishing Adalah when the events broke, Jabareen led the legal team that represented the families of the victims in commission of inquiry appointed by then Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak (also known as the Or Commission). Since then, Adalah has become the leading legal advocacy organization for the Arab minority in Israel — more than 1.6 million Palestinians (21 percent of the population) who are Israeli citizens.


Over the years, Adalah has filed a long series of petitions demanding equal rights and equal distribution of resources for the Arab minority. Many of its cases resulted in landmark rulings. Adalah has also challenged, unsuccessfully, a new wave of legislation targeting Palestinian rights and political activities in Israel: the Nakba Law, citizenship law, the acceptance committees law that legalized housing segregation, and the anti-boycott law. Jabareen himself led the representation of Palestinian members of Knesset who were disqualified from running in elections (he won in every case), and the defense of Arab public figures facing criminal and political persecution.

Jabareen is the attorney for the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and an attorney for many Palestinian members of Knesset. Former High Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak once called him “one of the most important constitutional attorneys in Israel.” He was part of the team that published the Haifa Declaration in 2007, which presented the Arab-Israeli public’s vision of for “a democratic state for all its citizens.”

In our conversation, Jabareen revisited the events of October 2000, what has — and hasn’t — changed since, and discussed the prospects of civil equality in Israel.

October 2000 Banner

What had you been working on in the months leading up to October 2000?

We entered the new millennium with a certain degree of optimism. Those were the glory days for civil society organizations, when Adalah and other Palestinian rights organizations inside Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza were founded. Talks between the PLO and the Israeli government were looking serious and we thought we were nearing the end of the occupation. Momentum could be felt around the world. New democratic regimes were being established, apartheid fell, the Berlin Wall fell. We knew we were living under a institutionally discriminatory regime, but there was hope. The events of October 2000 surprised us.

Palestinians in Israel were used to political protests, but we hadn’t had intensive experience with people being killed during demonstrations since Land Day in 1976, when six people were killed in Sakhnin and Arabeh. We thought that was behind us. I was at a demonstration at Umm el-Fahm, that’s where the first victim was killed. I saw people’s reactions. I felt the anger. I was there at Rambam Hospital the moment Wissam Yazbek from Nazareth passed away. I was next to his mother when the doctor came out and broke the news that her son had died. I will never forget that moment.

How did you understand the incidents at the time?

As a member of a human rights organization, what preoccupied us most was how to react: how we could do our utmost to provide legal protection to protestors, and how to raise awareness of the killings. We got 500 Palestinian lawyers to represent, pro-bono, all those who were arrested. We published a few sharply worded press releases — in Arabic, Hebrew, and English — accusing the prime minister, the public security minister, and the police commissioner of murder. We blamed Israeli society for not reacting. We stand behind every word. We wrote back then that [the killings] simply were not justified. After investigating the incidents, it was clear we were right. The Or Commission later confirmed all this.

Israeli Border Police officers aim assault rifles toward Arab demonstrators in northern Israel during October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)

Israeli Border Police officers aim assault rifles toward Arab demonstrators in northern Israel during October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)

The Jewish public was also taken by surprise. What do you tell people who believe Arab citizens joined the Intifada on October 2000?

The events began with Ariel Sharon, then head of the opposition, going up to the Temple Mount, where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, which was designed to harm negotiations between the PLO and the Ehud Barak government. There is no dispute about this. Border Police used enormous firepower there and those images resonated deeply among the Palestinian-Israeli public. In response, the High Follow Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel called a general strike among Palestinian-Israelis — an obvious response, in my opinion.

The strike could have ended like any other. To remind you, strikes were also called in December 1988, which were widespread demonstrations in solidarity with the events of the First Intifada. Nothing happened back then. But this time, the government’s use of lethal force in Wadi Ara triggered an escalation. If the police had allowed people to protest, everything would have turned out differently. Even if Wadi Ara’s highway had been shut for a few hours. By the way, the police tolerate such closures every now and again, sometimes even with prior coordination with some of the Arab MKs. That confirms that it doesn’t always have to end the way it did in October 2000.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate in northern Israel in October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)

Tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate in northern Israel in October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)

The solidarity Palestinian-Israelis demonstrated with fellow Palestinians was legitimate. It was done peacefully and civilly. No one used live ammunition. Out of the 800-page Or Commission Report on the events of October 2000, not one incident is mentioned in which an Arab used live ammunition.

