+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 01 Sep 2015 13:19:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 No way to defeat Jewish terrorism without ending the occupation http://972mag.com/no-way-to-defeat-jewish-terrorism-without-ending-the-occupation/109613/ http://972mag.com/no-way-to-defeat-jewish-terrorism-without-ending-the-occupation/109613/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 14:21:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109613 For the extreme right, violence against Palestinian civilians is not solely a result of racism — it is, first and foremost, a form of control.

The vast majority of settlers are not violent, although different levels of violence toward the Palestinian population in the occupied territories have accompanied the settlement enterprise since its inception. These acts of violence are never an outlier, but as a direct consequence of the situation in the West Bank.

The public turns a blind eye to this fact whenever these events happen. The responses to the murder of the 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabshe, are a sign that we will continue to ignore the bigger picture.

Israeli soldiers are seen in front of the damaged house of the Dawabsha family, which was set on fire by Jewish settlers and where 18-month-old Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha died, in the West Bank village of Duma, on July 31, 2015. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Israeli Border Policemen are seen in front of the damaged house of the Dawabsha family, which was allegedly set on fire by Jewish settlers, killing 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Saad Dawabsha, in the West Bank village of Duma, July 31, 2015. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

The defining characteristic of the occupation is that it includes two civilian populations living alongside one another, which are subject to two different legal systems. The Palestinians live under a military regime, while every Israeli who lives or even visits the settlements “brings” the Israeli law with them, including all the legal protections she or he is granted.

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The second defining characteristic of the occupation is the Israeli desire to slowly expand the territory and resources for the Jewish public, while slowly lessening Palestinians’ territory. This combination — a military regime with civilian settlement — is what causes the Israeli occupation to look and feel a lot like colonialism or apartheid, even if there is not an exact overlap. This is the essence of the regime, regardless of the question of whether or not this is our forefathers’ land, or who was here first.

Colonialism always goes hand-in-hand with racism, and extreme racism is always accompanied by violence. Even if the original motivation that brings about a colonial situation is not racist, at a certain point the ruling group must somehow justify its own privileges, which inevitably leads to racist worldviews. For example, that the occupied population is not “ready” to have all their rights, or that it is inherently weak and violent; that it doesn’t appreciate life as we do; that it prefers to live in close, dirty quarters, etc. The struggle against racism in Israel — to the degree that it even exists — will fail as long as the occupation exists, since we will always need racism in order to justify the occupation.

But racism cannot fully explain the violence toward Palestinian civilians. Some of the more infamous attempts to harm Palestinians — the Jewish Underground, which carried out a murderous attack on a seminar in Hebron and attempted to blow up five Palestinian buses, was the most well known of them — were not exceptionally racist. The Jewish Underground’s goals were first and foremost political: to prevent the possible evacuation of settlements while strengthening Jewish rule over the local population through fear, intimidation and “punishing” leading figures, as was the case with their attacks on Palestinian mayors. The excuse is always the “weakness” of the central regime — what is seen as hesitancy to implement Israeli sovereignty vis-a-vis the Palestinian population. The violence was and remains a form of control.

Benzi Gopstein, a well-known settler activist and leader of the extreme right Levaha organization, disrupts olive harvest in Hebron. (Activestills)

Benzi Gopstein, a well-known settler activist and leader of the extreme right Levaha organization, disrupts olive harvest in Hebron. (Activestills)

The history of colonialism is rife with such examples. One of the most famous ones was the Organisation de l’armée secrète, a far-right paramilitary group that used terrorism to try and prevent Algeria’s independence from French colonial rule. At one point the group began targeting French citizens, such as Sartre — who supported an end to French rule — and even President De Gaulle himself.

A similar pattern has taken shape here. The central idea behind the so-called “price tag” attacks is political — tightening control over the Palestinians through “punishment” (of innocents) whether as a response to attacks on Jews or what is seen as the weakening of Jewish grip on the West Bank, usually after demolition of structures in outposts or settlements. The most minor harassment to Palestinians are usually accompanied with talks of “the need to teach them a lesson,” “to teach them respect,” and so on.

Read: Settler violence — it comes with the territory

During my army service in the occupied territories, I encountered many of these kinds of remarks, especially in Hebron, where the friction Jews and Palestinians was and remains the most intense. Sometimes it resulted in breaking car windows or sun-heated water tanks atop of Palestinian homes. In other cases it was a slap to the face or spitting in the direction of a passerby. In Gaza and the Nablus region, the incidents usually took place near the checkpoints. I remember a few instances in which armed settlers exited their cars (especially when there was a long line, or the junction was blocked for some reason), berated and threatened the Palestinians in the very same lordly tone. It is hard to even think about that same Israeli citizen leaving his car in a traffic jam in Haifa, waving his weapon at the other drivers and yelling at the police to do their job, at least without it ending in his arrest. Why does the same person act differently on the other side of the Green Line? The difference lies in the occupation, and everyone involved knows it.

Israeli settlers at the Hebron Jewish settlement's Purim parade on the city's Shuhada Street. Itamar Ben Gvir (L), is dressed as a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner. February 24, 2013 (Activestills.org)

Israeli settlers hold their annual Purim parade on Hebron’s Shuahda Street. The street has been closed off to Palestinian access for several years, February 24, 2013 (Activestills.org)

Of course Palestinians also try to harm Jews in the occupied territories — but the difference is that there is an entire system that works to deal with Palestinian violence. It does so vigorously, using tools that are unacceptable in Israel’s legal system: mass arrests without trial, warrantless searches (even in houses of non-suspects), torture, collective punishment (canceling entry permits to Palestinians whose family member was involved in terrorism), targeted assassinations, etc.

After the horrendous murder of the Fogel family in 2011, the army put the Palestinian village of Hawara under curfew, broke into houses and forcefully took D.N.A. samples from all the men of the village.

Any Palestinian who wrote a murderous manifesto such as the one published by Moshe Auerbach [Hebrew] — which explained how to look for Palestinian homes to light on fire while blocking the entrance of the house so that the victims are unable to escape — would be locked up for many years, or at least held in administrative detention. But Auerbach himself was released as a result of a procedural mistake by the prosecution.

IDF soldiers prevent Palestinians from plowing their land after disruptions by settlers, Sinjil, West Bank. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

IDF soldiers prevent Palestinians from plowing their land after disruptions by settlers, Sinjil, West Bank. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

When I served in the army, the IDF still defined its goals as ensuring the security of all the residents of the occupied territories. Today, however, it is made clear in briefings that the first goal is to protect Jews, and the idea that all Palestinians are enemies — even the “non-combatants” — is growing.

This is an unfathomable situation. We go about our lives feeling like the law is protecting us. Most of the time this system works, and when it doesn’t we become angry, and justifiably so. But the Palestinian population is vulnerable to arbitrary harassment, whether by soldiers or settlers.

