+972 Magazine » Analysis http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:02:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Turning entire Palestinian villages invisible http://972mag.com/turning-entire-palestinian-villages-invisible/120293/ http://972mag.com/turning-entire-palestinian-villages-invisible/120293/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:02:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120293 Israeli signs in the West Bank not only ignore destroyed Palestinian villages, they also erase those in plain sight.

By Umar al-Ghubari

The destruction and emptying of the Latrun villages took place 49 years ago this month. The Israeli army had occupied Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nuba on June 5, 1967, expelled the residents of all three villages to the Ramallah district and prevented them from returning after the war, which lasted only six days. Bulldozers and soldiers began demolishing the homes, and razed the three villages. The State of Israel erased the names of the villages from its maps, and of course from traffic signs, as was its practice since 1948.

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Years later, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) created “Canada Park” on top of the Latrun villages. There are many signs up inside the park, but none them mentions the names of those villages — except for one, which Israeli organization Zochrot compelled the JNF to erect to avoid legal proceedings. About a year ago the JNF put up new signs throughout the park, which erase Palestinian-Arab history altogether. It goes without saying that the entire park is located in an area occupied in 1967, that is, in the West Bank, but not one sign mentions this.

Erasing any textual remnant of the Palestinians is a familiar means of also eradicating them from the Israeli collective consciousness. Signs have the power to shape knowledge, to make an imprint on one’s awareness, to consolidate the name and identity of a place. The sign controls the kind of information that reaches the public, and the kind made inaccessible.

In the Palestinian context, the information and names conveyed in Israeli signs are of critical significance. One of the signs in Canada Park demonstrates that in addition to the past, the present reality can also be erased from the text and from public awareness. Both are absent from the text, though they straddle the hills across from it. And even if past and present do exist, they do not deserve mention.

To those wishing to better understand what it is to be “transparent,” I recommend visiting a specific hill in Canada Park, inside the occupied, destroyed and ethnically cleansed village of Yalo, to understand the way in which the transparent is made (in)visible, and to witness first-hand the brainwashing and efficiency of this powerful stance.

As mentioned in the heading of the sign there, the JNF decided to name the hill the “Ayalon Valley Lookout.” After a thorough explanation about the topography and geography comes the explanation of the demography: one and a half lines, including the mention of three Jewish settlements: the city of Modi’in, Kibbutz Shaalabim, and Mevo Horon, a communal religious settlement. Incidentally, this comes without mention of the fact that Mevo Horon is located in the West Bank, just like the signpost itself.

Naturally, it is unsurprising that an Israeli sign should fail to mention the Palestinian villages erased in 1948 and replaced with Modi’in, such as al-Burj, Barfiliya, Kharuba, ‘Innaba and Kunayyisa, or the village of Salbit beneath Kibbutz Shaalabim. But failing to mention the Palestinian villages still visible across “the stunning surrounding landscape” is an upgraded form of racist erasure, laced with arrogance and contempt for people’s intelligence.

A sign on the ‘Ayalon Valley Lookout,’ which fails to mention to villages of Beit Sira, Beit Liqya, Kharbatha, Beit Ur al-Fuka, Beit Ur al-Tahta and Safa, all visible in the background.

A sign on the ‘Ayalon Valley Lookout,’ which fails to mention to villages of Beit Sira, Beit Liqya, Kharbatha, Beit Ur al-Fuka, Beit Ur al-Tahta and Safa, all visible in the background. (Umar al-Ghubari)

Standing on the “Ayalon Valley Lookout,” the villages of Beit Sira, Beit Liqya, Kharbatha, Beit Ur al-Fuka, Beit Ur al-Tahta and Safa are in front of your eyes on the opposite mountain range. They are visible even more clearly than are Modi’in and Shaalabim, which you can see only by craning your neck to the north and to the south. The colonizer fails to see the natives, even though they are right there before him. The sign tells you to look at the view, and to fail to see the Palestinian; to see a purely Jewish landscape. Ignore the rest. Or better yet, make it unseen.

A sign is testimony. In this case, it is false testimony. A sign is also a document. Perhaps one day it will make it into an archive, and will be used by researchers. Here is proof, the sign will tell them, that not only were there Jews here, but that they were the only ones, and there was no other man or woman there, except for them.

There is no doubt that the process of Judaizing the space, including the Judaizing of names and knowledge, has been progressing rapidly and aggressively for decades, and continues still. It is a process that correlates with other Zionist modes of occupying land.

The example of the sign in Canada Park is one of diluting Arabic names even inside the West Bank, similarly to the process of occupation, settlement, annexation and forced expulsion of Palestinians in other parts of the territory. In this way the signs serve as a means of occupation, oppression, and erasure. Palestinians come upon these signs and feel helpless, made to understand that they are absent, erased. From a Zionist viewpoint, they are devoid of value and lacking existence.

Umar al Ghubari is group facilitator, a political educator, and he documents and photographs the Palestinian Nakba. Translated from Hebrew by Keren Rubinstein.

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Brexit and the Israel-Palestine problem http://972mag.com/brexit-and-the-israel-palestine-problem/120261/ http://972mag.com/brexit-and-the-israel-palestine-problem/120261/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 16:55:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120261 More and more people are stuck with each other in this world, even as rejectionists pretend — if only for a minute or two — that we’re not.

Illustrative photo by Rosie Love / Shutterstock.com

Illustrative photo by Rosie Love / Shutterstock.com

I wasn’t much of a political junky as a kid, and I was certainly no wunderkind at foreign relations. The Cold War was a fact of life, as solid as the skyscrapers of New York. The world was divided by ideologies of life or death — the bad guys threatened to take over, “and that’s the way it is.”

The war just ended one day when I was 17. Peace was suddenly a real possibility, not just an abstraction in my mind, and right away it felt far superior to both hot and cold wars.

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Soon to follow was the belief that exposure to people who are different is healthy and leads to discovery of human similarities. This might seem natural for someone growing up in the big city. It was not. Violent crime rode on the backs of constant class and racial rage. Stereotyping and self-segregation were an easy recourse even in a city as diverse as New York, and many took it. My dreamy ideals about people knowing, appreciating and learning from each other earned me little more than condescension, or painful derision.

But when the wall fell, I saw things differently; maybe I felt vindicated before I truly knew the word. This new world became a place I was excited to enter, having learned that huge things could change — for the better.

