+972 Magazine » Analysis http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 23 Aug 2014 14:23:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Israeli peace activism: Same slogans for a different reality http://972mag.com/israeli-peace-activism-same-slogans-for-a-different-reality/95920/ http://972mag.com/israeli-peace-activism-same-slogans-for-a-different-reality/95920/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 14:23:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95920 As a fundamental human desire and right, peace traverses time and context. However, if it is to be realized it must be adjusted to political and social realities.

By Nadia Naser-Najjab

In a period degraded by extremes of violence and dehumanization, the sight of 10,000 Israeli protestors taking to the streets of Tel Aviv last Saturday to protest against their own government’s actions in Gaza appeared as a welcome chink of light illuminating unremittingly bleak skies. Despite being smaller in scale, the demonstration recalled the early 1990s, when large numbers of Israelis demonstrated in favor of peace, and the possibility of a lasting peace seemed so much closer.

Israelis take part in a protest calling for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian, Tel Aviv, on August 16, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Saturday for a pro-peace rally under the slogan: 'Changing Direction: Toward Peace, Away From War.' (photo: Activestills)

Israelis take part in a protest calling for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian, Tel Aviv, on August 16, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Saturday for a pro-peace rally under the slogan: ‘Changing Direction: Toward Peace, Away From War.’ (photo: Activestills)

Watching images of the protests in Tel Aviv took me back to the First Intifada, a time when peace appeared as more than a fleeting abstraction or an illusionary delusion; a period when Women in Black attended silent vigils and commemorated Palestinian deaths across Israel; when B’Tselem first emerged to document the full range and scale of the Israeli state’s human rights abuses; when organizations as diverse and significant as Peace Now and Dai L’Kibush (End the Occupation) established the basis of a constituency for peace.

These groups brought Israelis and Palestinians together and proactively engaged in a whole range of solidarity actions. I personally worked alongside Israelis in establishing solidarity groups and organizing demonstrations, sit-ins, workshops, seminars and lectures. These actions were not confined to the occupied territories: They were deliberately aimed at the Israeli public, and were predicated upon a sincere belief that there was a body of public opinion that would be receptive and sympathetic to Palestinian concerns.

While our struggle against the occupation united Palestinians and Israelis it could not conceal deeper tensions, divisions and divergences. Insofar as ‘peace’ was invoked as a unifying abstraction, it was not examined in close perspective, or understood in terms of the demands that it imposed on its adherents. That this should be the case was hardly surprising – we were so busy working towards the goal that we did not concern ourselves with the exact details and clarifications.

In retrospect, while the struggle against the occupation united Palestinian and Israeli activists around a common goal, it could not conceal deeper questions; questions that required an honest and more substantive engagement than the slogans of ‘end the occupation’ and ‘two states for two people’ could ever provide. While we could agree on the broad sentiment, the details proved somewhat more difficult. Issues such as the right of return, the status of Jerusalem, the full removal of settlements, and the political significance of the 1967 borders remained fundamentally unaddressed, let alone resolved.

Israelis take part in a protest calling for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian, Tel Aviv, on August 16, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Saturday for a pro-peace rally under the slogan: 'Changing Direction: Toward Peace, Away From War.' (photo: Activestills)

Israelis take part in a protest calling for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian, Tel Aviv, on August 16, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Saturday for a pro-peace rally under the slogan: ‘Changing Direction: Toward Peace, Away From War.’ (photo: Activestills)

As with all political movements, participants joined the struggle in response to a range of motivations, whether personal or political in character. In some cases these motivations did not engage with Palestinian needs or requirements on even the most basic of levels. In precisely these terms, liberal Zionists could oppose the occupation upon the basis that it damaged Israel’s standing in world opinion or threatened the state’s long-term security interests. In other instances it became clear that some adherents to the cause – and those on the Left were by no means immune to this shortcoming – had internalized assumptions that were inimical to a lasting settlement: This meant that they could oppose the occupation but not necessarily address Palestinian rights or even Palestinians themselves.

It therefore shouldn’t have come as a surprise that subsequent years would give rise to a brutal and vicious irony: The same ‘peace’ we had fought for deepened and entrenched the occupation and became the means through which various forms of violence (both direct and indirect) were originated and perpetuated.

In making this observation I do not wish to minimize the sacrifices that were made, or to question the sincerity of those who joined us in our struggle. What I instead wish to do is clarify the conditions under which a meaningful and just peace can be established; to understand the process through which an abstracted invocation can assume material form. We have to come to terms with the fact that reality has now changed.