While the Palestinian Authority spends 25 percent of its budget on security, its main role is to ensure the safety of Israelis, not Palestinians (this fact alone should have put an end to the age-old question of whether or not Israel still controls the Palestinians). A Palestinian policeman cannot arrest a settler, even if an attack was to take place before his own eyes. Palestinians are therefore dependent on the good will of the army, the police or the Shin Bet, and these bodies do not give much importance to protecting Palestinian life, aside for in a few exceptional cases.

Add to this the fact that the majority of Palestinian civilians killed in the West Bank are killed by the army itself. In comparison to the IDF, the violence of the extreme right is still marginal. And IDF violence is treated far more leniently than price tag attacks. Even in the most extreme cases, where there is a clear suspicious of murder by Israeli soldiers, the system’s instinct is to cover it up. When an investigation is pursued, it is done long after the incident took place and with limited resources (+972 published a series of incidents detailing stories of soldiers who killed Palestinians and were let off the hook) Punishment is almost nonexistent, aside from a few special cases (which are entirely symbolic).

In fact, the main reason the army investigates these cases is the need to enforce discipline on its troops, along with a desire to protect the military leadership from the International Criminal Court (a functional internal mechanism to investigate such crimes is one of the legal protections against these kinds of international criminal trials).

The problem begins with the highest ranks: the General Officer Commanding the IDF’s Central Command himself, who is charged with maintaining Palestinian security, was involved in the killing of an unarmed Palestinian [Hebrew]. The commander of the Binyamin Regional Brigade shot a Palestinian stone-thrower who was running away from him; a video that came to light after the incident revealed that the IDF’s version of the events was inaccurate, to say the least. These events, which take place regularly, illustrate the absurdity behind the notion that the army will protect Palestinian civilians.

Family members of 17-year-old Mohammed Sami al-Ksbeh mourns during his funeral in Qalandiya refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Ramallah July 3, 2015. A senior Israeli army officer shot and killed Ksbeh who was throwing stones near a checkpoint in the West Bank on Friday, June 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Family members of 17-year-old Mohammed Sami al-Ksabeh mourns during his funeral in Qalandiya refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Ramallah July 3, 2015. A senior Israeli army officer shot and killed Ksabeh who was throwing stones near a checkpoint in the West Bank on Friday, June 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Still, I do not support the recent calls to use all the means available to the IDF and the Shin Bet — which are used on Palestinians every day — against right-wing Jewish extremists. This approach will only increase the number of human rights violations by the occupation. No one is planning to place a settlement under curfew or take all of its men to D.N.A. tests, and for good reason. As I wrote earlier, violence is inseparable from the colonial reality in the occupied territories — without putting an end to that reality, there is no chance to properly deal with violence. Even if things cool down temporarily, the situation will only grow worse in the long run. The only solutions are the evacuation of settlements or equal rights for all.

There were people on the left who claimed in recent days that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett are responsible for the murder of Ali Dawabshe. But in my eyes, their responsibility is no greater than that of centrists who believe that the occupation is tolerable, or that there is “no partner” and “no alternative,” and therefore the status quo in the occupied territories must remain for the time being. The occupation and the settlements create violence. It is true that the war against Jewish terrorism should not wait for the end of military rule — but without fighting the occupation, there is no chance of winning the battle against Jewish terrorism.

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

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Go ahead, tear down the High Court — watch the occupation crumble http://972mag.com/go-ahead-tear-down-the-high-court-watch-the-occupation-crumble/109413/ http://972mag.com/go-ahead-tear-down-the-high-court-watch-the-occupation-crumble/109413/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:07:24 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109413 In response to the demolition of two high-profile settlement buildings, an MK in the ruling coalition calls for the destruction of the High Court itself. He may not have thought that one through.

Israeli authorities demolish two apartment buildings in the settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, July 29, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org) The High Court rejected the State’s appeals to save the two buildings that were illegally built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Israeli authorities demolish two apartment buildings in the settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, July 29, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org) The High Court rejected the State’s appeals to save the two buildings that were illegally built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the state to demolish two apartment buildings in the settlement of Beit El. Israeli police and military forces carried out the order within hours, leading to physical clashes with settlers and exceptionally harsh attacks on the court by right-wing members of the government. Human rights groups hailed the ruling as a victory.

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But today of all days, it is important to remember that the High Court itself is one of the most important cornerstones propping up the occupation. The Israeli High Court of Justice has never written a single ruling (not even one!) that has come close to putting a wrench in the gears of the occupation. Quite the opposite. The court’s justices have given their stamp of approval to each and every instrument the State of Israel uses to impose its apartheid regime on the Palestinian population.

The argument that settlements are not a violation of international law has been endorsed by the High Court. Demolishing Palestinian homes as collective punishment meted out on innocent family members — approved by the court. Imprisonment without charge or trial, even of minors — approved. Deportations — approved. Extrajudicial assassinations — approved. Torture — approved. The separation fence and its route that annexes occupied territory — approved. Exploiting Palestinian natural resources in the West Bank for the benefit of Israel and Israelis — approved.

Settlers protest as Israeli authorities carry out a High Court order to demolish two apartment buildings in the settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, July 29, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org) All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law.

Settlers protest as Israeli authorities carry out a High Court order to demolish two apartment buildings in the settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, July 29, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org) All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law.

The High Court’s primary role is building a legal framework in which all of those things can be carried out: how and where to establish settlements. How to expropriate land. How to deport Palestinians. How to assassinate them. How to annex land. How and when to torture. Somebody needs to do it. That is why High Court is important. So in cases like the two apartment buildings in Beit El, the court stages a high drama. It sets the boundaries with exceptional cases like this. And that, too, is important.

The High Court has made some important rulings and set a number of positive precedents for the citizens of Israel. But the Palestinians living in the territories are not citizens, and they have almost exclusively been harmed by the court and its rulings.

In response to the High Court order to demolish the two settlement buildings Wednesday morning, ruling coalition MK Moti Yogev of the Jewish Home party said the government should send a military bulldozer to demolish the highest court of the land.

Be my guest, Mr. Yogev. The High Court is the cornerstone of the occupation and each brick removed from its walls brings us one step closer to ending Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians.

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Pro-Netanyahu daily invents Obama ‘quote’ against Iran deal http://972mag.com/pro-netanyahu-daily-invents-obama-quote-against-iran-deal/109285/ http://972mag.com/pro-netanyahu-daily-invents-obama-quote-against-iran-deal/109285/#comments Sun, 26 Jul 2015 16:38:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109285

Owned by Adelson and aligned with Netanyahu, Israel’s most-read newspaper has now devolved to actually making things up about Obama.

