+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 27 May 2016 17:32:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Avigdor Liberman’s new job: Control over four million Palestinians http://972mag.com/avigdor-libermans-new-job-control-over-four-million-palestinians/119438/ http://972mag.com/avigdor-libermans-new-job-control-over-four-million-palestinians/119438/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 07:53:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119438 Netanyahu may have found an opportunity to take revenge on the old IDF elites, but in doing so has put one of Israel’s most hawkish politicians in charge of the occupation.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the 2015 elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the 2015 elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister is, in my eyes, one of Netanyahu’s most surprising moves (in fact, on Wednesday I argued that it wouldn’t happen; two hours later I was proven wrong). Netanyahu is a careful politician that does not like big egos surrounding him, and Liberman is Liberman — a person who deliberately chooses to be unexpected and undisciplined — even when it doesn’t serve his interests — and who spews hawkish remarks in spades.

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Liberman promised to take down Hamas and execute terrorists — and all this before we blow up Egypt’s Aswan Dam, as he once famously suggested. I do not think that anyone in Israel wants to fully re-occupy Gaza, but Liberman has too many promises to fill, and an electorate that runs the gamut from traditional right-wingers to Kahanists. This is disturbing. Even for Netanyahu it’s not an easy bet, since Liberman has serious political ambitions and can always leave the coalition right before the elections, claiming that Netanyahu prevented the IDF from going all the way, or by fueling smaller fires that may serve his interests.

So why did Bibi do it? In my opinion it has little to do with the recent comments made by Deputy Chief of the General Staff, General Yair Golan or the soldier in Hebron who shot a Palestinian in the head — two recent incidents in which the prime minister did not back Defense Minister Ya’alon. In fact these only provided Netanyahu the opportunity to get rid of Ya’alon, whose support from the Right has all but disappeared.

The great fracture between Netanyahu and the defense establishment stems from their disagreement over Iran, and the insubordination that occurred or did not occur during Gabi Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak’s tenure. The story is that former Director of the Mossad Meir Dagan and head of Shin Bet Yuval Diskin revealed that in 2010 the army and the Mossad were given orders to prepare for an attack in Iran, although it remains unclear whether it was an explicit command. Ashkenazi and Dagan either “opposed” or refused the order — depends who you ask. After that came the wars between Ashkenazi and Barak, and the torpedoing of Yoav Galant to IDF chief of staff, which certainly did not help mend relations between the prime minister and the army.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Photo by Activestills.org)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Photo by Activestills.org)

We can go back even further to former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai taking down Netanyahu in the 1999 elections. The army remains — despite everything — connected to “the old elites,” which Netanyahu seeks to replace. Ya’alon’s likely dismissal (or his transfer to a different ministry) will prevent a repeat of the rise of centrist parties full of ex-security chiefs, or at the very least will make them look less attractive to the Israeli voter. That is why Netanyahu is appointing a defense minister who does not have a military background (Liberman served a shortened army service as a new immigrant), and who is not part of the old elite. Now they can make high-level appointments between themselves, without worrying about the defense minister or his deputy protecting the interests of the top officer brass.

Netanyahu is a man of the geo-political status quo and internal revolutions, and it seems that after the media, academia, and the court system, he is looking to tackle the defense establishment. He has no patience to wait a decade or two for change to come from below with a new generation of officers. As mentioned earlier, it’s a dangerous gamble — not only because of the person Bibi chose, but also because the fate of the army is simply incomparable to other institutions in Israel, whether measured in support by the public or the power it holds. However, perhaps Netanyahu recognizes that the public’s support for the generals — not for the common soldier — is slowly cracking. There is an opportunity here.

Personally I support the desire to limit the power of the defense establishment in Israel, and putting a civilian rather than a military man in charge is not a bad idea. The question is, of course, who is put in charge. Liberman won’t be able to go to war or on bombing campaigns on his own accord (that takes a cabinet decision); but the most significant role of the defense minister is the de-facto ruler of over four million Palestinian subjects in the West Bank and Gaza — the one responsible for all aspects of life on the ground — from home demolitions to checkpoints to settlements.

Liberman recently took part in the protest against the IDF following the execution in Hebron. What kind of day-to-day decisions will he make? How will his relations with the Palestinian Authority look, considering he defames the PA at every possible opportunity? (There were many reports in the past on the relationship between Liberman and Muhammad Dahlan, who is waiting for Abbas to die in order to return and fight to be his successor). What kind of extreme promises will the defense minister make good on? And to what extent will the IDF — its top-level officers and soldiers — fall into line? We will find out soon enough.

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

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How the director of Peace Now saved Bibi and the peace process http://972mag.com/how-the-director-of-peace-now-saved-bibi-and-the-peace-process/118414/ http://972mag.com/how-the-director-of-peace-now-saved-bibi-and-the-peace-process/118414/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2016 11:38:29 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118414 Avi Buskila, the new director general of Peace Now, may come as an outsider to the world of peace organizations but there’s one unique item on his resume nobody else can lay claim to.

Twenty years ago I was a deputy company commander in the West Bank city of Hebron. The first Netanyahu government was about to transfer control of three-quarters of the city to the Palestinian Authority. The settlers were furious — the tension in the occupied city was palpable.

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After Rabin’s assassination, the Hebron Agreement was seen as vital for demonstrating progress in the Oslo process under the new Israeli prime minister, who had so ardently opposed any withdrawals just a few months earlier. It was considered a significant achievement and if it were to fall apart, the world feared, so would the entire peace process.

One morning I was sent for some reason or another to Gross Square, known by Palestinians as Vegetable Market Square, which was still bustling and lively at the time — before the army shut down most of the Palestinian shops and banished the grocers and store owners.

We were standing near the entrance to one of the settler compounds when suddenly we heard a burst or two of automatic gunfire coming from another side of the square. I was able to see an Israeli soldier shooting (from a sitting position, no less) toward the crowds of Palestinians, and then I saw two other soldiers jumping on him.

It turned out that a setter (not a settler in the city of Hebron itself) who opposed the Hebron Agreement had decided to mimic Baruch Goldstein and commit a mass murder hoping to set the city alight and prevent the withdrawal of Israeli troops from it. His plan was foiled, however, by an officer from our battalion who happened to be standing behind the shooter, pounced on him, and arrested him without anybody getting seriously hurt — not the shooter and not any of the Palestinians in the square (six Palestinians were lightly wounded). The only thing left for us to do was to deal the crowd that had formed to see what happened.

The Goldstein Massacre (or the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre) sparked a series of Palestinian revenge attacks and irreparably challenged the Oslo peace process. The incident that I witnessed only held public significance for a few days at most. The officer who stopped the shooter, Avi Buskila, was the hero of the day, the man of the hour. He was on the front page of newspapers around the world, from Yedioth Ahronoth to the New York Times. Netanyahu even personally presented him with a certificate of appreciation.

Avi Buskila pictured tackling the shooter on the front page of Israel’s top-selling paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, January 1997.

Avi Buskila pictured tackling the shooter on the front page of Israel’s top-selling paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, January 1997.

Not too long after that day we redeployed from parts of Hebron (I personally dismantled one army position myself). It was, of course, an illusion. The occupation of Hebron never ended. But that’s a whole other story.