Still, roads were blocked. Stones were thrown at innocent drivers. 

It is permissible for minority or depressed groups to block roads to protest certain incidents. Democracies allow marginalized groups to protest sometimes in ways that fall outside the framework of the law. Only a fascist worldview would insist that one must fulfill and obey the law at all costs. Clearly it’s not permissible to hurt others while engaging in protest but you can allow roads to be blocked and traffic upset in exceptional cases. The State of Israel is very far from this democratic view of things, especially with regard to us Arabs.

The problem isn’t Arab protesters. The problem is that the Israeli public sees them as an enemy against which force must be used. The police use lethal force against Arab protesters not by chance, but because the police are part of the Jewish public and internalize its racism. Of course there are members of the Israeli public who oppose this sort of hostility toward Arabs, to the use of violence, and who support equality, but these are a minority. The majority does not distinguish between legitimate solidarity and violence — the only question being if you are Jewish or Palestinian. That’s the determining factor. That’s why the October killings had racist underpinnings.

Didn’t the protesters put peoples’ lives in danger? Is that not the context of the shooting?

The Or Commission heard 434 testimonies. It reviewed tens of thousands of documents and a large portion of police and Shin Bet intelligence reports. They visited sites where people were killed and evaluated each incident individually. After all this, it stated unequivocally that not one murder was justified. Not one. It confirmed unequivocally that the police used excessive force in violation of the rules of engagement. The committee condemned the use of snipers and live fire.

It is true that during the “eight days of October” there were severe incidents. Some Jewish drivers were pulled out of their cars and were harmed, and one Jewish citizen was killed near Jissr a-Zarqa. But these were isolated and exceptional incidents. The Follow Up Committee condemned them vehemently and immediately. The dominant picture from those days, alongside the death of 13 [Arab] youths and the wounding of countless others by the police, was injury and persecution of Arabs by Jewish citizens in Nazareth Illit, Tiberias, Acre, Lod, and Ramle.

Yom Kippur October 2000 was horrific. Jews went out and attacked Arabs — some even used knives. They terrorized Arab shops and workers. In Tiberias they tried to destroy an old mosque. The authorities focused on arresting and prosecuting hundreds of Arabs, but they were very indifferent toward Jews who harmed Arabs.

How do Palestinian citizens of Israel understand October 2000 today?

Many things have changed since then. The separation barrier was erected; Gaza was placed under siege; the West Bank became more disconnected. New laws against the Arab public have been introduced in Israel; family reunification for Arab families in Israel was abolished by the Supreme Court itself; the Nakba Law; the acceptance committee law. We’re living in a different reality.

Palestinian citizens of Israel have come to the conclusion that legislative and legal tools are no longer sufficient in safeguarding their status. Thus, since October 2000, you see more efforts being dedicated to international advocacy; to appearances in front of international committees, meetings with foreign embassy representatives in Tel Aviv, advocacy before the European Commission and various UN committees. The aim is to get the international community more engaged in order to safeguard the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

We cooperated with the Or Commission, despite concerns and reservations. We expected legal proceedings. It was the attorney general’s decision to close the investigations against police officers that led us to the decision to appeal to the international community. In years prior, there had been Arabs who opposed turning to the UN and the international community. But after the [internal] investigations were shut, international advocacy became part of the consensus.

In the years that followed, the Arabs of Israel published a series of vision documents that acknowledged the structural hostilities of the state vis-a-vis its Palestinian citizens. We emphasized our Palestinian national identity and cited the Nakba as a formative and central component of Palestinian identity. The documents were highly influenced by the events of October 2000.

Palestinian citizens of Israel march to commemorate the killing of 13 protesters by Israeli police in October 2000, Sakhnin, October 1, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel march to commemorate the killing of 13 protesters by Israeli police in October 2000, Sakhnin, October 1, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

From a Jewish perspective, this process describes a certain narrative whereby the Palestinian citizens of Israel detached themselves from the state in October 2000 and then anchored this detachment in the documents outlining their vision.

I understand how it’s possible to see it this way if you subscribe to Israeli consensus worldviews. The decision to engage in international advocacy is seen as hostile because the belief is that Arabs ought to be submissive and accept the foundations of the regime, primarily its constitutional foundations of being a Jewish and democratic state, and to act accordingly. We reject this.