Yisrael Hayom headline: "the agreement would strengthen the terrorism." Below: "there is a reason my name is Barack Hussein" (July 26, 2015)

Israel Hayom headline: ‘The agreement will strengthen terrorism.’ Below (right): ‘There is a reason my name is Barack Hussein.’ (July 26, 2015)

The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom has devoted itself to attacking the Iran nuclear deal in recent days. “A shameful surrender,” “Under Obama, Iran is becoming the regional superpower,” “Every new detail just proves how stupid and dangerous the deal is” — these are just some of the ways the paper’s columnists have described the deal in recent days.

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But now, Israel Hayom, which is printed and distributed for free at a considerable loss by American casino mogul and Republican party bankroller Sheldon Adelson, is taking the battle beyond the editorial pages. On Sunday the paper ran a double-spread headline that stretched journalistic ethics to their limit, or rather, ignored them altogether. The headline read: “The deal will strengthen terrorism,” with the quote, attributed to President Obama, printed in huge white-on-black letters. The sub-headline read: “The nuclear deal will likely channel money to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and The Quds Force.”.

The only problem: the U.S. president never said any of that. The headline was completely made up, and the sub-headline took the quote out of context. Here is what Obama actually said in the BBC interview that was “quoted” by Israel Hayom. I bolded the relevant sentence, but the rest is important for context:

SOPEL: But the net effect of lifting sanctions is that billions more will go to groups like Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and that is going to destabilize the region even more.

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, first of all, we’ve shut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which was priority number one. Because if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, then they could cause all those same problems that you just listed with the protection of a nuclear bomb. And create much greater strategic challenges for the United States, for Israel, for our Gulf allies, for our European allies.

Second, it is true that by definition, in a negotiation and a deal like this, Iran gets something out of it. The sanctions regime that we put in place with the hope of the Brits, but also the Chinese and the Russians and others meant that they had funds that were frozen. They get those funds back. A large portion of those funds are going to have to be used for them to rebuild their economy.

That was the mandate that elected Rouhani. And the supreme leader is feeling pressure there. Does the IRGC [Revolutionary Guard] or the Quds Force have more resources? Probably, as the economy in Iran improves. But the challenge that we’ve had, when it comes to Hezbollah, for example, aiming rockets into Israel is not a shortage of resources.

Iran has shown itself to be willing, even in the midst of real hardship, to fund what they consider to be strategy priorities. The challenge is us making sure that we’ve got the interdiction capacity, the intelligence, that we are building a much stronger defense against some of these proxy wars and asymmetric efforts. And we’ve sent a clear message to the Iranians. We are settling the Iran deal, but we still have a big account that we’re going to have to work. Hopefully some of it diplomatically, if necessary some of it militarily.

One can agree with Obama or not. One can believe that the deal “will strengthen terrorism,” as the Israeli prime minister says. But, contrary to what the most widely-read paper in Israel told its readers Sunday, the president himself never said such a thing.

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After Haaretz’s Barak Ravid called out Israel Hayom’s fabrication Sunday morning on Twitter, some remarked that the headline of a story on the bottom of the spread was far worse, since it was taken from something the president actually said upon his arrival to Kenya: “There is a reason my name is Barak Hussein Obama.”

Only that the Israel Hayom report on the American president’s visit to his father’s homeland was headlined, “There is a reason my name is Barack Hussein,” leaving “Obama” out.

In the context of Israel’s political culture and lexicon, the juxtaposition of the fabricated quote onto the nuclear deal “promoting terrorism,” along with the “Hussein” headline, forges a fairly powerful message — one that plays into the hands of the more conspiracy theory-oriented corners of the national discourse.

Furthermore, Israel Hayom‘s decision is not bereft of racism; it is actually pretty common to hear racist references to Obama’s name or family history in Israel. Two of the more high-profile incidents included a racist Tweet (which was later deleted) by the wife of the deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom. And of course there was also Ambassador Michael Oren’s infamous psychoanalysis of the president.

Recently, The Washington Post’s Colbert King warned of the possible damage to the relations between Jews and blacks in America because of the Israeli disdain for the first African-American president. “The ‘Obama Coffee’ insult, the rabbinical slurs and the below-the-belt punches of Israeli officials are so sad, dispiriting and potentially disrupting in ways that once seemed unimaginable,” King wrote. As the headlines in Israel Hayom show, Netanyahu and his supporters couldn’t care less.

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Tel Aviv bank index drops following think tank report on settlements http://972mag.com/tel-aviv-bank-index-drops-following-think-tank-report-on-settlements/109160/ http://972mag.com/tel-aviv-bank-index-drops-following-think-tank-report-on-settlements/109160/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 16:14:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109160 The European Council on Foreign Relations publishes a paper recommending the EU take measures against financial institutions that do businesses in the West Bank. Israeli bank stocks dip shortly after Israeli media quoted a Reuters article on the report.

The degree of nervousness in Israel over potential future sanctions against local companies that do business in the settlements was evident for all to see Tuesday. Publicity surrounding an EU think tank report on the topic caused the Tel Aviv banking index to drop 2.3 points in less than an hour (a total of 2.46 points for the day).

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The report, published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, included a series of recommendations intended to create a distinction between formal EU-Israeli ties and those that create complicity in its settlement activities in the West Bank. It put a special emphasis on the banking system. (Read the full report below.)

According to the reports’ authors, Hugh Lovatt and Mattia Toaldo, “differentiating between Israel and its settlement activities within the EU’s bilateral relations is one of most powerful tools at the EU’s disposal for challenging the incentive structure that underpins Israeli support for the status quo.”

The report recommends the European Commission “task its directorates general with reviewing their existing interactions with Israel to assess whether differentiate between Israel proper and the settlements.” A special emphasis is placed on the banking system, which conducts financial activities in the settlements — mostly mortgages and loans — but also has many interests in Europe.

The ECFR has no formal capacity within EU institutions, but the alarm bells in Israel rang nonetheless. A Reuters piece on the report was picked up by the local media and published by Ynet at 1:03 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s banking index took a dive. The Israeli media was quick to connect the drop to the news items on the report.

The drop in the banking stocks on July 22, 2015 (Source: Calcalist.co.il)

The drop in banking stocks on July 22, 2015 (Source: Calcalist.co.il)

The three major Israeli banks — Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount — lost 2.6-2.7 percent each. They also had led the day in trade volume.

Sources in the banks dismissed the report, stating that it carries no formal weight. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the matter for the same reason. The market, however, sent a different signal. And while the stocks may rise again tomorrow, the unexpected drop revealed how worried the Israeli business community is about international measures against the occupation, especially those connected with the financial system.

However, a source in the banking system told the financial daily Globes that this could turn out to be the greatest threat to the Israeli banks — even more than the reform the government intends to implement.