Avi Buskila was appointed as the new director general of Peace Now this week. To the best of my knowledge he has been active in the Pride community but doesn’t have a long history with peace movements. Nevertheless, he has one entry on his resume that few others in the peace camp can lay claim to — he personally saved the Hebron Agreement with his own hands.

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

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We don’t have the privilege of being Islamophobic http://972mag.com/israelis-dont-have-the-privilege-of-being-islamophobic/118034/ http://972mag.com/israelis-dont-have-the-privilege-of-being-islamophobic/118034/#comments Tue, 22 Mar 2016 17:41:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118034 Israelis tend to warn of the ‘Islamization’ of Europe in the wake of attacks like those in Brussels. But the fear of Muslims in a country where Jews and Muslims must live together is simply not an option.

Passengers evacuate a subway in Brussels following the terrorist attack, March 22, 2016. (Evan Lamos/EurActiv)

Passengers evacuate a subway in Brussels following the terrorist attack, March 22, 2016. (Evan Lamos/EurActiv)

After events like the terrorist attacks in Brussels or Paris, it has become common to hear Israelis say that “Europe is finished” or that it is being “conquered by Muslims.” In fact, people say these things even when there are no attacks. Regardless of inherent racism, I do not really understand the logic behind such statements. In France, seven percent of the population is Muslim. In Belgium it is six percent. In Britain — less than five percent.

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In Israel, on the other hand, more than 20 percent of the population is Arab, the majority of whom are Muslim. Add to that 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Even if we don’t count Gaza, Jews and Arabs live side by side in every part of this country — in a way that doesn’t exist anywhere in Europe.

They say Israel may become a bi-national state sometime in the future, but the truth is we are already living in a bi-national reality — we are just in denial about it. If there are Israelis who believe we cannot live alongside Arabs or Muslims, then the only logical step for them is to run away from here as fast as they can. Any imaginable future scenario here will necessarily include more Arabs and Muslims in Israel than in those areas of Europe with large Arab populations.

Many years ago I saw Professor Aviezer Revitzki speak on a televised political discussion which devolved into generalizations about how Israel would spearhead a clash of civilizations. This was more or less the consensus in the study, from both left and right. “I don’t want to be the spearhead,” Revitzki announced (I am quoting from memory), “since that the part that is eroded and destroyed first.” Wise words.

If the world is moving toward all out war, Israel is probably the worst place to be. I’m happy to say that I don’t think that is the direction we’re headed. I do not have a simple solution to the current wave of nihilistic terrorism, and I don’t know anyone who does. Regardless, the numbers show that Jews and Arabs have to learn to live in this land side by side.

The terror attacks and the rightward shift in Europe might relieve some of the pressure from Israel, a fact which causes some Israelis to feel Schadenfreude. The truth of the matter is that Israelis and Palestinians are in the same boat. A clash of civilizations is the worst possible scenario. After all, this is not Europe, and we do not have the privilege of becoming Islamophobes.

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

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The rise of the pro-censorship journalist http://972mag.com/the-rise-of-the-pro-censorship-journalist/117961/ http://972mag.com/the-rise-of-the-pro-censorship-journalist/117961/#comments Sat, 19 Mar 2016 07:42:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=117961 The latest right-wing sting operation against Israeli human rights groups made it to primetime this week. Israeli journalists, once again, played a central role in shaming those who criticize the occupation.

Screenshot from Ad Kan's hidden camera, capturing Breaking the Silence interviewing a right-wing mole.

Screenshot from Ad Kan’s hidden camera, capturing Breaking the Silence interviewing a right-wing mole.

A Channel 2 report that aired Thursday night accused Israeli human rights organization Breaking the Silence of gathering confidential information on Israeli military operations through its interviews with former soldiers. The report was based on hidden camera footage recorded by right-wing group “Ad Kan,” which infiltrates and gathers information in order to shame anti-occupation organizations. The footage shows Breaking the Silence activists collecting testimonies from several former soldiers, which include questions on Gaza tunnels as well as military equipment and positions.

By Friday morning, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had already ordered an investigation into the activities of the organization, accusing it of attempting to collect state secrets. Others went as for as talking about espionage. The following is a translation of a Hebrew piece I wrote.

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Ronen Bergman, Yedioth Ahronoth‘s excellent defense correspondent, often describes the immense powers of Israeli secrecy as follows: imagine that you write down the following sentence on a piece of paper: “The State of Israel has X atomic bombs,” and then place that piece of paper into your pocket. From this moment on, you are guilty of “possessing state secrets,” and can be sentenced to prison.

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All journalists are exposed to classified material. Since all army information is classified, every article on security-related matters begins with gathering classified materials — even those PR items organized by the IDF Spokesperson. In other countries, professional ethics guide journalists when they decide what to publish. The idea is that the responsibility for keeping secret rests with the authorities, and whatever they cannot or wouldn’t keep secret could be published. In Israel, the situation is the exact opposite: nothing related to state security can be published without prior approval from the IDF Censor. This is a drastic, unprecedented restriction on the ability to have a serious conversation on Israeli politics and history. Much of the public is completely ignorant when it comes to critical actions and policies.

Over the years, some of Israel’s leading journalists tried to challenge the Censor. They turned to the courts in order to gain approval to publish material, and at times even risked prison time for publishing materials that were in the public’s interest. Hadashot, a defunct Israeli daily newspaper, was shut down for three days for publishing photos of one of the Bus 300 hijackers, still alive (he was later killed by his capturers from the Shin Bet). Bergman himself was interrogated over another affair concerning Israel’s nuclear program. Journalists challenged the censor because publishing facts is in the public’s interest. Reporting is the central mission of journalist; censorship is the domain of the regime, and reporters should avoid and fight it. What applies to journalists also applies to human rights organizations, bloggers, researchers — in fact to every citizen. Indeed, Israeli law does not differentiate between all these, and journalists have no special rights when it comes to handling state secrets.

Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak speaks during a protest against right-wing incitement, central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak speaks during a protest against right-wing incitement, central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

And then came Channel 2′s investigation into Breaking the Silence. According to its logic, not only must every piece of information related to the army be sent to the IDF Censor (which Breaking the Silence does, as opposed to nearly all other human rights organizations in the world), but we shouldn’t even interview past and present members of the security establishment on various matters, since we might be exposed to state secrets. Even if those are never published. Even if they are folded and put in a pocket.

On Friday morning, Ofer Hadad, the journalist behind the Breaking the Silence story, proudly tweeted that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had “ordered to open an investigation to look into the information extracted from discharged soldiers.” I tried to understand from Hadad why this was a cause for celebration. If the defense minister finishes his investigation into Breaking the Silence and starts looking into Channel 2 News (where he works), won’t he and his colleagues be just as guilty? If the people behind Ad Kan would have come to Hadad and offered him a scoop on the IDF, would he not have tried to interview them? Would he not then build up the best possible story, before letting the IDF Censor decide what he can or cannot published? And maybe, I would like to believe, that in some cases he would even argue with the Censor? Or perhaps Ofer Hadad thinks there is one law for journalists and another for human rights organizations? Or one law for Channel 2 and another for Breaking the Silence? If so, we are talking about a notion that lacks any basis in Israeli law.