This is not just my personal opinion, this is the opinion held by the vast majority of people active in civil society, the political parties, and the members of the Follow Up Committee. We do not accept Israel’s ethnic constitutional foundations; instead we strive for a democratic state for all citizens. If Arabs in Israel determined their political leanings in accordance with what Jews say, they wouldn’t even be able to ask for equality; they would continue being inferior.

In retrospect, the Or Commission emerged as an act of readiness on the part of the government. It’s hard to imagine such a commission being appointed or operating today.

Correct. Despite our criticism of certain aspects of the commission’s work, and our claim that the commission didn’t have the courage to explicitly cite the names of the police commanders guilty of murder nor recommend that they be indicted, it did a serious job, especially given the prevailing political context and attacks by government ministers criticizing its legitimacy. The commission addressed the issue of discrimination in depth in its conclusions. And it tried to argue for criminal investigations into those involved in the killings.

Fifteen years later, the Or Commission looks like an institution alien to this state. And I use the term ‘alien’ in a positive sense. There was an opportunity with the commission, but it was missed.

Has that led you to have second thoughts about your work with the commission?

Before deciding to work with the Or Commission, a delegation from Adalah traveled to Northern Ireland to confer with lawyers who had a similar experience with a commission that investigated the events of Bloody Sunday, and to South Africa. We were concerned not only about the crushing nature of the events, but also that they would eventually blame the Arab public in Israel of what happened.

Although we did not have high expectations, we decided to use the commission so that we would have a platform to present personal stories, gather testimonies, present the claims of victims, and scrutinize police testimony. We opted to use the proceedings as a means of empowering us from within, as a society, regardless of what the outcome of the proceedings. Thus, we always stated at hearings that we already knew who the culprits were.

Israeli police officers shooting at Arab protesters in northern Israel during the protests of October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)

Israeli police officers shooting at Arab protesters in northern Israel during the protests of October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)

No one was indicted as a result of the Or Commission. On the contrary, the only charges filed by the attorney general were against the victims: against the father of a slain victim who attacked police officer Guy Reif during commission proceedings; the brother of one of the victims who stated after his brother’s investigation was closed that he himself would kill whoever killed his brother. In this respect, despite the professional and intensive work we did, we did not succeed. The racism of law enforcement officials was stronger than the rule of law.

Despite all this, I am not sorry about the work we did. If we hadn’t appealed to the Or Commission, we would not have amassed over 400 testimonies, which Adalah later released in reports. We would not have been exposed to testimonies by policemen. We would not have received over 4,000 pieces of evidence. We wouldn’t have an extensive record of each one of the killings. We would not have had an 800-page Israeli report stating that the police were hostile toward the entire Arab public. We would not have a report that states the events took place against a backdrop of historical discrimination against Arab citizens.

Do you still believe today in working together with Israeli institutions? In petitioning the Supreme Court?

One must distinguish between the necessity of using the law and legitimizing norms of oppression and discrimination. Human rights organizations have always used legal means. Slaves also represented their issues to the American Supreme Court. In South Africa, they turned intensively to the judicial tribunals. Residents of the West Bank and Gaza, Northern Ireland. None of those examples suggest that turning to the courts on behalf of victims provides legitimacy to the system, or that it is the only way to struggle against oppression and achieve equality. It is just one method of many.

The court serves the regime and the law is just one aspect of the politics of the Jewish consensus, especially when it comes to the Palestinians. We are working to change our position [in society]. And precisely out of an understanding of the connection between law and politics, politics also seeks change though the courts.

Hassan Jabareen, wearing his trademark hat, waits to see a client in Haifa court, October 16, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hassan Jabareen, wearing his trademark hat, waits to see a client in Haifa court, October 16, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

You probably know that most Israelis consider Israel’s High Court of Justice to be ‘leftist’?

I do not measure my values on a Jewish-Israeli scale. In recent years, the High Court has surrendered more and more to the Israeli consensus, rejecting petitions that were completely just. This is how it upheld the Acceptance Committee law, the Nakba Law, the anti-Boycott Law, and the most racist law of the past 20 years, the law banning family reunification.

It is highly doubtful whether the current High Court would have written today the Ka’adan ruling. Decisions that contradict the Ka’adan decision are being handed down these days. The ruling on the village of Umm al-Hiran is a colonialist ruling. Instead of saying that Arabs have the right to live with dignity in their villages, it rules that it is permissible to banish Arabs from villages inhabited for over 50 years in order to build Jewish townships. The Umm al-Hiran ruling should be used to teach a course about the linkages between law and colonialism.