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‘For the first time in history, Jews can take part in war from home’ http://972mag.com/for-the-first-time-in-history-jews-can-take-part-in-war-from-home/109087/ http://972mag.com/for-the-first-time-in-history-jews-can-take-part-in-war-from-home/109087/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 12:29:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109087 Avi Benayahu, who served as IDF Spokesperson during both Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara incident, explains his worldview and tactics in a lecture obtained by +972 Magazine, including how he sent army officers pretending to be civilians onto foreign television news. 

Avi Benayahu (right) stands next to former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (center) and Major-General Yoav Mordechai (right). (photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Avi Benayahu (right) stands next to former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (center) and Major-General Yoav Mordechai (left), who replaced him as the head of IDF Spokesperson’s unit. (photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Until Brigadier-General (ret.) Avi Benayahu was appointed to be the IDF Spokesperson in 2007, the unit did little more than send Israeli newspapers photos of soldiers celebrating Passover. But between 2007 and 2011, Benayahu — then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s right-hand — revolutionized the antiquated unit, transforming it into one of Israel’s leading “hasbara” (propaganda, or “public diplomacy”) outfits. The unit’s methods and aims still rely heavily on his work.

Benayahu, a self-described technophobe, opened a “new media” division, which included an active, multilingual presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The project did so well that he was asked to lead another new media initiative after his term ended. During his time as spokesperson, Benayahu led the army’s public relations effort surrounding Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, as well as the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. In 2011 he was elected “Media Man of the Year” by the Israel Public Relations Association.

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But Benayahu was not only known for his initiative. He became notorious for his aggressive approach toward the media and journalists, especially those of whom he wasn’t fond and with whom he didn’t work closely. For example, he didn’t hesitate to order IDF soldiers to confiscate equipment and work product from journalists, only to release bits and pieces of their reportage when it served senior officers.

It was Benayahu’s relationship with Ashkenazi and his inner circle that led to the spokesperson’s fall from grace. From 2011 on, his name was associated with the “Harpaz Affair,” over which leading IDF officers were interrogated about attempts to discredit then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his nominee to become the next chief of staff. Benayahu was even arrested at one point.

Today Benayahu works as a private consultant. His public image has yet to recover from the Harpaz Affair, but in the current climate, his methods and ideas are more mainstream than ever. In a country that has given up on diplomacy and long-term policy thinking, Benayahu represents the only viable alternative: a combination of military power and propaganda. “I don’t like when we apologize during war,” he recently said. And nowadays, Israel sees itself as a country that is always at war.

Benayahu gave a lecture at Tel Aviv University recently about his experience as IDF Spokesperson. Benayahu explained how he would use Israeli envoys and Jewish institutions to promote his military talking points, he discussed how he manipulated the international press, praised the local media for its discipline in wartime, and explained how he views the spokesperson’s unit’s role: “When I completed my posting in the General Staff [of the IDF], I came out with the knowledge that the IDF Spokesperson is a combat unit with more influence than two divisions.”

I obtained a recording of the lecture. Here are some of the interesting bits:

Hasbara is a very complicated issue. Compared to the Second Lebanon War, the media in Israel was very disciplined during Protective Edge. During the Second Lebanon War the media in Israel developed a reporting model that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world […] the war began, and every media outlet wanted to be the first to present the investigative committee [into its failures], already asking difficult questions.

In Cast Lead we tried to restore order, we took cellphones from the all the soldiers and we didn’t let journalists go in or go out, all sorts of things like that. We wanted to redeem ourselves. I’ll say this as clearly as possible, okay? During Cast Lead, one of the my — and the army’s main missions — was to redeem ourselves from the bad feeling [that followed] from the Second Lebanon War.

The IDF Spokesperson’s central role, Benayahu told the students, is to preserve both local and international legitimacy for the IDF’s actions. The challenge is that the world expects the IDF to operate according to its own ethical code. The IDF, however, has long since changed its policy: now it prefers to kill uninvolved Palestinian civilians rather than put its own troops in harm’s way.

When it comes to hasbara you need to align your expectations with that of the public. […] the world says to us: ’The Bible is your book, the Jewish people’s morals are yours, the Declaration of Independence is yours, the IDF’s Code of Ethics, which you wrote. Everything you hang on the walls (The Declaration of Independence and the IDF’s Code of Ethics are displayed in every army classroom – N.S.) — we won’t tolerate a gap between what you wrote and what is happening on the ground.

Therefore, we need to change what’s on the wall. What is important today is to explain to the world that are our civilians come first, our soldiers come second, their civilians come third, and in fourth place are their terrorists.

Because the world has gotten confused. The world is used to a situation where some [people] die here in order to save some of them.

In the past, one or two or three Hamas battalion commanders would travel to a meeting with a Hamas division commander — they would put a woman on the left-side window and a young girl on the right-side window as they traveled, in order to guarantee their safety. You don’t open fire, right? Today, we fire. The woman and the kid – gone. That was the surprise of Cast Lead.

Israeli protesters interrupt Avi Benayahu during a talk in 2008. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli protesters interrupt Avi Benayahu during a talk in 2008. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Benayahu explained how in order to increase the effectiveness of his messaging he would place military officers posing as civilian commentators for foreign media consumption, without ever letting the television networks know. A foreign audience, he said will receive messages by eloquent civilians far better than those delivered by a field officer with broken English:

A 58-year-old American man who comes home from work in Albuquerque or St. Louis, relaxes with a Budweiser and turns on the TV and sees that three kids were killed in the West Bank, and some colonel is trying to explain in basic English — that’s no good. Often times, that is what we had

As the IDF Spokesperson, I came with a lot more knowledge, experience and authority, because of my previous roles. I wasn’t afraid to make difficult, unpopular decisions. For example, I took former Ambassador Zalman Shoval, a who was a reserve officer in the First Lebanon War, a lieutenant-colonel in hasbara.

I took his uniform from him, a field uniform, and I told him ‘put this in the back of your car.’ I told him you’re going to do your reserve service in the Spokesperson’s Unit, but in civilian clothes on foreign television stations…

Some of the lesser-known IDF Spokesperson reservists appeared on American and European [television networks] without uniform. Without ranks of colonel or general — it’s not okay, it’s a little fraudulent because it is a general or a colonel — but in war one can do such things.

Another important initiative Benayahu implemented was using Israeli religious envoys to Chabad and Jewish community centers abroad to push the army’s talking points. This strategy is in line with the new approach in Israel, which views the diaspora and all of its institutions as a vehicle for promoting and lobbying for Israeli policies. Benayahu explicitly refers to organizations such as Hillel as agents of the army’s PR machine. In effect, diaspora Jews are asked to “participate in the war effort from home.” He even oversaw the development of software designed to make that more efficient.