An even more disturbing thought is that Hadad would not have asked those sources anything at all. Maybe where he works journalists who criticize the army are frowned upon. Maybe they rather criticize those who criticize the army. Maybe Hadad thinks that after he finishes with Breaking the Silence, the defense minister really must start investigating his very own place of work. And maybe we are witnessing the rise of a new kind of investigative journalists: we can call it “journalists in support of censorship.”

But those who believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant must also believe that the role of the media and organizations is to expose, check, ask, and become curious — about everything. Only then do we start taking into consideration ethics, censorship, and our own judgement in order to decide what should or shouldn’t be published. Exactly like Breaking the Silence did.

Ad Kan’s latest investigation didn’t “expose” a thing aside from the moral corruption of the Israeli media, which is busy ingratiating itself with the public, the government, and the army. Criticism of the occupation becomes taboo, while criticizing the critics becomes the norm. Like the army, the courts, and the police, the media — another venerated Israeli establishment — has cowered in the face of the occupation.

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

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Why do we only listen to violence? http://972mag.com/why-do-we-only-listen-to-violence/117773/ http://972mag.com/why-do-we-only-listen-to-violence/117773/#comments Thu, 10 Mar 2016 21:33:44 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=117773 Two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals. Wars in Lebanon and Egypt led Israel to withdrawals from those territories. Despite all that, the Palestinian Authority is trying to maintain quiet and security for Israelis but receives nothing in return. If I were Palestinian I might come to a disturbing conclusion.

Israeli soldier mourn beside flowers placed on the grave of Israeli border policewoman, Hadar Cohen, 19, during her funeral at the military cemetery in Yehud, near Tel Aviv, Israel, February 4, 2016. Three Palestinians killed the Israeli border policewoman and wounded another before being shot dead by nearby officers at Damascus gate IN Jerusalem's Old City on February 3, 2016. (Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers mourn beside flowers placed on the grave of Israeli Border Police cadet Hadar Cohen, 19, during her funeral at the military cemetery in Yehud, near Tel Aviv, Israel, February 4, 2016. Three Palestinians killed the Israeli border policewoman and wounded another before being shot dead by nearby officers at Damascus gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on February 3, 2016. (Activestills.org)

One axiom of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that Palestinian violence pushes the Jewish public rightward. Due to violence, common wisdom goes, the willingness of Israeli Jews to make concessions or compromise decreases, and Palestinian independence or equality becomes more of a pipe dream. Only refraining from violence will bring Palestinians closer to their goal. This has become a truism across political camps: you hear it from the Right, Left, and center, as well as from various international actors. Reality, however, is much more complex, and sometimes the exact opposite. As Israelis and Palestinians seem headed into another prolonged and bloody escalation, it’s important to face the facts.

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From a simple historical perspective, the claim that “quiet” brings us closer to peace is simply untrue. In the first 20 years following the Six-Day War, when Israel held onto the occupied territories with relative ease, the idea of withdrawal or establishing a Palestinian state was completely taboo. Israel gave up on the Peres-Hussein London Agreement in 1987, which would have transferred partial responsibility for the occupied Palestinian territories back to Jordan’s King Hussein, leaving the PLO out of the process. Only six years later, Israel recognized the PLO and accepted Arafat back to historic Palestine. It was the First Intifada that made the difference. At the beginning of the uprising, the Israeli public shifted to the right, but after four years it elected Rabin on a peace platform.

A similar process took place after the Second Intifada: Israelis broke right and chose Ariel Sharon, but the Israeli government then disengaged from Gaza; Sharon’s successor presented the Palestinians with the most far-reaching proposal to date. Under Netanyahu, however, when the number of Israeli casualties decreased significantly, the Israeli public drifted to the right and became far less willing to make compromises.

The logic that violence pushed Israel to agree to things it had previously rejected applies on other fronts, too. Take, for example, the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, or the peace agreement with Egypt, which was the direct result of the 1973 War. Israel rejected the pre-war peace offers that were far less costly than the accord it ended up signing. We paid a pretty penny for what had previously been offered for far cheaper.

Maximizing profits

The Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University’s “Peace Index” is a monthly poll that has looked at Israeli support for peace-related issues since 1994. The questions have changed over the years, but they remain consistent enough for us to identify several trends.

For instance, according to one summary of poll results from 21 years, Israeli support for peace dropped drastically during the suicide bombings of 1996, as well as during the first years of the Second Intifada. These findings are consistent with the popular narrative, according to which terror pushes the public to the right. But in the deadly years between 2002-2004 — the peak of the Second Intifada — the number of Israelis who supported negotiations actually went up. On the other hand, in 2010-2014, when the number of Jewish casualties dropped significantly, support for the peace process also decreased. In fact, 2012 was the first year in four decades when not a single Israeli Jew was killed in the West Bank yet support for the peace process hit an all-time low that year — lower than following major suicide bombings.

Another study based on the Peace Index findings, conducted by Ella Heller, shows that there has been a sharp decrease in the percentage of Israelis who believe in the importance of diplomatic-political (i.e. peace and Palestinian) issues.

How can these findings be explained? The answer is tied to a combination of quiet in the West Bank and the bad outcome of the Gaza disengagement. Against the backdrop of violent confrontations around the Gaza Strip, the fact that the West Bank was quiet caused Israelis to believe that withdrawal would entail security dangers, and that occupation actually presents the best solution. In other words, the Palestinians Authority’s security coordination didn’t work in favor of the Palestinians as a trust-building measure — quite the opposite: it made Israelis want to maintain the status quo.

The Israeli public’s behavior can be explained as follows: rational actors want to maximize their benefits while minimizing their costs. During the first and second intifadas, Israelis gradually became more willing to accept changes because the cost of the status quo was high. Netanyahu’s time in office has changed the equation: the status quo in the West Bank and East Jerusalem looks like the more reasonable option, while the results of the Gaza Disengagement raised the perceived cost of another withdrawal.

The terrifying conclusion of this calculation is that should the tables turn — that is, if the current violence continues and intensifies — Israeli willingness to make concessions may grow significantly. Even worse is the fact is that the Israeli government is going to great lengths to send this exact message to the Palestinians. It’s enough to see the patronizing language Israeli officials use when they refer to the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, as opposed to the respect — verging on panic — which they show Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State. If I were a Palestinian, I might end up thinking that violence is the only way to get Israel’s attention.

An Israeli police officer and reporters take cover during a rocket attack in the southern town of Sderot, Israel on December 30, 2008 (photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahim / CC BY-SA 2.0)

An Israeli police officer and reporters take cover during a rocket attack in the southern town of Sderot, Israel on December 30, 2008 (photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahim / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Everyone loses

One of the historical examples that is not discussed enough in Israel is France’s war in Algeria between the years 1954-1962, and the failure of politics to deal with the constant escalation in violence there. France controlled Algeria for 130 years; over a million French settlers (“pieds noir”) viewed the country as their home. In fact, France did not view Algeria as a colony, but rather as an extension of the country, and thus was run by the Interior Ministry, rather than the Ministry of Overseas France.