In the past, I’ve heard Palestinian intellectuals claim that the laws against Palestinian Israelis are the Jewish public’s push-back to the vision documents and the attempts of Israeli Arabs to take their Israeli citizenship seriously, with regard to all the rights citizenship confers. In other words, until the 1980s, Palestinian citizens of Israel didn’t really internalize the fact that they were Israeli citizens, and once they realized this and started to struggle for their rights within Israel, the Jewish public became stunned and started consolidating its discrimination into additional laws. What’s your stance on this?

What you’ve just quoted is the account that most Arab intellectuals and academics in Israel ascribe to. I don’t agree with it. It’s not that “they didn’t take citizenship seriously” in the 1950s, it’s that it was a struggle for survival back then with regard to preventing deportation, home demolitions, land expropriation, and military rule. In the 1950s and 60s there was an Arab national consciousness in Israel. Back then the state was racist as well, but the political consensus was different.

It is not possible for Arabs to adopt their Israeli citizenship in its entirety. To take citizenship seriously, in its entirety, is to fight for full equality, equal rights and duties in all domains. For example, to fight for military service and advancement within the military, so that we are represented among the top officers, or in the Foreign Ministry, or so that we have seats on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But Arabs won’t demand that and Adalah will never submit a petition making that demand because the current regime does not guarantee equal citizenship at its core, not even in theory. I do not know a group of natives in modern history who fought for equality in all domains, including integration, before regime change occurred and their rights were recognized. The struggle of Arab citizens is first and foremost to change the regime to a democracy for all its citizens, and end to the occupation.

Adalah does seek achievements that address equality and dignity in daily life. That’s why our court petitions demand equal budgets and fight discrimination or land expropriation. But we won’t ask for an equal distribution of Palestinian refugee property, for example. And when Jewish-Mizrahi intellectuals call for equal distribution of the Kibbutz-owned lands, they are asking to distribute what was taken from the Palestinians. We aren’t part of Israeli wars and won’t ask for equality in the distribution of spoils from these wars. We are the victims of these wars.

You can’t take part in dispossessing and revoking the right of return of your fellow people. You cannot be a Palestinian soldier in a Jewish army that is occupying your people. You cannot be an ambassador of a government that occupies. You have to fight for dignified life.

But there is a Palestinian consul and there are Palestinian soldiers…

I’m referring to the call for equality, a process of political parties, leadership and civil society, not to individuals. Those aren’t Adalah’s struggles. We cannot be equal in a regime that is based on denying our identity. You can’t join the machine that is suppressing your people. A blind call for civil equality that ignores the right to live with dignity is not a true call for equality; it is merely an illusion.

Why shouldn’t Palestinian national identity and group rights be expressed in a Palestinian state? The State of Palestine could extend self-determination to all Palestinians in the world, while Palestinian-Israeli citizens of Israel would be entitled to full civil rights and equality in the State of Israel, as a Jewish state.

This is what liberal Zionist philosophers claim. When I hear that, I laugh. To whom will we pay taxes? To the Palestinian Authority that safeguards our national rights, or to the Jewish state? Where will we be able to work as ambassadors? In our nation-state or in the Jewish state? What parliament will we be a part of? And if there is a vote in parliament regarding national matters, will it be possible for Arab members of Knesset to participate in the vote? Which regime, the Palestinian or the Jewish one, will set the curricula of our schools? Who will decide which religious holidays and national holidays are given during the school year? What about the status of Arabic? Where will the Al Midan Theater get the funds to do plays depicting Palestinian life? The idea you suggest necessitates three types of laws in the Jewish state. One for Jews, one for Arabs, and one for citizenship. This is apartheid par excellence.

Zionism wanted to gather all the Jews in one territory. The idea was that only in Palestine would you would have a national and civil life for Jews. Here, freedom and autonomy would be realized. Thus it was possible to say to Jews in the world: if you want full rights, go to the state of the Jews. By the way, this is what Netanyahu said when he invited French Jews to immigrate to the Jewish state after the events of Charlie Hebdo. This is also what the liberal Zionists say to us today. But this idea that states uphold the civil rights of only one ethnic group, that is the racist idea that prevailed in old Europe. A Jew is entitled to full civil rights in France as well. Citizenship doesn’t get split apart by territory or regime. The idea of an ethno-nationalist state is anachronistic. It has a dreadful past, and it has no future. And this is without even saying a word about the point of departure of our discussion. We did not immigrate to Israel, it immigrated to us.