An experiment in openness

I entered university just in time to have those early days of post-Cold War euphoria blasted by ethno-nationalist hell: Yugoslavia, Rwanda, post-Soviet wars and bitter racial violence in the U.S. My professors told us that nationalism, stifled for a short century, was rearing its bloody head.

It was no time for illusions or cockeyed optimism. The only conclusion to reach, we were told, was that human beings contain a great and a terrible instinct to hurt each other.

Yet how to explain, I wondered, the equally powerful human urge to do good, to be kind, to cooperate, to connect? Are these less important? Children can make friends before they even share a language. Adults fall in love. And countries cease to be at war. The dueling urges to draw boundaries and break them is the contradiction that defines humanity.

In that confusing decade of the the 1990s, the Oslo process gave great hope to Israel and Palestine, and Jordan ceased to be an enemy overnight. Northern Ireland reached an agreement, Bosnia ended with a problematic accord, but one which has made people safer for over 20 years.

Europe, the theater of a war that cast its pall over all of Western identity, and certainly mine as a Jew, became a great peacemaker too. From its early stultifying bureaucratic incarnations in the 1950s, it emerged in the 90s as an experiment of openness.

One again, no illusions. The clashes between even European immigrants and national identities inside Europe have been fraught, never mind the challenges of non-European migrants. The quest for a political system that both preserves identity and welcomes others as equal human beings – to define boundaries and break them – is not simple, and it never ends.

But I truly believed that this was the right quest. It was the struggle for a complicated but more honest world. My own encounters with societies very foreign to me made me realize no cultural identity is truly pure – we are all mongrels – nor even totally unique.

Delaying the inevitable

Now the majority of British voters disagree. They want their identity unadultered, and their economic pressures became mainly a proxy for saying so. When the results came in I was horrified. In part because I disagree with the voters, but perhaps more because of the nagging question: who am I to say they’re wrong?

Maybe I’m wrong about all this glorification of human interaction. Maybe the more people know each other the more they blame, resent, demonize, hate and ultimately divorce. The Kosovar Albanian activist and political leader Albin Kurti once told me: “We did not go to war with the Serbs because we didn’t know them well enough.”

Maybe the vote will empower Trump supporters to elect him in November, and he’ll end America as we know it: a country whose celebration of cultural difference and civic equality have made it great, especially when it edges closer to that distant ideal. Maybe Trump will reconstitute the U.S. as a land of white male superiority and female “10s” and damn the whiners.

Then what? Do we keep subdividing until each society is homogenous and we never have to see one another? Who is foolish enough to believe that a monochrome people wouldn’t invent differences and kill each other over them?

Anyway, such a nation won’t appear any time soon. Global migration is at a historic high. We actually don’t have a choice but to keep searching for ways to live “better together,” since no country has got it quite right yet. Brexit was bad because it delayed the inevitable.

But cosmopolitan diversity isn’t just a harsh inevitability – it may also be contagious. London, one of the most colorful cities in the world voted firmly to stay in Europe (and best of all, Boris Johnson was jeered there). That’s a ringing endorsement of difference. It is no accident that urban areas in the U.S. vote Democrat by wide margins, or that Trump’s support comes mainly from non-urban populations, where people look much more alike. And no New Yorker is more snooty or downright fanatic about the city than those who moved from somewhere smaller. Apparently diversity wins people over to itself.

Bringing Brexit home to Israel-Palestine

Why does this matter for Israel and Palestine? When relentless Israeli expansion began to obliterate the space left for two states, I feared the worst. But as those changes drove a post-two-state reality, I slowly realized what I must have been resisting: that the hermetic separation paradigm never matched my values very comfortably anyway. It entrenches “otherness” — a kitschy slogan I’ve been fed up with for ages. It encourages nationalist tribalism and stamps out healthy, humanizing interaction. That is why I now advocate a position of two confederated states, which respects the existence of two national identities but which is rooted in policies of openness, interaction, and embraces mutual dependency.

My colleagues and I commonly point to Europe as a way people can be separate and together; preserving borders but breathing easier, with built-in mobility and opportunity.

The British vote says that maybe the whole damn effort is misguided. Maybe in the true clash of civilizations, between the tribalists and the universalists, the tribalists have won. The vote brought back dark visions of the world that I thought were long gone, and some darker ones too.

Now, a few days later, I think that precisely because of those fearsome scenarios, Brexit teaches that we must reject tribalist nationalism. George Monbiot of The Guardian wrote on Twitter: “All we can now do is to find ways of using this situation to advance progressive causes, unpromising at it might first seem.” He’s right: the urgent task now is to balance the vote by doubling down on efforts to make a tossed salad world work better; we must strengthen alliances to solve conflict, and reject political divorce as the default solution.

Just as Israelis and Palestinians are stuck together inextricably, more and more people are stuck with each other in this world even if rejectionists pretend, if only for a minute longer, that we’re not.

We might as well celebrate it. The thrill of unfamiliarity, excitement of contrasts and comparison, and celebration of creative tension are no less sweeping emotions than cynical fearmongering.

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What it means when occupation is the consensus http://972mag.com/what-it-means-when-occupation-is-the-consensus/120265/ http://972mag.com/what-it-means-when-occupation-is-the-consensus/120265/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 12:51:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120265 A major Israeli university revokes a prize intended for Breaking the Silence claiming that its work opposing the occupation ‘isn’t in the national consensus.’ What does that say about Israel as a nation?

Yehuda Shaul of the Israeli activist group Breaking the Silence leads a tour group on Shuhada Street in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 7, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A Breaking the Silence tour in the Israeli-occupied part of the West Bank city of Hebron, March 7, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Breaking the Silence, an organization of former IDF soldiers who oppose Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, was supposed to receive the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding from Ben-Gurion University this week, a NIS 20,000 ($5,100) award that the university’s Middle East studies department has given out annually for a quarter century.

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However, university president Professor Rivka Carmi decided to overrule the decision and vetoed Breaking the Silence’s award. The reason the university cited is that the organization, which publishes testimonies of soldiers about their military service in the occupied territories, is “an organization that isn’t in the national consensus, and giving it the prize is liable to be interpreted as an appearance of political bias.”

As Haaretz pointed out, recipients of the prize in years past have “include[d] Egyptian playwright Ali Salem; Palestinian poet in Israel, Siham Daoud; the Parents Circle – Families Forum, an organization of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families; Physicians for Human Rights; a bilingual school in the Galilee; Sikkuy – the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality; and the Andalus publishing house.” Considering this list, Breaking the Silence does not constitute much more “political bias” than most of the others.