As “the Algerian problem” worsened over the years, every solution or proposed reform was torpedoed by the settlers and their French supporters in parliament in Paris. As the violence grew, the French agreed to more “concessions” — but at every stage they proposed something that was relevant two-to-three years prior. The war that eventual broke out left nearly a million victims in its wake. In its final stages, it deteriorated into an orgy of terror attacks and counterattacks that led Charles de Gaulle to completely abandon the idea of compromise and flee Algeria along with the settlers.

Violence in Algeria wiped out the moderate, pragmatic forces on both sides. Major decisions were dictated by those who could kill the most people. Terror attacks from both sides followed one another in a tragic cycle of violence. The armed uprising eventually defeated the occupation, but the truth is that everybody lost. Algeria after the occupation became a dictatorship that degenerated into civil war in the 1990s — a clear consequence of the war and the forces it unleashed.

The harsh truth is that I cannot think of a single occupying society that woke up one morning and decided to end an occupation of its own volition, especially when there was a civilian claim to the territory involved. But unlike in other places, we Israelis have already been through so many violent cycles. Do we really need another round? It won’t end with knives in the streets, that’s for sure.

Having lived through the first and second intifadas, we know what to expect: in the first months or perhaps even years of the next violent outbreak, Israelis will move rightward. But if the violence lasts long enough, up to the point that the two societies grow really tired of spilling each other’s blood, at some point a leader with a strong right-wing or security record will rise to power in Israel, and surprise surprise, will agree to make concessions that today seem unacceptable. Just as Menachem Begin did in Sinai. Or Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo. Or Ehud Barak in Lebanon. Or Ariel Sharon in Gaza.

Relatives mourn during the funeral of 13-year-old Palestinian Ahmad Sharake, who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers during clashes near the Beit El Jewish settlement yesterday (Oct. 11), in the Palestinian West Bank refugee camp of Jalazun, on the outskirts of Ramallah, October 12, 2015. Sharake was killed during clashes that broke out as hundreds of Palestinians near Ramallah attempted to approach a road to throw stones and firebombs at settlers' cars. (Activestills.org)

Relatives mourn during the funeral of 13-year-old Palestinian Ahmad Sharake, who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers during clashes near the Beit El settlement on October 11, in the Palestinian West Bank refugee camp of Jalazun, on the outskirts of Ramallah, October 12, 2015. Sharake was killed during clashes that broke out as hundreds of Palestinians near Ramallah attempted to approach a road to throw stones and firebombs at settlers’ cars. (Activestills.org)

To live or die together

Jews and Palestinians live side by side in every part of this country. In the West Bank, Jerusalem, Galilee, the Negev, and the coastal plain. That’s why recent events are so worrying. The current wave of violence seems almost spontaneous, and surely not something that can be stopped by orders from above. Desperation on the ground provides the incentive, and the violence engulfing the region, especially in Syria and Iraq, adds inspiration for those who need it. At the same time, Palestinian politics remains fractured in two, a fact that serves Israel in the short term but poses a serious challenge to when Israelis might eventually search for a political path forward.

It is clear that the government has no serious plan for dealing with reality, but it does have many ideas for how to make matters worse. The empty accusations against Abbas, outlawing the Islamic Movement, attacks on Palestinian members of Knesset — these will only lead us downhill. Those who are not satisfied with the current Palestinian political actors in Israel and the West Bank will either get militant politics or pure anarchy. Any political arrangement will be much harder to achieve, since everyone will try to retroactively justify the blood spilled.

The alternative to this horrible cycle begins with recognizing that Jews and Arabs will need to continue living in this land side by side, whether the arrangement is called “two states”, “one state,” or any other name. There will never be complete separation — so we must start with creating a shared life based on fairness and equality.

The lesson we ought to learn from the disengagement is that unilateral steps are a recipe for disaster. We must strengthen those who are willing to play the political game today, whether it is Fatah, Palestinian MKs, and even Hamas. We must show, with actions, that there is an end to the occupation in sight. Even if currently there is no path for a final-status agreement, we must demonstrate to young Palestinians that they have a future in this country. Not “under Israel,” but as people who have the power to determine their own future. Perhaps not everyone will be convinced, and maybe not immediately. Regional developments may complicate things. But the fact is there is no other way.

The chance of all that happening is slim. Currently, Israeli leaders are actually competing with one another over ideas for collective punishment against Palestinians — a well-known recipe for pushing more people into the cycle of violence. Everything feels so familiar, so futile. Expulsions, home demolitions, shutting down newspapers, administrative detention — it went the exact same way in previous rounds. The Jewish public is moving rightward. History teaches us that, at some point, it might change its mind. This won’t help the dead. The worst is still ahead of us.

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

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The Israeli Left needs to step up its game http://972mag.com/labors-disengagement-plan-and-the-failure-of-the-israeli-left/117090/ http://972mag.com/labors-disengagement-plan-and-the-failure-of-the-israeli-left/117090/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 16:35:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=117090 Herzog’s new diplomatic plan goes against the real interests of all those who live between the river and the sea — Jews and Arabs alike. Now it’s up to the Left to come up with a new vision based on real coexistence. 

Labor party leader Isaac Herzog at campaign headquarters on election night, March 17, 2015. His slate, the Zionist Camp, fell far short of expectations that he might unseat PM Netanyahu. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Labor party leader Isaac Herzog at campaign headquarters on election night, March 17, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Labor Party committee decided last week that it was officially parting with the two-state solution. The decision was not preceded by passionate discussions, nor was it extensively covered by the media. Had Prime Minister Netanyahu and Labor Chairman Isaac Herzog not traded barbs a few days later, I highly doubt anyone would have noticed. Even more than the decision itself, the general apathy with which it was received is worth paying attention to.

I do not know if the two-state solution is dead, like everyone is so quick to declare these days. There is no real “point of no return” in politics. What is clear is that the political process that was supposed to bring us there has come to an end. The formula was based on U.S.-mediated negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Israel is not interested, the PLO represents only a portion of the Palestinian people, and the Americans are slowly disengaging from the Middle East. The carrots Israel was supposed to receive — most important among them was legitimacy and normalization with Arab countries — seem less relevant in the face of the changes taking place in the Middle East. On the other hand, many Palestinians do not believe that a demilitarized half-state on 22 percent of historical Palestine is such a great deal — and even that much seems out of reach.

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We are in the first stages of a new phase in the political relations between Jews and Palestinians. On this Herzog is correct: the Israeli Left needs new thinking, the kind that will take into account both regional and global developments. The problem is that most of the major players on the left (political parties, think tanks, journalists, intellectuals) prefer believing in stagnant ideas from the 80s and 90s. Either that or they just join the Right. That is precisely what the Labor Party’s discussion looked like — a struggle between the romantics of Oslo and “Rabin’s legacy,” and those who propose outflanking Netanyahu from the right.

Thus the Labor Party adopted a plan full of internal contradictions: on the one hand Israel will complete the separation barrier, on the other hand it will announce that the barrier is not a border. Israel will freeze settlement construction outside the blocs, yet continue building elsewhere. Israel will transfer those Palestinians living beyond the wall in Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority — as well as some other parts of the West Bank — but will do so “unilaterally.” The government will go to war against the settlers for a settlement freeze, but we won’t actually remove any settlements. It’s disengagement, but without the disengaging part.