On a more personal level, you are 50 years old and you’ve been involved in civil struggles on behalf Arab-Israelis for more than 20 years. What is the thing that most worries you today?

Civil war. First and foremost, what’s going on in Syria, but also in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. This is a very difficult situation. Every Arab man or woman who hopes for a better life is thinking about that right now. The situation in Syria does not mean that I am abandoning the struggle against the occupation or the fight for a life of dignity here; but on a personal level I acknowledge that this is what worries me most today. This is the thing that more than 300 million Arabs are talking about, including Arabs in Israel.

Translated from Hebrew by translated by Gila Norich.

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A farewell of sorts http://972mag.com/a-farewell-of-sorts-2/111731/ http://972mag.com/a-farewell-of-sorts-2/111731/#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2015 12:04:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111731 Earlier this month, at the conclusion of a long-planned transition, I ended my role as executive director (and prior to that – editor-in-chief) of +972 Magazine and Local Call. I am succeeded by Sawsan Khalife’, a journalist and activist from Haifa.

I began working in journalism in 1998, right before the Internet came and changed everything. My first decade in media was marked by cuts, layoffs and journalists’ growing fear of their readers.

+972 Magazine was born in 2010 as an aggregate of seven blogs that approached Israeli politics and news from a progressive perspective. A year later we formed a non-profit to provide the organizational backing to the project. Our Hebrew site, Local Call, was launched in 2014 under a similar model of blogger-based writing and non-profit journalism.

Both sites, and the non-profit that operates them, have been the heart of my professional life for the past five years. During this time, we have grown from a modest group blog into a project that brings together dozens of volunteers, six employees and has hundreds of thousands of people reading it every month, worldwide.

For me, +972 Magazine and Local Call were an opportunity to return to a time of growth, innovation, and absolute independence in writing and editing. I have enjoyed writing and working on this project more than anywhere else in the past 17 years.

Things didn’t come without a price, of course. In its first years, +972 was a volunteer project, and even when we started raising money for editing, ensuring the necessary resources was a constant struggle: none of us made the kind of salaries we could have at more established news organizations. But I got to take part in a different kind of journalism, one that is run from the bottom up — from the writers to the editors — and not the other way around.

It is through the work of my fellow bloggers that I participated in the most important and gratifying stories: the battle of narratives regarding the killing of Jawahr Abu-Rahme in Bil’in; Lisa Goldman’s reportage from post-revolution Egypt (our first crowd-sourcing project!); the first interview Haggai Amir gave after his release from prison; the socially driven activism of Local Call writers; working with Samer Badawi, who reported for +972 from bombarded Gaza City last summer; Local Call’s exposé on the companies monitoring Israelis’ social media use for the IDF; Yuval Ben-Ami’s unique style of travel writing, and more. Much more.

Most of my writing in the past decade or so has been driven by the occupation, which was and remains at the heart of +972’s coverage. Local Call added other fields of progressive politics that draw from different sources – history, ideology, identity politics – but also tries to bring them to the next level, to re-examine itself, and create something new out of it all. It is crucial work, considering the fundamental crisis the Israeli Left – all sectors included – is going through.

It feels like a good time for me to go back to writing, both at +972 and elsewhere. Writing is the reason I joined the project in the first place, before I was drawn to fundraising, managing, and web design, etc.

I’d like to thank all the editors, writers, photographers, artists, designers, coders, grant-makers and advisers I have worked with. Thanks also to Just Vision, which partnered with us in launching and running Local Call.

Good luck to Sawsan, who I am confident will lead this project to the kinds of places I could never reach. And a warm and special thanks to all the readers who have, and continue to donate to both sites. Without you, this project could never have happened.

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Iran deal: Why did Bibi pick a futile fight in Washington? http://972mag.com/iran-deal-why-did-bibi-pick-a-futile-fight-in-washington/111351/ http://972mag.com/iran-deal-why-did-bibi-pick-a-futile-fight-in-washington/111351/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 15:22:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111351 If the prime minister knew all along that he wasn’t going to win the battle in Congress, why would he throw AIPAC and American Jewry into such a divisive fight?