Carmi’s move to deliberately go out of her way and revoke the prize is rare and noteworthy, especially because she is thought of as a liberal and an advocate of academic freedom who has taken the Right to task for opposing those values. This is the same university and the same president who have been the targets of attacks by far-right-wing group Im Tirtzu, which in 2010 threatened to encourage donor boycotts of the university over what it deemed the “anti-Zionist tilt” of its politics and government department.

At the time, Carmi came out resolutely against Im Tirzu, becoming a prominent voice in Israel advocating for academic freedom. In a 2013 oped she wrote, ”a strong Israel is one where everyone’s opinion can be heard without fear, if only to help us learn to articulate why we don’t agree.” This is also the same university that is home to professors like Oren Yitachel and Neve Gordon, whose work inside and outside the classroom highlights Israeli human rights violations and directly opposes Israeli occupation. Gordon has even come out in support of an international boycott of Israel.

Surely Carmi is concerned about maintaining and growing the university’s donor base, and trying to strike a balance between academic freedom and academic survival in an increasingly intolerant and illiberal climate. These days, granting a prize to Breaking the Silence is tantamount to treason and a provocation garnering unwanted attention.

Last May, for example, a prominent British donor and university board member, Michael Gross, withheld a $1 million donation because Breaking the Silence had been invited to participate on a panel at the university. A majority of the institution’s donors are center-right or right wing, according to a professor at the university who asked not to be named. Moreover, the professor told +972 Magazine that the university administration discourages professors from criticizing the occupation and the government, and there is an official policy that professors who write opeds cannot list Ben-Gurion University as their employer when doing so. However, the professor added, there were no known donor threats against the university for granting the prize to Breaking the Silence.

Boycotting the boycotted

When the Israeli military accredited a college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel as Israel’s eighth university in 2012, Carmi headed the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities, which opposed the move at the time. However, once Ariel officially became a university and a group of Israeli academics called for a boycott of the institution, Carmi came out vehemently against boycott in any shape or form:

We condemn boycotts wherever and whenever — by out-of-Israel institutions, by Israeli institutions, against Israeli or non-Israeli institutions, by organizations, by individuals. We don’t think that there are different kinds of boycott. A boycott is a boycott, and we are against it…You can be against the occupation in the territories, but a boycott is totally unacceptable.

She appears to have shot herself in the foot with the decision to cancel the prize to Breaking the Silence. It not only undermines the academic independence and freedom of the university, setting a dangerous precedent for further restrictions and the silencing of those who oppose Israeli policies, but it also is constitutes an effective boycott of Breaking the Silence, something she has categorically rejected. Carmi has — perhaps unintentionally — boosted the legitimacy of boycotts in general as a tool, and academic boycott in particular, by endorsing it herself in order to keep her institution afloat.

I point all this out not as an indictment against Carmi, although she is indeed responsible for this horrendous decision, which sets a precedent for the further silencing of critics inside and outside academia. This decision is especially significant because of the identity of the person putting Breaking the Silence in her cross-hairs this time around. Surely it is not surprising when right-wing politicians, settlers or advocacy groups attack, slander or delegitimize Breaking the Silence, but the president of a university that stands for academic freedom and independent thought?

This is a marker of just how bad things have become. When Carmi decides that Breaking the Silence is outside the national consensus, she is making the decision to stand with the silencers, with the oppressors. As human rights attorney Michael Sfard (who is also Breaking the Silence’s legal advisor) wrote one his Facebook page in response to her decision: by appeasing the forces in the Israeli “consensus” that deny the entire Palestinian people their rights, you too assume responsiblity for the occupation. “One must make a choice today,” he wrote. “Either you are with the democrats or you are with the fascists.”

All this demonstrates that even those Israelis who are educated, who advocate for civil liberties and highlight the importance of free speech, who are against settlements and against the occupation, who support a two-state solution, who believe in human rights, and who may even identify as “left” — even they can be part of the problem, part of the “consensus,” part of the status quo that preserves and perpetuates injustices, and civil and human rights violations.

In today’s climate, when you are forced to choose between what is just and right and your own survival and comfort, choosing the latter will only exacerbate the problem. By declaring that opposing the occupation is “outside the Israeli consensus,” Carmi is helping cement the idea that occupation is itself the Israeli consensus.

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Top Israeli minister shuts down TV station for Palestinian citizens http://972mag.com/top-israeli-minister-shuts-down-tv-station-for-palestinian-citizens/120238/ http://972mag.com/top-israeli-minister-shuts-down-tv-station-for-palestinian-citizens/120238/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 15:47:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120238 Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan orders Musawa, a Ramallah-based television station catering to Israel’s Arab citizens, to be shut down for violating Israeli sovereignty. 

By Makbula Nassar

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks during the annual Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016. (photo: Adi Cohen-Zeked/Herzliya Conference)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks during the annual Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016. (photo: Adi Cohen-Zeked/Herzliya Conference)

For the second time in a year, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has ordered the closure of a Palestinian media outlet.

The satellite station in question, Musawa, was originally launched in March 2015 under the name “Palestine 48,” is broadcasted through the Egyptian satellite company “Nile-Sat,” and receives its funding from the Palestinian Authority. Its broadcasts are based in Ramallah and are catered for Arab citizens of Israel. Today most of its content is produced by Arab producers based in Israel.

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Last Thursday the Public Security Ministry announced that the closure order would be signed after it became clear that the station functions on behalf of the Palestinian Authority inside Israeli territory without the proper written permit, as is required by the Oslo Accords. “I will not allow any harm to come to Israeli sovereignty or allow the Palestinian Authority to make a foothold inside state territory,” Erdan said in a statement. The order will remain in effect for six months.

Although Erdan already signed an order to close the station in July 2015, its activities did not actually cease: regular broadcasts continued and talk shows were broadcasted live from Ramallah, all while the guests traveled to PA territory on a regular basis to talk about issues pertinent to Arabs living in Israel. Several months ago the station returned to its studios in Nazareth, using local producers, after it changed its name and branding so as to avoid confrontations with the Israeli authorities.

Ramzi Hakim, a senior news anchor for the station who also works for the Al-Arz production company (which was also shut down by the Public Security Ministry), told +972′s Hebrew sister site, Local Call, that Erdan’s decision has “no legal basis.” According to Hakim, the studios and production services in Nazareth are owned and run by Al-Arz, which provides services to a number of stations in the area and the world, including Musawa. Hakim emphasizes that they are currently continuing as usual.