There also remain more a few unanswered questions: who says the Palestinians will want to take responsibility for the territories handed over by Israel? Maybe in exchange for maintaining Israel’s security in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority will have a few demands of its own? How will Israel revoke Israeli IDs from 100,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem? What counts as a settlement bloc? Ma’ale Adumim, located just east of Jerusalem? Ariel, in the heart of the West Bank? Kiryat Arba, a suburb of Hebron? Who can guarantee that the Palestinian Authority will survive long enough to take on all these roles? And that’s before we even talk about the plan’s moral defect: two sets of laws for two populations living side by side on the same territory. Does Labor really want to advocate this idea?

Maale Adumim settlement near east of Jerusalem (Activestills.org)

Maale Adumim settlement near east of Jerusalem (Activestills.org)

Even politically, its unilateralism makes no sense: all the difficult steps Israel refuses to take in negotiations — in order to build trust or as a temporary solution (such as a settlement construction freeze) — it is now supposed to implement without receiving anything in exchange, without anyone taking responsibility on the other side. In short: it’s unclear what Labor’s plan is supposed to achieve, since is neither meant to be a permanent solution nor a temporary one. So why bother?

The challenge of the Left

We live in a bi-national reality: two nations under the same regime, in the same land. But only Jews have full rights across the country, while Palestinians are held under a complex system that separates them into various legal sub-categories: citizens of Israel, residents of East Jerusalem, subjects of a military regime in the West Bank, and two million prisoners in Gaza. In the short run, this situation is beneficial to the Jewish public, which holds all the political and economic resources. In the medium-long term, this is a disaster for both nations. Instability is built-in, and violent eruptions are only a matter of time and opportunity, especially since both societies are totally intertwined in every part of the country — whether in the coast, Jerusalem, Galilee, the West Bank or the Negev.

The approach of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon — of maintaining the existing reality through military steps, alongside “goodwill gestures” for the civilian population, such as removing checkpoints and loosening restrictions on movement — worked until two years ago. Israeli citizens enjoyed peace and prosperity without being forced to give up their privileged status or evacuate land. Lately the situation has been changing: the violence and international pressure against Israel is growing. Things move slowly, but their effect is nevertheless felt. Unlike four or five years ago, when the Palestinian issue barely made headlines, today Israeli politicians are constantly talking about it.

Palestinians cross the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, July 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinians cross the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, July 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

This is where the failure of the Left lies. By “Left” I am referring to all the groups and people interested in granting equal rights to all people living between the river and the sea, whether in the framework of two states, one state, or any other solution (the other part of the term “Left,” which I do not refer to here, includes the struggle for substantive equality, through minimizing socioeconomic gaps, social justice, and a fight against discrimination, exploitation, and racism).

In my eyes, leftist thinking begins with recognizing that Jews and Arabs will continue to live together on this land. That there is a Jewish-Israeli nation just like there is a Palestinian nation, and that both have political and national rights. The Right is taking steps to strengthen Jewish supremacy: to transfer more land to Jewish ownership, to kick out Palestinians from the Knesset, to prevent the spread of the Palestinian narrative, to suppress demonstrations, to stop political organizing, and more. Whoever believes this will end well hasn’t learned a thing from history, including our own.

The endgame of the Right’s policies is clear: a war between Jews and Arabs and among Jews and Arabs, after which we will probably reach some kind of arrangement. Israel’s military and technological superiority can only delay, not prevent, the inevitable. If ISIS or some similar group manages to gain a serious foothold in Palestinian society, Netanyahu and the Right can only blame themselves, after decades of destroying every pragmatic, local political power.

The Left is meant to represent the opposite approach: because we recognize that both Jews and Arabs live here, we must find a way to fairly divide up resources, to get past the pain and mutual disappointments, to create some kind of historical justice and to patiently build a life together. Because that is the reality — there is really no other option. Those who advocate denying the rights of Palestinians (for example, through revoking residency from 100,000 people), putting more people behind walls, or kicking out Arab parliamentarians — as Labor does — are pushing just another form of right-wing thinking. That’s all. With his new plan, Herzog has not betrayed the two-state solution or the history of the Left. He has betrayed the real interests of all Israeli citizens, residents, and subjects — Jews and Arabs alike.

Building the separation barrier around Shuafat refugee camp, East Jerusalem, 2013. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Building the separation barrier around Shuafat refugee camp, East Jerusalem, 2013. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The right-wing worldview sees the situation in the Middle East as dangerous than ever, and therefore seeks to rely on power and refraining from taking necessary actions on the Palestinian issue. But the Israeli Left can have its own response to this approach. For instance, it can note that for the first time in its history, not only are there no more existential threats against Israel in a radius of over 1,000 kilometers, but nearly all the Arab armies have disappeared. It can remind Israelis that Netanyahu’s “high fences” approach does not provide a serious response to the most important challenge we face — how Jews and Arabs will be able to live together in Israel and the occupied territories. How to provide a response to the national aspirations of two peoples, how to create legal equality between all citizens and how to reach a compromise that we can live with on questions of religion and historical justice. Those who present themselves as alternatives to Netanyahu are running away from these questions for the sake of all kinds of arrangements that will allow them to maintain control over the Palestinians.

In praise of liberal forces

Even among the radical Left, which better understands the Palestinian point of view, the situation isn’t great. Many there avoid serious questions of power and responsibility for all kinds of utopian or revolutionary ideas that look especially unattractive when considering the violence and chaos that has engulfed the region.

Sometimes I feel that the radical Left has had enough of the very idea of an Israeli Left, and is developing a kind of alienation from Israeli society and its institutions, where any act aside from solidarity with Palestinians (which in itself should be praised) is no longer legitimate. I am not talking about specific issues such as refusing the draft or supporting boycotts — which in my opinion are legitimate tactics in the struggle against occupation — but rather the feeling of a common fate and responsibility for Jewish society, or the willingness to accept political compromises and partial achievements.

Israeli left-wing activists march to protest the recent incitement against "Breaking the Silence" and other left wing NGOs, in central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli left-wing activists march to protest the recent incitement against “Breaking the Silence” and other left wing NGOs, in central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

But the Israeli Left is important. It’s important because someone needs to deal with the big questions of our existence here, in an Arab region alongside the Palestinian people, from the Israeli and Jewish point of view. It’s important because the political opportunities for peace will come — perhaps faster than people think — and we might take advantage of them, or miss them completely. Let’s be clear: if the Right is the only player in the game, we will continue to see more right-wing “solutions” — such as the Gaza disengagement — that will only make things much worse. Gideon Levy was right when he reminded readers this week that the Labor Party birthed the occupation. But Labor was also the first Israeli ruling party to recognize the representatives chosen by Palestinians themselves, with whom it entered into a serious dialogue. I wouldn’t be so quick to give up on it.