The most influential front is [being fought] on social media. During Cast Lead I built a tool [...] it was called “global distribution.” […] We mapped hundreds of organizations […] Israelis, Jewish and Christian [groups] that love Israel, church organizations, we did all this leg work.

And the system works like this: if I have a message from the IDF Spokesperson, a message that I am also publishing in Israel, and I translate it to English — a photo, video, map, or document, I pass those onward with a single click through “global distribution” […] to hundreds of headquarters on every continent.

For instance, let’s take one example, Chabad. [They have] thousands of emissaries — do you know what those are? The Chabad emissaries that you all know from from East Asia, but also in France, Manhattan, New York, Los Angeles…

With a single click, [the Chabad spokesperson can] transfer [the message] to thousands of locations. Now, there is discipline there. The guy in New York gets it and sends it to thousands of people on his mailing list, and the same thing in Kathmandu and China. I send it to Hillel, and Hillel sends it to every Hillel house in universities all over the world […] viral distribution. That defeats anything. We built this system, it works, the way we distribute our newsletter videos, pictures…

[…]

In every war, all the Jewish communities around the world identify with the IDF. They raise money and send us packages. They hold rallies in support of the army. [Now], for the first time in history, they can actually take part in the war from their homes. With the tip of their fingers, they can make an enormous contribution to Israel’s hasbara.

+972 Magazine contacted IDF Spokesperson with questions regarding the practice of placing army officers pretending to be being Israeli civilians on foreign television networks. The Spokesperson’s Office declined to comment.

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

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Despite its wishes, the EU only deepens the occupation http://972mag.com/despite-what-it-may-claim-the-eu-only-deepens-the-occupation/108921/ http://972mag.com/despite-what-it-may-claim-the-eu-only-deepens-the-occupation/108921/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 15:14:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108921 The European Union is substituting pressure on Israel for dialogue. How else will it be able to continue building schools and solar panels in the occupied territories?

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

The European Union is one of the most demonized bodies in Israel at the moment, and the hate is no longer coming only from the extreme right. The working assumption in the Israeli mainstream is that the EU is biased against Israel, that it supports different forms of sanctions and boycotts, and that it is trying to isolate Israel and force it to withdraw from the occupied territories.

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The truth is entirely different. While the EU might support the two-state solution, and the leaders of its member states are far more committed to two states than the Obama administration, it is also one of the main bodies helping Israel maintain the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza.

The goal of Israel’s policy is maintaining the current reality in the occupied territories, in which Israel effectively rules the West Bank, continues to support settlement growth, enjoys quiet due to security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the IDF is able to act freely. All this is done without having to bear the real cost of the occupation, especially since foreign bodies fund the Palestinian Authority, train its police officers, prevent chaos in the refugee camps and maintain civil infrastructure.

The EU is one of the sustainers of the status quo. In fact, it has built the PA twice — once after Oslo, and once again after Israel destroyed the civil infrastructure in the occupied territories during the Second Intifada. Since then, Israel has taken on less and less responsibility for the civilian population under its rule (except for in Area C of the West Bank, where creeping annexation has become the norm). The vacuum is filled by aid organizations and NGOs — UN development agencies, EU and USAID projects, etc. Their effect goes beyond the financial cost of maintaining the occupation and bleeds into every aspect of Israel’s responsibility for the millions of Palestinians civilians under its authority.

Palestinian policemen block protesters during a demonstration against the visit of US President Barak Obama to the West Bank, Ramallah, March 21, 2013. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Palestinian policemen block protesters during a demonstration against the visit of US President Barak Obama to the West Bank, Ramallah, March 21, 2013. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Israel is willing to let all these organizations work freely, as long as they differentiate between humanitarian/civilian activities and the political aspects of their work. If they stray from their mandate, the state will fiercely attack them, marking members of the organizations as “personas non grata” and make it difficult for them to function.

The various NGOs and aid agencies place many restrictions on the Palestinians they work with — they cannot belong to certain political parties, have no convictions and so on. The result is a “sterile environment” that does not threaten the occupation. The traditional structure of Palestinian society in the West Bank (which led the popular revolt of the First Intifada) is slowly being replaced — in certain places, at least — by a society that relies heavily on NGOs, which serves the interest of the military regime.

In this way, the EU and the United Nations maintain the reality on the ground, and in doing so subvert their stated goal: the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many people in Brussels actually understand this. I once heard Christian Berger, the head of the EU’s Office in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (and one of the major forces behind the EU’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians), complain about Europe’s role in bankrolling the status quo in the occupied territories. But the mechanism of the European consensus, alongside a deep, fundamental unwillingness to get into a confrontation with Israel (and sometimes with the U.S.) helps maintain this reality.

The new Israeli-European dialogue forum, which Barak Ravid reported earlier this past week in Haaretz — is a perfect example of this dynamic. On the face of it, Europe’s original intent behind the dialogue is understandable. Like the United States, no one in Europe believes that an agreement over a Palestinian state will come soon, so the goal of the current policy is the maintain the current reality while preventing the erasure of the Green Line or the deepening of the settlement enterprise. This was the impetus for low-level dialogue with Israel. But the Israeli government, according to Ravid, is only willing to speak about the EU’s civil projects, rather than political issues such as settlement construction or land expropriation.

From now on dialogue will serve as a replacement for pressure on Israel on the one hand, and as an act of bargaining that will serve Israel’s political interests on the other. Israel may enjoy the fruits of those EU projects in the West Bank, but it will use them as a bargaining chip against steps that are diametrically opposed to the interests of the occupation. The EU wants to build a school or a site for solar panels? To gain approval from the authorities, the EU will have to stand alongside Israel on issues that are important to the latter, such as UN reports or the ICC. Put simply: the right to fund the occupation in exchange for an agreement that the EU will not act against 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 can go on for many more years. Every new generation of European politicians will convince itself that economic investment in the occupied territories is part of a the “state-building” project or that it constitutes “support for Palestinian civil society,” and therefore is a legitimate substitute for investing their political capital in trying to end the occupation. The lessons of the last 20 years, which teach us that there is no way to build a state under military occupation, will always play second fiddle to the political needs of the European leadership.

Ironically, it is the paranoia of the Israeli Right, which seeks to do away with Europe’s foothold in Israel and the occupied territories, that is impeding the current arrangements. If the Right succeeds in forcing the Europeans to lose their projects and cease funding the Palestinian Authority, the EU’s dependence on the good will of the Israeli government will lessen significantly. This would only increase the likelihood of a confrontation. I suspect Netanyahu understands this fact, and thus lets his right-wing ministers speak out against Europe, while on the other hand deepening the cooperation and dialogue with the European Union.