Sanaa Hammoud (left), and Palestinian Communications Minister Riad Hassan (center) at a press conference for the launch of Palestine 48. (Courtesy photo)

Sanaa Hammoud (left), and Palestinian Communications Minister Riad Hassan (center) at a press conference for the launch of Palestine 48, Musawa’s precursor. (Courtesy photo)

The language used by the Public Security Ministry hints at the fact that the decision to shut down the station is based on updated intelligence. Yet the fact of the matter is that production, which started anew in Nazareth over the past few months, is not so secret at all. After all, it is impossible to maintain discretion during live broadcasts or filming outside the studio. Broadcasts over the past few months has focused on entertainment, current affairs, political discussions and Arab dramas, while news was not shown. The station directors in the Palestinian Authority have made clear every step of the way that they do not wish to broadcast anti-Israeli content, and have expressed their desire to include as many Jewish-Israeli voices as possible.

The Palestinian Broadcasting Company issued a response to the decision, calling Erdan’s move part of Israel’s policy of shutting down free speech and restricting Palestinian media outlets. According to the company, Israel ought to be focusing on shutting down media outlets that allow the settlers to incite to violence and call for setting families on fire.

Punishing Abbas

Looking at Erdan’s use of “sovereignty” as an reason to shut down the station, one would think Israel respects its side of the Oslo agreements. This sounds especially absurd when taking into account Israel’s daily violations of Palestinian sovereignty in PA-controlled areas, including through arrests of elected officials — not to mention 22 Palestinian journalists — some of whom are continually held without charges or put on trial.

The Israeli army has previously entered PA-controlled areas and raided buildings belonging to Palestinian media outlets located in the heart of Ramallah. In 2012 soldiers raided studios belonging to “Watan” television station, as well as the educational “Al-Quds” channel in Ramallah. Soldiers destroyed equipment and arrested four journalists at their place of work. Similar steps were also taken against “Falesteen al-Yom” and “Trans Media” in Ramallah.

A member of Israel's Border Police assaults journalists and medics assembled near Al Bireh, West Bank (photo: Fadi Arouri)

An Israeli Border Policeman pepper sprays Palestinian journalists and medics during clashes near Al Bireh, West Bank. (photo: Fadi Arouri)

Ever since the station’s establishment, the behavior of Israeli authorities vis-a-vis Musawa has been two-faced. In both cases the closure orders were signed after months of activity, such that it does not seem like preventing the broadcasts was as urgent as one would think. Over the past few months the station has resumed its work without any problems — and with the full knowledge of the authorities. The station regularly broadcasts interviews with Israeli journalists as well as Knesset members from Zionist parties. Even the Public Security Ministry spokesperson regularly provides responses to the station’s journalists, treating Musawa just as it would any other media outlet.

One can view the timing of the order as a way to punish Mahmoud Abbas — a big supporter of the station — after he falsely accused rabbis of calling to poison of Palestinian wells (a statement he later retracted), as well as his refusal to meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. But it doesn’t end there: two weeks ago Muhammad Al-Madani, the PA liaison to Israel who helped establish the station, was barred from entering Israel for “subversive behavior.”

It is clear that Israel is trying to hinder media outlets that cater to Israel’s Arab citizens, which are free of oversight from Israel’s Government Advertising Agency as well as the Government Press Office. After all, this is channel is free of conditions and limitations laid down by the Israel Broadcasting Authority (especially when the station in question has the potential to reach large numbers of people), and which is captured on satellite dishes in every Arab home across Israel — and all without Israeli mediation.

Makbula Nasser, active in political and feminist affairs, is a journalist and hosts a show on current affairs on Radio Al-Shams, where she’s worked for over 10 years. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where she is a blogger. Read it here.

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Israel must apologize to its citizens for lying about Gaza flotilla http://972mag.com/israel-must-apologize-to-its-citizens-for-lying-about-gaza-flotilla/120245/ http://972mag.com/israel-must-apologize-to-its-citizens-for-lying-about-gaza-flotilla/120245/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 14:36:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120245 Now that Israel has signed a reconciliation agreement with Turkey over the Gaza flotilla incident, it must apologize to its own citizens for its lies and distortions. Five takeaways.

By Yael Marom

Mavi Marmara. (Free Gaza movement/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mavi Marmara. (Free Gaza movement/CC BY-SA 2.0)

1. A Shayetet 13 combat soldier who was among those to raid the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 gave an interview to Ma’ariv Online on Sunday, in the run-up to the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey, in which he said the following: “We were sent to stop the terror flotilla, that was the mission. How can we pay compensation to terrorists who tried to murder us?”

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“What kind of message does this send the other combat soldiers?” he asked. “Those who were wounded and thrown off deck by the terrorists who are now getting reparations? Will Shayetet soldiers also be compensated for the trauma they suffered?”

Yes, the soldiers who were sent by the state to take part in a violent action with no justification, who were exploited by cynical politicians — they need to demand compensation from the state for the senseless trauma they endured. For the lies and the fraud. Before all that, however, they must demand the state never send them on idiotic missions that have nothing to do with state security.

Perhaps now is the time for Israel to admit the truth: the Mavi Marmara was not a “terror flotilla,” and the reasons for stopping it had nothing to do with security — they were entirely political. The people on the flotilla did not sail for Gaza in order to attack Israel, but rather to break the siege on the Strip. They were not so naive as to think that they would be able to do so — they wanted to do direct action, a political act that would catch the world’s attention, and remind it that Israel is imprisoning millions of human beings in a narrow and crowded piece of land. In this sense, they succeeded immensely.

The depictions of the Mavi Marmara’s passengers as terrorists armed with guns, bombs, and missiles are entirely fabricated. No arms were found on the flotilla; the passengers used whatever they could find on the boat as weapons — from metal bars to kitchen and box cutters.

No, they did not board the flotilla out of love for Israel, and definitely not out of love for the occupation or the siege on Gaza. They certainly wanted to break the siege. No, they did not receive the Israeli soldiers who came to seize their boat with flowers. At the end of the day, Israeli soldiers sent by the state were the ones who attacked the protesters at sea.