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office Monday, May 18, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office Monday, May 18, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Israeli prime minister’s proxies and unofficial spokespeople tried their hardest to convince reporters on Wednesday that Benjamin Netanyahu knew all along his chances of blocking the Iran deal in Congress were slim at best. Yet much of the media in Israel is treating the administration’s success in assembling 34 senators to defend a presidential veto as a political defeat for Netanyahu.

“We knew that the agreement would pass but we tried to contain some of its damage,” one of the prime minister’s proxies was quoted as saying in Yedioth Ahronoth. “A majority in the U.S. opposes the deal,” read the front-page headline in Israel Hayom, the free pro-Netanyahu tabloid owned by Sheldon Adelson. Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold delivered a similar message on Army Radio, stating, “we weren’t planning on preventing the deal in the first place.”


Did Netanyahu really know he was fighting a losing battle all along? It’s not clear. Some Israeli diplomatic reporters aired their disagreement on the matter Thursday morning on Twitter. Netanyahu personally briefed all of those reporters before their departure to the U.S. some weeks ago, on their way to meetings with American officials. According to Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, Netanyahu told the Israeli journalists at the time that there was “a drift” in the direction of opposing the agreement – making it sound as if it could actually be killed in Congress. Moav Vardi (Channel 10) and Ilil Shahar, however, left with the impression that Bibi knew the odds for victory were tiny.

But if Netanyahu and his advisors actually knew all along that Congress would not be able to block a presidential veto, their game seems far more cynical — throwing AIPAC into a battle it could not win, and putting the Jewish American community in the worst possible corner, forcing them to choose between a president most of them supported and the Israeli government. Not everybody handled the moment very well: Tablet published an editorial comparing the White House to white supremacists, for example. And all this – for what?

Playing the long game or short-sightedness?

One possible explanation is Netanyahu’s hope that a promised “compensation package” the administration offered Israel might grow as a result of the political battle – and partly as a way to win the support of some of the democratic members of Congress who were uncomfortable with the deal. Netanyahu might also have hoped to ensure the administration’s support in confronting possible Palestinian moves in the UN Security Council or other international institutions, since he believes the administration will try to avoid back-to-back confrontations with Israel and its supporters.

Those are more reasonable objectives than undercutting the deal itself, but one might argue that Netanyahu could have had them all – and more – without an open battle with the president. Such confrontations, however, are a characteristic of Netanyahu’s, and he knows how to maximize their political benefits back home. Bibi’s alliance with the Republican Party might have also played a role here. After the long road they’ve traveled together Netanyahu couldn’t just start working with the president and leave his GOP friends hanging.

Barring an Iranian change of heart or a major violation, however, the agreement is a done deal. Contrary to what some Israelis think, the next president, democrat or republican, will not back out of it on his or her own. The major challenge for those opposing the deal – in Israel and the U.S. alike – was the failure to present a reasonable alternative aside from war. That barrier will only become more insurmountable over time. Suppose the next administration does unilaterally back out of the deal. Then what? It will be impossible to assemble a coalition for sanctions again and the Iranians will have no reason to re-negotiate what was already agreed upon. Instead, Tehran will actually get a free hand in resuming its nuclear program – since the other side backed out of the agreement as well.

The fallout back home

The Israel opposition will try to win some domestic political points on the coattails of Netanyahu’s failure in Washington. That doesn’t mean the deal made Bibi any more politically vulnerable, however, at least not for now. Labor leader Isaac Herzog lost much of his credibility on the issue when he moved from supporting the negotiations in February to opposing the deal in July (at one point he even offered to travel to Washington and lobby against it), to avoiding the issue altogether.

But it’s not just Iran. The Israeli opposition is mired in chaos; some in Labor are starting to openly challenge Herzog’s leadership. There is a greater chance that Herzog will join the government than successfully topple it; Yair Lapid and his party are not in any better shape. So the sense in the political system is that the next challenge to Bibi will come from an outsider, and not from one any politician currently serving in the Knesset. A couple of names being tossed around are that of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and retired IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

Ashkenazi, along with the former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, is said to be among those who stepped in to block Netanyahu’s attempt to activate a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010. In recently published recordings, former Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was Ashkenazi, not Mossad head Meir Dagan or intelligence and atomic energy minister Dan Meridor, who opposed the military option most vigorously.

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