This is one of the reasons why, as opposed to predictions of the Israeli press, I do not believe the world is going to force us to end the occupation in the near future (no one can be sure what will happen in the longer run). Netanyahu was able to reformulate relations with the West according an arrangement based on cooperation that is essentially effective for Israel. The political price he pays is tolerable, especially when compared to the price of ending the occupation. Bibi is being aided by the regional tumult, which has strengthened the desire for stability on the part of local and international actors. Even Hamas and Fatah are in the business of maintaining the status quo. Today it is more difficult than ever to imagine a path for ending the occupation.

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

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Netanyahu vs. Iran: The political scoreboard http://972mag.com/netanyahu-vs-iran-the-political-scoreboard/108868/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-vs-iran-the-political-scoreboard/108868/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 16:34:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108868 Netanyahu put Iran at the top of his political agenda. He was able to push the international community into action but found himself sidelined when it counted. He got the opposition to back him in trashing the deal, but never got the security establishment on board with a military option.

U.S. President Barak Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington (White House photo)

U.S. President Barak Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington (White House photo)

The nuclear deal signed with Iran is “a stunning historic mistake,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the world on Tuesday. Netanyahu loves to remind us all that he was among the first to highlight the threat Iran poses to Israel — and all of mankind. In his first speech before Congress, in 1996, Netanyahu called Iran “the most dangerous regime [in the region],” and warned about it obtaining nuclear weapons.

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When he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009, Netanyahu made Iran the centerpiece of his policy. At times, he was almost alone in his quest – or obsession, as some have described it. Quite often, there was no way of delineating where the perceived security risks ended and political considerations began. That was true both at home and in Netanyahu’s unprecedented intervention in domestic American politics, all the way to his controversial speech in Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, in breach of diplomatic protocol. Was it the old Bibi trying to use any possible platform to improve his standing in a tight race, or was it Netanyahu the statesman throwing everything he had into the single-most important issue of his life?

It’s difficult to tell. Netanyahu certainly took the issue of Iran far, but his actions were unconvincing at times. If Iran was a real existential threat to Israel, why fight with President Obama over the settlements? Why alienate the Democratic Party’s “elites?” Certainly, a little goodwill on the Palestinian issue would have gone a long way in getting his message across to the U.S. president. But with Netanyahu, these sort of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. And unlike previous Israeli prime ministers, he has proved extremely capable at transforming those types of diplomatic confrontations into political gains back home.

At first, Netanyahu’s aggressive approach on Iran didn’t go over so well with Israelis. Most of the public remained skeptical and opposed to the military option. Senior politicians came out against him, including former president Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert even went so far as to publicly reveal the price tag of Israel’s preparations for a military strike — NIS 11 billion ($3 billion) — which he described as “adventurous delusions” that will never be carried out.

But what really hurt Netanyahu was the unified front he came up against in Israel’s powerful security establishment, which remains skeptical of the military option to this day. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan led the charge, first in private and then in public, and he was joined by popular then-Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and then-IDF chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi. In a meeting in 2010, the three defiantly stood up against an order by Netanyahu to put security forces and the army on a war footing that would indicate to the world an imminent attack; Bibi and Barak were forced to cancel the order. Though this wasn’t a refusal of a formal order, Dagan later said, “I don’t remember such an incident in our history.” Reports in the Israeli media suggest that the army and Mossad remain in opposition to the military option to this day.

The politics of war in Israel

Netanyahu has been far more successful in moving the political system in his direction. In an interview with The Washington Post last February, on the eve of the general elections, Netanyahu’s chief rival, Labor leader Isaac Herzog, refused to call Iran an “existential threat.” (“It’s a big threat,” Herzog said. “That’s enough.”) He even said that he trusts President Obama “to get a good deal.”

Today, Herzog is singing a different tune. In a post on his Facebook wall on Tuesday, Herzog declared that “Israel’s interests were forgotten” in the deal signed in Vienna. “We are on the verge of a new day in the Middle East, one which will present Israel with complex security risks, more dangerous than we’ve ever known,” mirroring the very language used by Netanyahu.

Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, also in the opposition, took a similar line. “We thought we would get a bad deal — but this is even worse,” he wrote.

Both politicians suggested that Netanyahu is partly responsible for the bad deal, however, suggesting that his rift with the Obama administration sidelined him at the most crucial moment of the negotiations. So far, it doesn’t seem that the public shares their view; when it comes to the discourse of security and existential threats, Netanyahu is still stronger than his opponents and the public still credits him for forcing the international community to take action on Iran.

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Group Photo With E.U., P5+1, and Iranian Officials Before Final Plenary of Iran Nuclear Negotiations in Austria. (State Department photo)

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Group Photo With E.U., P5+1, and Iranian Officials Before Final Plenary of Iran Nuclear Negotiations in Austria. (State Department photo)

Just like with the Palestinian issue, the lack of effective political opposition will ensure that the Israeli consensus adopts Netanyahu’s view of the agreement. I would be surprised if the next set of polls show a majority of Israelis supporting the deal. And yet I don’t think there is much support for a military option either. Not now, and certainly not without the security establishment on board.

Netanyahu will now take his war, yet again, to Washington, hoping to get as many members of Congress to oppose the deal. Contrary to popular belief, this is one battle he doesn’t really want to win: if Congress strikes down the deal and the Senate overrides a presidential veto, the sanctions regime will collapse and nothing will stand in Iran’s path to the bomb. Netanyahu will need to choose between going to war and a fully nuclear Iran.

In all likelihood, however, Congress won’t be able to stop the deal. In such a case, and especially if Obama is forced to use his veto, Netanyahu will anoint himself informal guardian of the nuclear deal. Israel will try to gather as much evidence of Iranian violations as possible — once again threatening a military strike if the world doesn’t do something. If you think that today’s agreement will finally put the Iranian issue to rest, guess again.

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The death penalty is making a comeback in Israel http://972mag.com/the-death-penalty-is-making-a-comeback-in-israel/108694/ http://972mag.com/the-death-penalty-is-making-a-comeback-in-israel/108694/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 15:40:47 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108694 By sentencing Palestinians convicted of murder to death, the Israeli Right will only bring the mutual cruelty between Jews and Palestinians to another level. 

Death chamber and electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in 1923. (photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com)

Death chamber and electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in 1923. (photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com)

No one really wants to look back and learn anything from history. Every colonial regime convinces itself at some point to raise the level of brutality in order to force the natives to accept their situation. It seems like this is the path we must also take.

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Avigdor Liberman’s party is promoting an initiative that would allow military tribunals to sentence terrorists who were convicted of murder to death. Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party already announced it would back the bill, as did some Likud ministers. This was kind of expected. After all, the Right has been calling on IDF soldiers to open fire on Palestinian stone-throwers, which can itself become an informal death sentence.