A small girls waits with her family at the Rafah border crossing hoping to leave the Gaza Strip into Egypt, February 13, 2016. (Ezz Al Zanoon/Activestills.org)

A small girls waits with her family at the Rafah border crossing hoping to leave the Gaza Strip into Egypt, February 13, 2016. (Ezz Al Zanoon/Activestills.org)

For six years the state told its citizens that it cannot reconcile with Turkey because of the “terror flotilla” that set sail for Gaza’s shores. Now the balloon of lies has popped, and Israel is paying millions in compensation for the victims and their families. Isn’t it time that someone take responsibility and look Israel’s citizens in the eyes and admit: you were played, we exaggerated, we fabricated, we lied?

2. For years Israel has officially denied the fact that there is a siege on Gaza, while claiming that it has left the Strip entirely. By arguing that “we left Gaza and now look at what they’re doing to us” has allowed Israel to repeatedly attack the Strip — killing thousands of citizens — since the disengagement in 2005. Now Israel insists in its reconciliation agreement on maintaining the siege — the same one whose existence it so vehemently denied.

3. The conditions set out in the reconciliation agreement have been known for years; the decision to sign the agreement now is a result of finding the right timing for the domestic political interests of both Netanyahu and Erdogan to align. The timing, it seems, has never been perfect for lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

One must also take a moment to wonder why Erdogan so easily conceded on lifting the siege as part of the agreement, after years of warnings and threats. For years Turkey, much like Egypt, cynically used Gaza as a bargaining chip or in order to curry favor in the Arab world. Now, as interests change, he has no problem throwing Gaza to the dogs. This is how we have reached a point in which Egypt supports Israel’s siege, while Erdogan forgets about Gaza and embraces Netanyahu.

In fact, the situation is such that Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the U.S. can talk with Israel about Gaza. Israel can fight, reconcile, negotiate, and work behind the scenes with all of them. The only ones who have no say about their own fate are the Palestinians. They cannot intervene. Especially if they are Palestinian citizens of Israel.

MK Hanin Zoabi (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

MK Haneen Zoabi (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

And let’s not forget Palestinian member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi, an Israeli citizen who dared to express her opposition to the occupation and the siege. After she took part in the flotilla, Zoabi was the victim of a deceitful campaign of incitement, whose goal was to turn her from a legitimate elected official to a monster, a traitor, and a terrorist. If the Mavi Marmara was not a terrorist flotilla, and Israel is now paying $21 million to the victims and their families, then the time has certainly come to apologize to Zoabi and compensate her as well.

4. It has been two years since the last attack on Gaza, and most of the infrastructure that was destroyed during Operation Protective Edge has not been rebuilt. Many residents remain uprooted from their homes. Electricity and clean water are limited, poverty has skyrocketed, and there is a dearth of food and medicine. A group of women is planning another Gaza flotilla for September.

5. And now we must wait and see exactly how much profit the gas companies — the big winners of the reconciliation agreement — will make.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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The state must come clean about the fate of the Yemenite children http://972mag.com/the-state-must-come-clean-about-the-fate-of-the-yemenite-children/120235/ http://972mag.com/the-state-must-come-clean-about-the-fate-of-the-yemenite-children/120235/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 12:02:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120235 Between 1948 and 1952, thousands of Yemenite babies, children of immigrants to the newly-founded State of Israel were reportedly taken from their parents by Israel’s nascent medical establishment and disappeared. Now it is time for the state to come clean about what really happened.

By Tom Mehager

Yemenite children's affair.

In all our innocence we believed that if we bring forth testimonies from families on the ways their children were kidnapped, we could begin a process of social healing, collective truth telling, and in the far-off future, reconciliation. But the response of many Ashkenazi Israelis to the Day of Remembrance and Awareness for the Yemenite, Balkan and Mizrahi Children Affair was one of distortions and victimization. Thus, it is important to reiterate a number of basic facts.

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The three separate investigative commissions were flooded with over one thousand testimonies by families whose children were taken from them. Those testimonies were most often consistent: medical personnel told the families that the child was sick, the child was taken from the family and after a number of days was reported dead. The families were neither handed a death certificate nor told where the child had been buried. Today hundreds of families are providing testimonies to Amram, an NGO dedicated to researching the disappearance and trafficking of Jewish children from Yemen, the Balkans and Arab countries, while hundreds of others took part in last week’s events across the country to mark the day of remembrance. Those who refuse to believe these testimonies should, by the same token, refuse to believe testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

Those who bother to read materials on the subject will discover that there are testimonies by members of the Israeli establishment that reinforce those of the families. Take, for instance, the testimony given by Ahuva Goldfarb, the national supervisor of the Jewish Agency’s social services, to the national commission of inquiry: “Children were sent unregistered outside of the [transit] camps, it was systematic as could be.” Goldfarb admits that the answer given to parents who asked about their child’s fate was “He is no longer alive.” Roja Kushinsky, a nurse at the Ein Shemer transit camp, recalls a similar pattern: “I would take two-three babies, then they would send me to Afula on an ambulance, I would be left with healthy babies. The next day I would do the same thing and ask about the babies from the day before. I was told they died. Died?! But they were healthy. They said they passed away. It’s not true. It’s not true. They were given up for adoption.”

Questions about the fate of these children must be directed at the state — it must carry the full burden of this issue. There are serious suspicions that these children were sold abroad for all kinds of purposes. Eido Minkovsky, whose grandfather Reuven headed the Minkovsky-Bahlul Committee, which looked into allegations of kidnappings, responded to these testimonies on his personal Facebook page: “The Minkovsky-Bahlul Committee discovered the earth-rattling truth on the disappeared Yemenite children. They discovered over 300 dead!! For some reason that is not mentioned today when we know where they are, signed and marked.”

Yemenite children's affair.

Minkowsky isn’t speaking the truth. Because state representatives took the children from their parents, and the medical establishment claimed the children had died, the state must be responsible to show the families exactly where they are buried. As long as there are no graves with the children’s names, and no DNA test to match the deceased to their families, we cannot establish that the children died and were buried in Israel. Until today, the state has not opened any graves of its own initiative in order to prove that the children had died and were buried. Therefore we can establish that the State of Israel has never actually given these families a proper response about the fate of their children. Moreover, we’re not talking about a few hundreds, but thousands. According to the Kedmi Committee, the number is somewhere between 1,500-5,000 children who disappeared — and this is only between 1948-1954.

