+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 13 Feb 2016 10:33:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 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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The real danger of outlawing Palestinian political movements http://972mag.com/the-real-danger-of-outlawing-palestinian-political-movements/113970/ http://972mag.com/the-real-danger-of-outlawing-palestinian-political-movements/113970/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 13:56:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113970 Banning and persecuting political groups like the Islamic Movement and Balad has the effect of disengaging Palestinian citizens of Israel from the state and its political system. That is very, very dangerous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dangerous consensus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Neer Ilin on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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