In fact, the military regime in the West Bank has the legal option of using the death penalty, but the prosecution rarely demands it, and rightfully so. The new bill is intended to change this policy and allow a majority of justices to sentence people to death (as opposed to a unanimous decision, which is the current requirement). However, capital punishment does not prevent acts of murder; even the Americans are starting to internalize this fact. It surely will not deter Palestinians. Those who were willing to carry out suicide bombings will also be willing to take the risk of being hanged.

Imposing the death penalty in Israel, aside from the inevitable international drama that would accompany any sentence, will bring the mutual hatred and cruelty between Jews and Palestinians to another level. The British learned this lesson not long ago.

In 1947, the Irgun Jewish underground group kidnapped two British sergeants, Sgt. Clifford Martin and Sgt. Mervyn Paice, threatening to kill them if the death sentences passed on three Irgun militants were carried out. The three had been captured by the British during a prison break, tried, and convicted on charges of illegal possession of arms, and with the “intent to kill or cause other harm to a large number of people.” When the three men were executed by hanging, the Irgun killed the two sergeants and hung their booby-trapped bodies in a eucalyptus grove. Menachem Begin even wrote an open letter to one of the fathers of the sergeants, in which he blamed the British government for the incident.

Will an Israeli mother receive such a letter from Hamas in the coming years?

After the bodies of the sergeants were discovered, British officers and soldiers took vengeance on passersby in Tel Aviv, beating and shooting them. Five Jews were murdered, and a wave of anti-Semitism engulfed Britain. The British government, on the other hand, ceased using capital punishment in Mandate Palestine.

I don’t expect much from the Right in the Israeli Knesset. But other parties, especially Labor and Yesh Atid, who have recently decided to join the populist, nationalist chorus must come out in opposition to the death penalty.

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A most moral occupation: Keeping the prisoners in line http://972mag.com/gaza-and-the-issue-of-the-israeli-armys-moral-standards/108244/ http://972mag.com/gaza-and-the-issue-of-the-israeli-armys-moral-standards/108244/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 11:54:03 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108244 Does Israel have the right to turn millions of the people under its control into prisoners simply because it is afraid of what might happen once they are released?

An olive tree in front of the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

An olive tree in front of the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

The UNHRC report on Gaza and testimonies published by local watchdog group “Breaking the Silence” have sparked yet another round of debate over the IDF’s moral standards, or lack thereof. These debates have become yet another way for Israeli society — and at times, the international community — to talk about the occupation without actually discussing it. My heart goes out to the people at Breaking the Silence, since I have a feeling that this time around they are in the midst of a war they cannot win.

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The objective of the Israeli occupation is control. In fact, that has long been Israel’s goal vis-a-vis the entire Palestinian people, even before 1967. Unlike many Palestinians, I do not think that the Zionist movement made a decision to ethnically cleanse the land of its residents; 1948 was the exception — not the rule. In the years following the war, and to this day, Palestinians have been removed from their homes and land, but in most cases they are not expelled from the country. In fact, the Israeli strategy stems from a recognition — on the part of the ruling elites, including both Labor and Likud — that the Palestinian population will ultimately remain here alongside the Jewish population.

There is zero chance that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will ever agree to their current situation of their own volition. And unlike most other occupying powers eventually do, Israel is not interested in granting them citizenship. Therefore, Israel’s only course of action is to control the Palestinians by force. This has been the objective of Israeli policy for decades, again, with the support of Labor and Likud alike.

This objective is the only way to explain the many actions Israel takes, which are sometimes improvised, other times planned ahead of time, and often seem to contradict each other. In practice, they are all put in place to maintain a system of control. This is the line of thinking that connects the anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, the military operations in Gaza and the prime minister’s declared war on the BDS movement.

Testimonies: ‘This is how we fought in Gaza’

In order to maintain this policy, Israel has turned the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a giant prison (Egypt helps by sealing in Gaza from the south). Like in all prisons, the guards strip the prisoners of almost all their rights, aside from those that they are willing to grant, usually in return for good behavior. Such privileges can include work permits, travel permits, or visitation rights. A Palestinian needs permission from the army to leave and return to the country. A foreign national who lands in Israel risks deportation should they openly state their intention to travel to the West Bank (save for a few exceptions).

Take note of how Israelis see nearly every “right” granted to Palestinians in the occupied territories as a “concession” or a “privilege”— the privilege to leave the country (which was recently given and then subsequently denied to 500 people due to a single crime that none of them had any connection to); the “privilege” to build homes; the “privilege” to host friends; the “privilege” of being given work permits. None of these rights are granted simply because Palestinians are human. They are carrots and sticks used to leverage an entire population, whose only goal is to maintain quiet (“peace”). This is how prison works. That is how guards speak.

The new camera-equipped weapon installed on the separation wall in Bethlehem. (photo: Activestills.org)

The new camera-equipped weapon installed on the separation wall in Bethlehem. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israel is a democracy that maintains a sub-regime that is a dictatorship. The prisoner cannot resist his or her imprisonment, which is how Israel sees every political (or military) action by the Palestinians. The Palestinians cannot, obviously, attack their guards. They cannot throw stones, they cannot call for boycotts, they cannot turn to the UN, they cannot go on hunger strike, they cannot attempt to sail to Gaza, etc. In the spirit of the times, every single one of these actions is labeled “terrorism”—meaning that they are beyond the pale of legitimate political conduct, and therefore must be fought using any and all means.

Israeli society has become accustomed to this guard-prisoner relationship over the last few decades. The IDF went from being a traditional military, whose expertise is in large-scale, offensive maneuvering, to an army that leads the world in maintaining order (over prisoners, that is). Actually, many places in the West Bank and on the border with Gaza already look very much like a prison. Israel’s technological developments — tracking systems, remote crowd dispersal methods, UAVs, remote assassination methods that cause as little collateral damage as possible — are intended to maintain that prison at both minimal cost and minimal victims. Groups of Israeli generals travel the world in order to market the experience we have gained in holding a civilian population under our control. This kind of expertise will always be in demand.

Read: How an army of defense became an army of vengeance

Alongside the generals is an entire system that creates an ideology of occupation — a public sense of justice. We can read about it in the weekend edition of every major newspaper. The differences are insignificant between Yedioth columnist Ben-Dror Yemini with his BDS obsession, the military correspondents who talk about “security challenges in the territories,” Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit’s talk of delegitimization and proper right-wing ideologists. Their goal is to justify the various aspects of controlling the Palestinians, without actually talking about the elephant in the room: the degree to which that control is legitimate in the first place.

Israel has no intention of granting citizenship to Palestinians under its control. In contrast to what Israelis tell themselves, we have no intention of separating from even some of the Palestinians either (full separation is impossible since the two populations are far too mixed at this point). If Israel intended to, we would have already left the West Bank and stopped controlling everything that happens there. But we won’t do it, since such a move carries an internal political price, not to mention serious dangers. The Right’s nightmare scenario  —rockets on Tel Aviv, for instance — is a real possibility.