If there is something to learn from conflicts that are reminiscent of ours — South Africa, Algeria, Northern Ireland, etc. — it is the significance of liberal forces in both societies at the most propitious time, and the disastrous results of eliminating the moderate camp during waves of violence. The theory according to which the Right is better qualified to make peace does not stand the test of reality or history — in Israel/Palestine or the world. We must remember that nothing is set in stone. Relations between Jews and Palestinians can stabilize, and we may also be entering a generation of mutual violence and civil war — or anything in the middle. Not everything is up to us, but the Israeli Left still has an important role in shaping this future.

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

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Why the Israeli debate on the occupation misses the point http://972mag.com/why-the-israeli-debate-on-the-occupation-misses-the-point/116550/ http://972mag.com/why-the-israeli-debate-on-the-occupation-misses-the-point/116550/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 20:28:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116550 In the eyes of most Israelis, democracy consists of two Jews arguing over the fate of the Palestinian.

Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency head (Jewish Agency for Israel/CC BY ND 2.0)

Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency head (Jewish Agency for Israel/CC BY ND 2.0)

Natan Sharansky, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, used his experiences as a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union in a recent op-ed in order to attack the activists of Israeli anti-occupation organization, Breaking the Silence, who do not shy from criticizing Israel’s policies in the occupied territories outside the country. Let me be clear: there are no similarities between what Jewish political activists in Israel go through and the persecution of dissidents in the USSR, and Sharansky’s contributions to human rights must never be forgotten, regardless of his current views.

But his article, which was published last week in Haaretz, includes one sentence that captures everything that is wrong with the Israeli public discussion on the occupation:

It is of course legitimate to believe that Israel’s military presence in the West Bank should be ended immediately.  But it is equally legitimate to believe that such a withdrawal would be dangerous and even catastrophic for the state. This is a political question that should be decided by Israel’s citizens through their elected representatives, not by a small group of self-appointed prophets and their chorus of foreign supporters. (emphasis mine, N.S.)

Who is missing from the picture? The Palestinians, of course. The entire idea of democracy is that everyone gets to participate in the discussion. But in Sharansky’s eyes, as in the eyes of most Israelis, democracy consists of two Jews arguing over the fate of the Palestinian. If the Jews don’t want Palestinians to have rights, they won’t have them.

Israelis do not have the right to endlessly deny Palestinians their freedom, and it doesn’t matter if that decision is made “democratically” or not. Sharansky is wrong — Breaking the Silence is right: there is nothing wrong with turning to the international community to put pressure on Israel to change its policies, since those policies are illegitimate to begin with.

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

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It’s open season on anyone opposing the occupation http://972mag.com/its-open-season-on-anyone-opposing-the-occupation/116184/ http://972mag.com/its-open-season-on-anyone-opposing-the-occupation/116184/#comments Sat, 23 Jan 2016 09:18:34 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116184 There is a campaign being carried out against anyone actively opposing the occupation in Israel, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an activist in the field, a human rights attorney or a former soldier talking about what you were ordered to do.

Ta’ayush member Ezra Nawi is brought to a Jerusalem court on January 20, 2016. Nawi, an Israeli Jew active opposing the occupation, was arrested after a right-wing organization put him in the crosshairs of a hidden-camera ‘sting operation.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Ta’ayush member Ezra Nawi is brought to a Jerusalem court on January 20, 2016. Nawi, an Israeli Jew active opposing the occupation, was arrested after a right-wing organization put him in the crosshairs of a hidden-camera ‘sting operation.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“Activists from the shady organization, “Ta’ayush,” who we tracked from within and outside, behind closed doors and during clashes on Saturdays, are going to fall one by one. Don’t worry friends. We will finish off Ezra Nawi and move on to Guy Butavia… and many others.”

That message was published and quickly spread on Facebook following the arrest of Ezra Nawi, and before the arrest of Guy Butavia, another activist in Ta’ayush, and B’Tselem field worker Nasser Nawajah. The three were arrested after a right-wing group, “Ad Kan,” gave allegedly incriminating materials to the police and primetime investigative news show, “Uvda.”

A month earlier, far-right group Im Tirzu marked other anti-occupation activists as targets: B’Tselem Executive-Director Haggai El-Ad; executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Yishai Menuchin; a prominent member of Breaking the Silence; and an attorney who protects Palestinians in Israeli courts on behalf of Hamoked — Center for the Defense of the Individual. This week it was revealed that right-wing group “Regavim” hired a private investigator to track human rights attorney Michael Sfard and Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din. There is a connection between each of these, of course.

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The past few days have seen politicians and pundits comparing the “extreme left” to the “extreme right,” between the Ta’yush activists to the suspects in the Duma murders. Alon Idan wrote brilliantly about the mainstream’s tendency to create this kind of symmetry — replacing principled, moral judgment with statistics. But there is a different, more fundamental point that does not get the attention it deserves. In the case of Duma, the police went and looked for the perpetrators only after the crime was committed. The same goes for all the recent hate crimes by right-wing extremists, which were investigated by the state (the vast majority of so-called “price tag attacks” end with no indictment).

But in the case of the Ta’ayush activists, the process was reversed: “Ad Kan” did not go to the South Hebron Hills to investigate the harassment of land sellers. They went in search of ways to bring down Ta’ayush. To infiltrate the organization and get dirt on as many activists as possible. Like in the case of Michael Sfard and Breaking the Silence: first the Right found its target, and only then did it start looking for crimes. To the chagrin of Regavim, the materials it found and published about Sfard did not lead to the same storm that the Uvda report or recent articles on Breaking the Silence did. But the principle is identical.

The criminals from the South Hebron Hills

A member of Ta’ayush speaks to Israeli army officers during a direct action in solidarity with Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills, January 17, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A member of Ta’ayush speaks to Israeli army officers during a direct action in solidarity with Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills, January 17, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This is the fundamental issue. This is the reason left-wing activists feel it is open season on them. Because the targeting of activists has become personal, using their names and images. Because the goal is to find something — anything — to eliminate them, at all costs. If not through police investigations, then by tarnishing their public images, like in the case of former Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel. Perhaps a recent article on him in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he was secretly filmed giving a lecture to Breaking the Silence activists, will bring about a change in the law and Liel will find himself in prison. If not, then maybe someone will decide to wait outside his home and beat him up. When the head of Im Tirzu was asked about the possibility that his contemptible campaign could actually bring physical harm to the heads of these organizations, he shrugged and said that it “would be their responsibility.” Things have never been clearer.

A prominent right-wing journalist with whom I used to work often said, in an entirely different context, that “once you enter the system’s pipeline, someone will find something about you.” That is why in a state governed by law, the police investigates crimes rather than people. At this moment, the logic in Israel is the exact opposite — the Right is investigating people. The media, the police, and the pathetic politicians of the Israeli center are following in its wake. Before the land seller case, the Samaria and Judea Police Division tried to pin on Nawi a series of traffic violations. Only the fact that were able to mak an even better case stick saved us from reading opeds about how “the Left is protecting a traffic violator.”

The reason these people were targeted is crystal clear. There is not much in common between Ta’ayush and Michael Sfard, or between Breaking the Silence and Ezra Nawi, aside from the fact that they all struggle against the occupation.