These things seem obvious. From the beginning we did not doubt the reliability of the families, and claimed that the state is responsible for providing them with an answer. But the daniel and manipulation create an opposite effect. Instead of coming together and moving toward reconciliation, the last week only deepened the animosity between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. One thing must be clear: we will keep going. Until the establishment fully recognizes the crimes committed against the families.

Tom Mehager is an activist with Amram. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.

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For Netanyahu, every peace initiative is an anti-Zionist plot http://972mag.com/for-netanyahu-every-peace-initiative-is-an-anti-zionist-plot/120219/ http://972mag.com/for-netanyahu-every-peace-initiative-is-an-anti-zionist-plot/120219/#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2016 10:40:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120219 What kind of hope does the prime minister offer us when every attempt to bring about peace is rejected as a plot to destroy Israel?

By Yossi Dahan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Annual Memorial Ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, October 26, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Annual Memorial Ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, October 26, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Less than a year ago, in a rare moment of honesty, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his vision for Israeli citizens, in present and future tense. It happened during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which came together to mark the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. “These days there is talk about what would have happened if someone or other would have remained. This is not relevant… we will forever live by the sword.” From Netanyahu’s blood-soaked vision, as opposed to, say, Rabin’s vision of hope, we can tease out his worldview and political behavior. In fact, his remarks summarize his continual refusal to respond to every single initiative that attempts to bring about the end of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians through negotiations.

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In Netanyahu’s eyes, every peace initiative is nothing more than a plot intended to put an end to the State of Israel — a death trap that we must escape using every trick in the book. This thinking also explains Israel’s behavior over the past few weeks, including Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Europe, where he will try to block every opportunity that may bring about negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, while seeking to soften the tone of an upcoming Quartet report on the frozen peace process, which will likely include harsh language regarding Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied territories.

Netanyahu stridently rejects all peace initiatives. During a Likud party meeting several weeks ago, he sent the Saudis, who proposed the Arab Peace Initiative back in 2002, to update their plan according to Israeli demands. Then he rejected the Paris Peace Initiative, which was accepted by foreign ministers of 28 EU member states. The main goal of the initiative was to assemble an international peace conference by the end of the year, in order to cause the Israelis and Palestinians to renew negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Paris Middle East peace summit, Paris, June 6, 2016. (EU Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Paris Middle East peace summit, Paris, June 6, 2016. (EU Photo)

The French plan includes putting together economic incentive packages for Israel and the Palestinians, and creating steps to build trust between the two sides. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who reports directly to Netanyahu (the prime minister is also Israel’s foreign minister), rejected the initiative outright when he declared that, “peace with the Palestinians will be reached through direct, bilateral negotiations with no preconditions.” A decisive position. However, we must remember that Netanyahu himself created a precondition for continuing negotiations: the Palestinian Authority must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This demand did not arise until 2007, and Netanyahu knows that the Palestinians, who recognized Israel in 1993, will refuse to accept it.

This is how Netanyahu blocks two paths to negotiations. For Israel the international path is illegitimate, since only direct negotiations will bring peace, Meanwhile the path of direct negotiations has become completely neutralized due to Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians declare their support for Zionism.

Let’s not forget that Netanyahu’s rejectionism does not stem solely from his despairing vision — it also serves his political needs — mostly survival — by prioritizing the ideology of his base among the Israeli Right. This comes at a time when criticism from both Likud members and ministers has become more extreme, and when Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s main political rival, is saying things like, “you cannot support Eretz Israel in Hebrew and establish Palestine in English” — a sentence that will surely accompany the prime minister as he travels to Europe.

But what kind of life is promised to a society whose political leadership promises only “blood, sweat, and tears” without any hope for a better future? A society in which citizens are constantly asked to make sacrifices — the kind of sacrifices we never see our prime minister making. A society that lives with no security, under the threat of terrorism. A society that lacks solidarity and suffers from inequality and poverty.

Netanyahu succeeds in showing us that we can continue to maintain such a society as long as citizens are told that the quality of life is of less importance. If you listen to him, Israelis are facing constant threats: Iran, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Arab citizens, the Left, left-wing NGOS. And of course, the greatest threat of all: peace plans.

Yossi Dahan is a law professor, the head of the Human Rights Division at the College of Law and Business and the co-founder of Haokets. This article was first published in Hebrew in Yedioth Ahronoth and Haokets.

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The roots of Israel’s most racist law http://972mag.com/the-roots-of-israels-most-racist-law/120215/ http://972mag.com/the-roots-of-israels-most-racist-law/120215/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:36:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120215 Israel’s most draconian laws may have been passed by the current right-wing government, but the stage was set long ago by the Israeli Left.

Reem Bedran, mother of three, married since 2002, Zimar. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Reem Bedran, mother of three, married since 2002, Zimar. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

With a majority of 65 votes, the Knesset approved last week the extension of an order to prevent family reunification in Israel. Of Palestinian families, of course. Jews are welcome to continue and reunify as much as they please.

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As always, the pretext for approving this draconian law, which deprives Palestinian citizens who fell in love with a Palestinian from the occupied territories (not to mention a Syrian, Lebanese, or Iranian citizen) from living with their loved one in their country, is security-based. According to Wikipedia, the law was written “following suicide attacks in Israel by Palestinian terrorists from 2000 during the Second Intifada, which targeted Israelis, in which many Israelis were murdered or wounded.” However the racist component of the law is so invisible that it was passed as a temporary order, and therefore the Knesset must extend it every year.

Thus we are forced every year to watch the farce foretold in which our elected officials discuss and heavily weigh the advantages of the law, as opposed to the harm it may cause, and reach the same surprising conclusion each time, according to which there is no choice but to extend the law. Or as Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli put it during a committee hearing to discuss the extension of the measure: “This committee was established with the real purpose — even by those who see this law as a necessary evil — so that it is not extended every year without showing how we can improve it and make it more efficient. It is clear from what we have heard here that there is a need for humanitarian amendments, for everyone’s sake.” In light of the support by Zionist Union MKs for the law, I am tempted to chalk up Michaeli’s remarks to self-irony. Unfortunately today, even that is too much to expect of her.

Racist legislation with cosmetic and “humanitarian” amendment may be the most precise way to characterize the oxymoron of “Jewish and democratic.” Zionist Union, which voted in support of extending the law, exempted itself from this dilemma long ago: now that they refuse to be defined as a left-wing party, these misgivings no longer bother them. But in fact what needs to be explained is Meretz’s objection, along with that of the Joint List, to the law — rather than the support for the law by Zionist parties.