It is also obvious that no agreement will fully ensure Israel’s security; even if Mahmoud Abbas becomes a card-carrying Likud member tomorrow, there is no telling who will be in charge of a Palestinian state five years from now. Therefore, any withdrawal, regardless of a peace agreement, is a real risk. This was true 10 years ago, it is true now, and it will be true in the future.

Yet this is precisely the issue of putting an end to foreign rule — once you no longer control the other side, you have no idea what it will do, and you need to come up with other ways to maintain relatively peaceful relations with it. The risks is such a case are unavoidable and Israelis are simply not willing to take them. This is why they choose leaders who promise not to reach peace agreements, and why there is a better chance for a temporary agreement with Hamas in Gaza than a permanent accord with Abbas, which could translate to an irreversible loss of control with the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Funeral in Bani Suhaila for the 21 members of the Al-Najjar family, who were killed just before the ceasefire, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014.  The Al-Najjar family flew their homes in Khuza'a to take refuge fi-urther west.  Israeli attacks have killed 550 Palestinians in the current offensive, most of them civilians. Khuza'a has been under heavy attacks and many fled their village as the Israeli army physically occupies the village. Israeli attacks have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and injured around 5,000 in the current offensive.

Funeral in Bani Suhaila for the 21 members of the Al-Najjar family, who were killed just before the ceasefire, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. The Al-Najjar family fled their homes in Khuza’a to take refuge further west. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israel receives special attention from time to time because the occupation is exceptional among the nations of the world. What other legitimate member of the international community seeks to continue imprisoning (at least) a third of its population? This is the real issue that lies at the root of all military operations and their many victims. The occupation systematically denies Palestinians their human rights, and it continues unabated, regardless of the circumstances of every flare up or round of violence.

At the end of the day, the debate over the IDF’s morality — which makes headlines every time an NGO publishes a report or the murder of an innocent person is exposed — is a distraction. It is convenient for Israel and its citizens to cope with that question, since if we prove that the army makes every effort to continue controlling Palestinians with the minimum amount of innocent victims, we will feel better about ourselves and our international image won’t be tarnished. And when we cannot prove as much, we can always replace the question of morality with one of discipline: the soldier who didn’t follow orders, the commander who gave problematic orders. And hey, what is happening in Syria is way worse.

But even if another army killed 4,000 people — or 40,000 — in Gaza, would that make Israel’s policies legitimate? Does this country have a right to turn millions of the people under its control — a civilian population — into prisoners, because it is afraid of what will happen once they are released? Can we expect anything from this policy but repeated cycles of “security challenges” and “military responses?” I do not believe so, but I appreciate the honesty of the few who are willing to say “yes.” Most Israelis simply ignore the question.

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

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How every Israeli profits from the occupation http://972mag.com/how-every-israeli-profits-from-the-occupation/107629/ http://972mag.com/how-every-israeli-profits-from-the-occupation/107629/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 20:24:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107629 Israel’s government, economy and citizens regularly exploit everything they can from the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians the bare minimum for survival. If Israelis want change, they’ll have to come to terms with reality.

A Palestinian vendor sells coffee outside the entrance to an Israeli military checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian vendor sells coffee outside the entrance to an Israeli military checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Contrary to popular belief, the boycott is not the greatest threat facing Israel, at least not at the moment. However, now that BDS has become a household name, it is perfect opportunity for Israelis to have an honest conversation about the occupation. As opposed to the angle being peddled by Yedioth Ahronoth — which has been leading an open campaign against the BDS movement through a series of articles and op-eds — it is clear that the support for the BDS movement overwhelmingly stems from our control over millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza who lack basic rights.

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The occupation is one of Israel’s biggest national projects, if not the biggest. Every single part of the population — not to mention the Israeli economy — take part in it. From the hi-tech industry that develops our most advanced combat and surveillance devices, to the major Israeli corporations of the Israeli economy, to the thousands of people who have manned checkpoints and patrolled the streets of the West Bank over the years — everyone has had a role.

There are those who claim that the occupation is a burden on the State of Israel. Perhaps they are right. But we cannot ignore the fact that it is also profitable, even for those who live in central Israel and are convinced that the “extreme right” is to blame for everything. First and foremost, there are the profits that come from a number of business ventures in the West Bank: the mines that Israel controls, which bring down the costs of building across the country; tourist sites; or just about any industry that relies on the cheap Palestinian labor.

Even the land itself is profitable for Israel. The Israeli government solved the housing crisis in the ultra-Orthodox community by moving over 100,000 people to two cities on the other side of the Green Line. Imagine how much this kind of land would be worth in central Israel. Or what about Jerusalem, which for years has ceased expanding westward, only eastward?

The markets of Ramallah and Khan Younis carry Israeli goods. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a captive market for Israeli products, worth billions of shekels a year. Perhaps the Palestinians would prefer to buy cheaper goods from Jordan and Egypt, but developing open trade under occupation is nearly impossible.

Palestinians Burn Settlment Products in Front of the Karmei Tzur Settlement. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Palestinians burn Israeli settlement products in front of the West Bank settlement of Karmei Tzur. (photo: Joseph Dana)

And what about all those smaller forms of profit that we’ll never actually be able to quantify. Imagine a truck that leaves from Eilat toward Kiryat Shmona on the northern border — how much would the drive cost if it had to circumvent the West Bank? What if it had to pay a toll to the Palestinian Authority? What would happen if we had to pay the Palestinians to use Route 443, which cuts across the West Bank? Or if we leased the land beyond the Green Line upon which the high-speed railway to Jerusalem is slated to be built? And what about air space, aquifers or electromagnetic frequencies?

Partner, the local Israeli supplier of Orange, a French cellphone company whose CEO stated late last week that he intends to stop doing business in Israel — has antennas all across the West Bank, much like every other other major Israeli cellphone company. The problem does not only stem from land theft; Israeli companies alone have the right to operate 3G networks across the country. The Palestinian network, on the other hand, allows only for phone calls and text messages. As a result, thousands of Palestinians who want to use 3G must obtain it through Israeli companies. This is a clean profit for Partner and the other companies. And this is without even getting into strange stories, like how Orange paid rent to Israeli settlers who illegally established an outpost on privately-owned Palestinian land.

The bottom line is very simple: Israel — its government, economy and citizens — regularly exploits everything it can from the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians the bare minimum for survival. There is no such thing as “democratic Israel” to the west of the Green Line and “occupying Israel” to its east. Occupying Israel exists in Tel Aviv as well.

Instead of rolling our eyes and crying “anti-Semites” like the Right does, or blame the settlers and Netanyahu — like the Left does — the time has come to recognize these facts. Only then will we be able to start making a change.

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

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