They say Breaking the Silence is hated in Israel because they speak about the occupation abroad, and that B’Tselem is hated because they receive donations from foreign countries. Nonsense. Ta’ayush does not speak abroad. In fact, they aren’t even an NGO, but rather an informal organization made up of people who every Friday and Saturday head to the South Hebron Hills — in the hottest days of summer and in the freezing winter — to stand up to settlers from illegal outposts and the army that backs them. This is a boring, difficult task, which often includes accompanying Palestinian shepherds and farmers — so that they are not attacked by settlers — planting trees, or cleaning out water wells that have been either sealed shut or destroyed.

A group of Ta’ayush activists walk toward a Palestinian hamlet in the South Hebron Hills on a recent Saturday, January 17, 2016. The activists’ presence is often enough to prevent settlers from targeting Palestinians and to deter the army from kicking them off their land. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A group of Ta’ayush activists walk toward a Palestinian hamlet in the South Hebron Hills on Saturday, January 17, 2016. The activists’ presence is often enough to prevent settlers from targeting Palestinians and to deter the army from kicking them off their land. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A decade and a half ago, when I served as a soldier in South Hebron Hills, the army still accompanied Palestinian children in order to prevent settler harassment. But the truth is that even back then, this was the wildest, ugliest place in the country. One of the settlers, who immigrated from apartheid South Africa, advised us to treat the Palestinians the way they used to treat blacks in his native land. Another settler, who lived in a cave in the West Bank, used to march his small herd of sheep directly into Palestinian fields, and when they tried to keep the animals away from their crops, the man would call the army because, well, the Palestinians were harassing Jews.

The reality of the Israeli Wild West did not interest the either the public or the media back then. It doesn’t interest them today. Uvda never bothered to go to the occupied territories to talk about the difficult reality farmers face there on a daily basis. The only people who cared were the activists in Ta’ayush, who do everything they can to stand up to much larger, far more organized forces. And now they are paying the price for it. Just like Michael Sfard, who argued before the High Court of Justice — and won — that the land belonging to the villagers of Bil’in was stolen for the sake of building a new neighborhood for Jews, all using deceptive claims of “security needs.” Just like B’Tselem’s field worker Nasser Nawaj’ah, who sat in jail following Uvda’s report while bulldozers demolished a protest tent against land expropriation in his home village of Susya. First they ignore the story, then they target those who speak about it, then they look for dirt, and then they demand the rest of the Left condemn the wrongdoers, lest everyone be considered a criminal.

The fact that Ta’ayush’s activities focus on Israel/Palestine, rather than abroad, hasn’t helped them much. Michael Sfard’s appeals to Israeli courts, rather than The Hague, were what led the Right to persecute him. The fact that Breaking the Silence does not reveal the names of the soldiers who give testimony, so that they do not face prosecution around the world or even in Israel, did not help. They are all fighting the occupation — that is their real crime. Instead of going to speak on television panels about the need for a “political horizon,” they tried to do something about the reality here. The occupation is the ruler, and it eliminates its opponents. Not because they are strong or threaten it, but because there really is no other way. Because the project of control in the occupied territories is in crisis, and we need to place the blame on someone.

The Right’s vision

It is no coincidence, of course, that Ad Kan’s campaign is backed by the publicly funded Samaria Settler Council, and that Regavim — which spends huge sums on tracking human rights organizations — is also backed by state-funded local councils in the West Bank. Ta’ayush, on the other hand, is run entirely by volunteers. Now it seems that the only people who actually received money for their trips to South Hebron Hills were Ad Kan’s moles, possibly funded by Israeli taxpayers.

The state and the Right are joining hands because the occupation is the state. Guy Butavia discovered in his interrogation that the questions he was asked by the police were passed on by Ad Kan. Israeli police in the West Bank, a division of the Israel National Police that is totally incompetent when it comes to solving recurring attacks against Palestinians — and which closes investigations into people who attack left-wing activists in broad daylight and in front of the cameras — suddenly acted with maximum efficiency in response to the Uvda investigation. Ezra Nawi was arrested at the airport despite the fact that there was no order preventing him from leaving the country. Why? How? Who cares. The arrestees were prevented from meeting with their attorneys, as if we were dealing with a “ticking bomb.”Not only were these blatantly political arrests, the most basic rights of the detainees were suspended.

Something dawned on human rights organizations and anti-occupation activists this week. It seems clear to all that a new campaign has begun. Much of the public is apathetic toward the Ta’ayush arrests, as goes for all political persecution. In history classes we used to ask ourselves how the “silent majority” and the “good people” allowed for such horrible things to happen. Now the answer is clear: if someone is being persecuted, there was probably a good reason, and the majority of people continue living their lives, because that is what people do. The weakness of Israel’s left-wing parties is far less clear to me. They are still playing the old game of trying to wedge themselves into the mainstream while the reality has changed completely.

It must be repeated: the Right has no solution for the current situation. The Palestinians will continue to resist the occupation, even if all the human rights organizations are shut down. Even if Israel manages to silence the Palestinians for a month, a year, or five. Those who view Arab citizens of Israel as enemies will turn them into enemies. Those who view Israelis who oppose the occupation as traitors won’t stop there. The only vision the Right is presenting is a civil war between Jews and Arabs, and between Jews and Jews. The only thing preventing that from happening is Israel’s sheer military strength. But desperation will also find a way to break through even that. With every day that passes, the price of changing direction only rises, and those who are able to step on the brakes prefer to sit on the fence.

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

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Is religion an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace? http://972mag.com/is-religion-an-obstacle-to-israeli-palestinian-peace/115148/ http://972mag.com/is-religion-an-obstacle-to-israeli-palestinian-peace/115148/#comments Fri, 25 Dec 2015 14:04:39 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115148 Pew publishes surprising new data on religion in Israel, Palestine and the region.

We often hear that Israelis and Palestinians are more religious than other national groups, or at the very least are becoming more religious. This, they claim, makes any solution to the conflict more difficult to reach. A new Pew Research Center report reveals some rather surprising results vis-a-vis religion in Israel and Palestine.

Thirty-four percent of Israelis said that religion is “very important” in their lives, placing them at the top of the bottom one-third of countries listed, and — unsurprisingly — the lowest in the Middle East.

Pew Research Center report on importance of religion by country.

Meanwhile, 74 percent of Palestinians said that religious is very important in their lives. On the face of it, this is a very high statistic, but the poll also finds that there is an inverse correlation between wealth and religiosity. Put simply, people in poorer nations tend to place more importance on religion than those in wealthier nations, and Palestinians are significantly poorer than Israelis.

When placed on a wealth/religion curve, both the Israelis and Palestinians are very close to the curve. Israelis are slightly more religious than what one would expect when taking into account their level of income, while the Palestinians are slightly less religious in relation to their level of income. Among both nations, however, religion plays a fairly standard role in people’s lives relative to the rest of the world.

Pew Research Center report on importance of religion by country.

According to the report, the United States — the wealthiest nation included in the 2015 global survey based on gross domestic product per capita — is a notable exception to this trend. Americans are much more likely than their counterparts in other economically advanced nations to say religion is very important.

In my opinion, these findings support the hypothesis according to which religion is not some great barrier to Israeli-Palestinian compromise, and that control of resources (in other words: a struggle over land) is far more significant for understanding the conflict.