When democracy is dependent on the majority

As a rule, the different strands of Zionism have always made clear that it will choose the “Jewish” over the “democratic.” And because this tension is built in, the decision in favor of a Jewish character is expressed day in and day out in various ways, whether nationally — while denying the national rights of the Palestinian minority in the country — and when it comes to the rights of private individuals, when it violates their rights as Israeli citizens.

As a Zionist party, Meretz fundamentally lends credence to the first component of this project: exclusivist Jewish nationalism necessarily means negating the national rights of Palestinians in Israel. Otherwise, Meretz would find itself supporting a Balad-style binationalism. Thus it is obvious why Meretz spends much of its resources on the struggle for individual rights. On paper, there is no reason for the Jewish and democratic state not to grant equal rights to Arab citizens, including the possibility of living with their partners in their country.

Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh (left) and Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon speak at the left-wing protest in Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestils.org)

Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh (left) and Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon speak at the left-wing protest in Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestils.org)

Herein lies the failure with which the Zionist Left refuses to contend: the pretense of maintaining Israel’s Jewish and democratic character is at its core a demographic struggle. In order for the Jewish state to be able to allow itself to be democratic — at least when it comes to individual rights (as opposed to national rights) — vis-à-vis its Arab citizens, it needs a significant demographic advantage. Only then will it be able to tell itself stories about democracy when it comes to a national minority without endangering the Jewish character it is so intent on maintaining. This is precisely why since its founding the state has refrained from establishing a new Arab city, despite population growth and a housing crisis in Arab society. This is why the state needs the Jewish National Fund to continue and “Judaize” land. This is why the state needs legislation that unabashedly restricts the growth of the minority. All under the guise of different security-based explanations.

The racist element and the demographic motivations behind the law banning Palestinian family reunification were clear to Meretz’s members. Party leader Zehava Galon responded to the law’s extension: “There were many interior ministers who over the years explained that this law was necessary because there is a demographic danger, because Arab residents of Israel are bringing in women from the territories. After that it turned into a security danger. The truth is that we have a right-wing government that hates Arabs, which excludes them and uses terrorist attacks as an excuse for its disgraceful actions.” Galon accurately recognizes the demographic rationale behind the law, but instead of bravely looking at its roots, she rushes to pin the blame on the “right-wing government that hates Arabs.”

Let this be a reminder: this is not the product of the Right’s hatred toward Arabs, but a genetic component of Zionism itself. As long as the social contract between citizens and their state is anchored in a framework that grants one national group privileges at the expense of the other, all while seeking to maintain democratic pretentious, demography will continue to be the name of the game.

If after 70 years the Zionist Left is still unable to admit to this simple truth and continues to insist on the oxymoron of “Jewish and democratic,” it must, at the very least, be fair enough not to place the responsibility for the consequences on the Right alone.

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

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Ya’alon is only the latest Israeli security official to back Iran deal http://972mag.com/yaalon-is-only-the-latest-israeli-security-official-to-back-the-iran-deal/120184/ http://972mag.com/yaalon-is-only-the-latest-israeli-security-official-to-back-the-iran-deal/120184/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2016 15:02:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120184 In declaring that there are no existential threats to Israel, the former defense minister joins a litany of current and former security officials who have spoken out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.

By Ali Gharib

Moshe Ya’alon announces his resignation as Israel’s defense minister at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Moshe Ya’alon announces his resignation as Israel’s defense minister at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

When world powers led by the United States signed a nuclear deal with Iran, American neoconservatives and other pro-Israel hawks were positively apoplectic. Mark Kirk, the Republican senator from Illinois who enjoys a consistent windfall of pro-Israel campaign cash, said that the deal was worse than the Munich agreement with Nazi Germany. The Wall Street Journal opinion page’s Bret Stephens actually used that as a headline: “Worse than Munich.”

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In fairness, these hawks were just taking their cues from Israel itself. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long regarded Iran as a second coming of the Nazis. He stated this unequivocally when the world was on the cusp of a nuclear deal—and defended the line of argument when it was criticized. That this notion would echo through rank-and-file right-wing Israel supporters in America should be no surprise: they have long been clear in their affinity for Netanyahu and his bankrupt worldview.

Oddly, however, Netanyahu’s tack seems to have always engendered more detractors in Israel itself — and not just lily-livered peaceniks. One hawkish figure, Netanyahu’s last defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, didn’t ever directly repudiate the comparisons of Iran to the Nazis but never made them himself. An eight-year member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Ya’alon recently parted ways acrimoniously with the government. At a speech to this year’s Herzliya Conference (the “neocon Woodstock“), he delivered a blistering attack on Netanyahu and his rhetoric. Here’s The Washington Post‘s translation:

At this time and in the foreseeable future, there is not an existential threat to Israel. Israel is the strongest state in the region and there is an enormous gap between it and every country and organization around it. Therefore, it is appropriate for the leadership in Israel to stop scaring the citizens and to stop telling them that we are on the verge of a second Holocaust.

But Ya’alon didn’t stop there. He went on to more-or-less endorse the Iran nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, said Ya’alon, “has been frozen in light of the deal signed by the world powers and does not constitute an immediate, existential threat for Israel.” It’s hard to see how this latest statement could possibly stand in opposition to Secretary of State John Kerry’s defense that “the people of Israel will be safer with this deal.”

Ya’alon’s turn-around has been nothing short of stunning. Though eschewing comparisons to the Nazis, he was a vociferous critic of diplomacy with Iran. As Netanyahu pointed out in his rebuttal to Ya’alon, the then-defense minister called Iran an “existential threat” to Israel just four months ago. “One cannot express full confidence in the leadership when one is part of it and then say the complete opposite when you are outside,” Netanyahu said in response to Ya’alon’s latest remarks, according to the Post. “Therefore, no importance should be ascribed to such political attacks.”

But actually one can expect exactly that. When one is in government, one is responsible to higher authorities. A government official must toe the line — it is literally part of their job — or resign and speak out. In this case, Ya’alon followed orders until his relationship with the government ended. Only then did he give voice to his criticisms. Ya’alon’s announcement that he had his own political ambitions was an additional complication — see: the “political attacks” that Netanyahu referred to — but it does not obviate what he is saying.