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

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When Israel tortures Jewish terror suspects http://972mag.com/torture-is-just-another-symptom-of-the-occupation/114989/ http://972mag.com/torture-is-just-another-symptom-of-the-occupation/114989/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 16:41:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114989 The Right is furious over the alleged use of torture against the suspects in the murder of a Palestinian family. But is it any surprise that the tools used against Palestinians would eventually be used against Jews too?

Israeli activists participate in an action protesting the use of torture, 2011. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli activists participate in an action protesting the use of torture, 2011. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“Torture in Israel? The Shin Bet’s actions in the Duma case may turn out to be the secret service’s new ‘Bus 300 Affair,’ wrote Yehuda Yifrach, the legal expert for the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon and the NRG news site, on his personal Facebook page.

Well, of course there is torture in Israel — it has been used here on a regular basis for decades. There was even an investigatory committee that dealt with the issue and the High Court even established a legal framework for the use of torture. There are also many testimonies that show how the Shin Bet regularly strays from that framework, using interrogation techniques that can be categorized as torture in order to force prisoners to confess, and not only in cases of a “ticking bomb.”

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The Israeli Right has been accusing the Shin Bet of using violent interrogation methods against the suspects in the murder of three members of the Dawabshe family in Duma this past July. The suspects were allegedly prevented from seeing a lawyer until last Wednesday, prompting a large right-wing demonstration outside the home of Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen Saturday night.

Yirach’s bewilderment, as well as that of many on the Right, is not really about “torture in Israel,” but rather about the “torture of Jews.” This is a different question entirely. The attitude underlying Yifrach’s message is that Palestinians are not actually part of the Israeli system, despite having to obey its orders. They do not have the same civil rights as Jews, which makes admissible in court a confession extracted from a Palestinian minor, while a confession by a Jewish minor using the same techniques is inadmissible.

In truth, this is not the attitude of the Right, but of the Israeli mainstream, which is convinced that the occupied territories are part of Israel (or, at the very least, are disputed), while millions of people who live in this territory are not part of Israel, and they are not entitled to the same civil and human rights as Israelis. But the reality is that both the people and the land are under Israeli control and are subject to Israeli law — or Israeli military law — whether they want it or not. Israel is a democracy that controls a population in the West Bank through military dictatorship, and one of the most common tools used by dictatorships is torture.

The distinction between the occupied territories and Israel exists only in our minds. In reality, there is one system that governs different populations and parts of the land using different means. The moment one of those means is used against one population, there is no problem using it against the others. The interrogators are the same interrogators, the High Court the same High Court, the norms the same norms, and the legal framework the same legal framework.

Jaffa protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners (Mati Milstein)

Palestinians protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners, Jaffa, Israel. (photo: Mati Milstein)

The only thing we are left with is circumstance, such that when the government wants to — for instance following a murder that horrifies the public and does damage to the government’s image abroad — the public no longer has any principle objection to using torture against Jewish minors as well. In fact, according to the security establishment, the need to do so might sometimes be more urgent: As opposed to Palestinians, who tend to confess to their crimes due to the pressure from lengthy periods of incarceration and an absurdly high conviction rate in military courts, Jews know their privilege and do not tend to confess to security-based crimes, where there is generally less forensic evidence.

This is the reason why human rights must be universal and must not differentiate between Jews, Arabs, asylum seekers or any other population. The sad irony is that on the same week that the Right took to the streets — justifiably — to protest the interrogation techniques used on the Jewish detainees, the executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Ishai Menuchin, was personally targeted by the recent campaign of incitement against human rights activists. I wonder how many of the rightists who protested in front of the Shin Bet chief’s home on Saturday are aware of PCATI’s struggles and successes against the state’s torture policy, which included a victory in the High Court in 1999 forbidding the Shin Bet from violently shaking suspects during interrogations. Had it not been for the decades-long work by PCATI or the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Duma suspects’ situation would have been worse. Far worse.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and ACRI both published statements calling to uphold the Duma suspects’ rights. Yet the political center in Israel views torture as a legitimate tool. It also derides the leftists who oppose torture — whether to protect the rights of Palestinians or Jewish settlers — as bleeding hearts. But human rights organizations know one thing very well that the rest of the Israeli populace continues to ignore: the occupation will not end at the 1967 borders. It is impossible to maintain a dictatorship within a democracy. When it is politically expedient, the tools used in the occupied territories are also used in Israel. Torture is not a necessary evil to be wielded against violence — whether it comes from the Right, the Left, or the Palestinians. On the contrary: torture is part of the violence of the regime of occupation, and the way to deal with violence — on all sides — is to put an end to the occupation.

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If there is one thing that stands out over the past few years, it is the way in which the occupation has corrupted both Israeli institutions and the public sphere. There is a straight line that connects the history of human rights activism by groups like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, to the restrictions on political activism inside Israel, to the violence by Jews against Arabs, to the use of violent interrogation methods against Jews. The key to all these phenomenons can be found in the failure of the political establishment, from the right, center, and left to solve the issue of the occupied territories.

The Jewish public has adopted the status quo as the solution. But the price of that status quo continues to climb, both internally and externally. The violence continues to undermine our sense of security, while international pressure continues to grow. The legitimacy of Israeli policy, and often of Israel itself, continues to deteriorate. Not a single political power in Israel is interested in change, yet the existing reality is becoming harder and harder to swallow.

We must not forget the Right’s sweeping victory in the last elections, which gave its representatives the feeling that they have an unlimited mandate to wipe out every political rival. When the Right fails to come to an agreement or gain legitimacy, it turns to might; when that doesn’t work, the demand for power grows even stronger. This includes using additional means to oppress Palestinians (more arrests, more home demolitions, more firepower), and new methods of eliminating political opposition — strengthening the ability to govern, restricting civil society groups, outlawing political movements, the boycott law, summoning activists for threatening conversations, preventing human rights organizations from meeting with high school students, restrictions on transferring funds from abroad, severing ties with “hostile representatives” from around the world (even when they come from the governments most friendly to Israel). All of this is already happening, and we can only imagine what kind of steps will be deemed necessary in three, five, or 10 years. The occupation is not going anywhere, and we will continue to import the methods used in the West Bank to Israel.

These are not necessary steps in the struggle for the survival of the Jewish People. These aren’t even necessary steps in the struggle for the survival of the State of Israel. This is the struggle for the survival of an unjust regime, whose ultimate end is clear; the only question is how much blood will be spilled on the way. Even Jewish terror, with which the state is currently trying to contend, is part of a well-known phenomenon: fringe groups among the oppressing population, which do a better job than the regime of instilling fear into the oppressed group. Violence, on all sides, is a direct outcome of the violence of the occupation. One cannot treat the symptoms without dealing with the disease.

As opposed to the consensus among the right wing, or the depraved admiration for the likes of Putin that has become commonplace lately, we must remember that oppressive regimes are also the most fragile, and whose deterioration is usually painful and violent for all parties. Liberal democracies are likely the most stable kind of regime that we know — they contend with both internal and external threats better than most dictatorships. That is, unless they decide to turn into dictatorships themselves.

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

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