After all, Ya’alon is not merely casting himself as an outsider of Israeli politics. Rather, he is joining a litany of current and former security officials who have spoken out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal. Dissent from Netanyahu’s anti-Iran belligerence can be found at the top echelons of the military and among other nodes of the security establishment. The list is not limited to individuals, either. Israel’s nuclear commission, a bureaucratic body of experts created to advise the government, has also endorsed the deal. And yet in the U.S., hawks ignore the mounting accumulation of these countervailing opinions.

It’s a remarkable show of intellectual dishonesty. Some neocons bristle at being called Likudniks — they think it smacks of dual-loyalty accusations — but until now it seemed apt. With even a Likud man like Ya’alon breaking with Netanyahu’s party, however, it might be said that, today, neocons are hardly even Likudniks; they’re pure Netanyahuists. There is nothing that can make them so much as even acknowledge criticisms of the Israeli prime minister, let alone accept those criticisms. They are showing, once again, that their neoconservative ideology is just as bankrupt as their idol Netanyahu.

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. This article was first published on Lobelog.com. It is reproduced here with permission.

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What are settlers doing at the ‘March for Equality?’ http://972mag.com/what-are-settlers-doing-at-the-march-for-equality/120166/ http://972mag.com/what-are-settlers-doing-at-the-march-for-equality/120166/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 20:18:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120166 Israeli settlements enjoy preferential, subsidized budgets, and play an integral role in a system of segregation and dispossession. Who let them join the ‘March for Equality’ with Israel’s most underserved and disadvantaged communities? 

Members of Knesset Stav Shafir, Oren Hassan and others participate in the March for Equality, June 20, 2016. (Photo: Histadrut spokesperson)

Members of Knesset Stav Shafir, Oren Hassan and others participate in the March for Equality, June 20, 2016. (Photo: Histadrut spokesperson)

Israeli social activists and local government leaders began a march on Jerusalem this week, the March for Equality, demanding equality in state funding for social and educational services in their underserved communities in Israel’s economic and geographic peripheries. As the marchers progressed along their way from the Negev desert to Jerusalem, they were joined by members of Knesset, the head of the country’s largest labor union, and others.

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The struggle over education and welfare budgets for Israel’s disadvantaged communities is important and just. The idea of an inclusive march, which fosters unity among residents of dispersed peripheral communities is also great. Such a struggle is worthy of all of our support.

There is only one problem: the participation of settlers. Among the initiative’s participants, which include the mayors of two of Israel’s most impoverished towns, Rahat and Netivot (a Bedouin municipality and a majority Mizrahi town, respectively), were local government leaders from the Binyamin, Gush Etzion, and the South Hebron Hills settlements in the West Bank. The settler leaders did not come to express solidarity with Israel’s weakest communities, but rather to try and find room for themselves under the banner erected by neglected, downtrodden towns in the Israeli periphery.

Their participation raises three troubling questions: firstly, what budgetary discrimination do West Bank settlements suffer? (I’m speaking about non-Orthodox settlements. Ultra-Orthodox settlements do indeed suffer from serious budget shortfalls.) Just yesterday the government approved the transfer of an extra NIS 82 million to West Bank settlements, in addition to the NIS 340 million that was promised as part of coalition agreements.

And those are supplements to the settlements’ regular budgets. The Molad think tank pointed out this week that pre-schools in the Hebron hills settlements receive thousands of shekels more per child than those in Ashkelon and Ashdod, cities inside the Green Line considered to be in the periphery. Government grants for development, nutrition, and agriculture are larger in the settlements, Molad notes, and generally speaking the government invests 28 percent more per West Bank settler than per resident of the Galilee. (And that’s excluding the added costs of security spent on settlements in the West Bank.)

Another example: the Adva Center found that in 2014, local government spending per capita in non-Orthodox West Bank settlements was more than what is spent in the 15 municipalities considered economic giants inside the Green Line.

As Dani Gutwein has pointed out time after time, including in his video series “The Silver Platter,” the settlements are an alternative to the welfare state that Israel has created outside of its own borders. In the settlements housing is cheaper, state investment in construction and development is several times higher, and basic services like public transportation are subsidized at significantly higher rates. State services that are disappearing inside Israel are plentiful on the other side of the Green Line.

Equality under a military regime

On the most basic level, if approached without any context, we should be rejoicing that the government is still investing in characteristics of a welfare state, but that leads us to the second question: what place does the leadership of a privileged class in a racially segregated military regime have in a march for equality? By joining the march, the settlement leaders are trying to normalize their position in Israeli society, to present themselves as just another local government of Israeli communities, which just happen to lie outside of the state’s borders and is illegal under international law. They are trying to wash away the fact that their very existence plays an active role in the day-to-day dispossession of Palestinians and the perpetuation of dual legal systems — one for Jews and one for Arabs. (Read more on that here.)

While the mayors of Jewish towns in the Negev might be willing to march alongside the mayors of neighboring Arab towns Hura and Rahat, you won’t see the head of the South Hebron Hills settler council marching alongside Palestinian villagers from Susya, subjects of Israel’s military regime, and in whose they play an active role. By the virtue of their participation, settler officials have snuck a small asterisk onto the march’s banner equality, a footnote that says: “Equality, just not for Palestinians in the occupied territories.”

Head of the regional Shomron settlement council Yossi Dagan laid out that discriminatory approach quite clearly in an oped in Ynet Monday (Hebrew): “A child is a child, and he deserves equal opportunity whether he was born in Tel Aviv, Karnei Shomron, or Taibe.” (Karnei Shomron is a settlement in the West Bank and Taibe is an Arab town inside Israel.) Yes, there should be equality for children from Tel Aviv, Karnei Shomron, and Taibe, as far as Dagan is concerned; just not for children from Burkin, Nablus or Deir Istiya, Palestinian cities and villages that suffer on a daily basis as a result of the very existence of the settlement he heads — for some reason they don’t make the cut. That’s where Dagan draws the line, and takes the entire march for equality along with him.

So what exactly are settlers doing at at the march? They trying to buy some legitimacy for themselves. They are carving out alliances with social activists and mayors of actually underserved and discriminated-against communities, injecting themselves into a social struggle in an attempt to blur the lines between themselves and the actual economic and social periphery in Israel.

Which brings us to our third question: why let them join? Why is the mayor of Sakhnin, a major Arab city in Israel, willing to go along with it? Why is the mayor of Yerucham, a peacenik from the Labor party, okay with it? Why is the “periphery movement” marching with them, hand in hand?

I wish nothing but success to the March for Equality — just do it without the settlers.

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

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