Hundreds gather in Tel Aviv to protest Israel's Operation Protective Edge, despite a police decision to revoke the demonstration's permit, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, July 9, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Hundreds gather in Tel Aviv to protest Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, despite a police decision to revoke the demonstration’s permit, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, July 9, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

This is true of political realities both in Israel, where aggressive, rejectionist and militarist values have deeply corrupted both the political establishment and public opinion, and the occupied West Bank, where the settlement project has progressed to the extent that it changes the foundational assumptions of the two-state model. The two developments impose a fundamental paradox: On the one hand we are more divided than ever; on the other, the basis of a full separation appears increasingly inconceivable.

As a fundamental human desire and right, peace traverses time and context. However, if it is to be realized it must be adjusted to political and social realities. In other words, to call for ‘peace’ is relatively straightforward; to make the specific sacrifices that it demands is somewhat more difficult. As a precondition Israeli peace activism should begin from the proposition that ‘peace’ must be compatible with the fundamental rights and needs of the Palestinian people; anything less than this should not be confused with peace.

Dr. Nadia Naser-Najjab has a PhD in Middle East Studies and is an Associate Research Fellow at the European Center of Palestine Studies-Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter.

Related:
10,000 protest in Tel Aviv for a just peace, end to occupation
Despite police ban, hundreds of anti-war demonstrators march in Tel Aviv
‘No more deaths’: Thousands of Israelis protest the Gaza war

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How the IDF turned a Palestinian house into a military post http://972mag.com/how-the-idf-turned-a-palestinian-house-into-a-military-post/95904/ http://972mag.com/how-the-idf-turned-a-palestinian-house-into-a-military-post/95904/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 11:28:18 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95904 Shattered televisions, clothes and food scattered everywhere, clogged toilets, walls covered in drawings, stolen jewelry. These are the scenes that awaited Palestinians in Gaza upon returning to their homes that were used as IDF military posts.

By Alexandr Nabokov

The devastation is total. Furniture is overturned, clothes are torn out of the closets and scattered around. Though I try to avoid it, I trample on them as I walk over broken glass, food scraps and cartridge cases. The walls are scribbled with Hebrew writing; large maps of the surrounding houses, along with guard schedules. I am inside a house that seems to be the one from which Salem Shamaly was shot dead in Shejaiye, the young man who died a few meters in front of me when he tried to evacuate his relatives during what was supposed to be a humanitarian ceasefire.

Military plans scribbled on the wall of a Palestinian home used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

Military plans scribbled on the wall of a Palestinian home used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

A Star of David scribbled on the wall of a Palestinian home used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

A Star of David scribbled on the wall of a Palestinian home used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

It’s not the first time I’ve seen destruction inside a house like this. It is one of four houses I have walked through that was used by Israeli forces during Operation Protective Edge, and the destruction in them is similar. I guide a TV crew around the house, pointing at the ‘X’ spraypainted outside the windows; a signal to fellow soldiers not to attack. I show the the crew the sandbags in the windows, how the soldiers made ​​use of pillowcases belonging to the house’s inhabitants and filled them with sand; that is why the floor tiles are broken – to gain access to the sand beneath.

An 'X' spraypainted outside the window of a Palestinian home to signal to other IDF soldiers not to shoot there, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

An ‘X’ spraypainted outside the window of a Palestinian home to signal to other IDF soldiers not to shoot there, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

Evidence of the soldiers’ presence is everywhere: the empty packages of underwear and the used ones scattered on the floor, the empty tins of food with Hebrew labels, wrapped sandwiches, two military shirts and a dark blue beret that were left behind, the shattered TV screen with a hammer beside it, the empty jewelry box. It is customary to give gifts of gold jewelry at Palestinian weddings. In one of the other four houses also used as a military outpost the owner showed me his wife’s empty jewelry box, along with a valuation certificate. When I mentioned this to my contact at the UN she confirmed that similar reports had been received all along the border areas between Gaza and Israel, where Israeli soldiers had set up military posts in private Palestinian homes. But don’t worry, this is the world’s most moral army.

The hammer used to smash a television in a Palestinian home used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

The hammer used to smash a television in a Palestinian home used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

An IDF shirt left behind in a house used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

An IDF shirt left behind in a house used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

Those in the TV crew recoil when they see and smell the stench from the toilets. I can only confirm that it’s the same in all the houses I’ve been to; flushing toilets doesn’t seem to be part of military training. I show the crew the cover of a Koran that has had all its pages torn out, a family album with all its photographs missing. Erasing the memories of Palestinian history has long been part of Israeli warfare; history is what builds national identity.

All the toilets in the house were clogged up and had not been flushed after the Palestinian home was used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

All the toilets in the house were clogged up and had not been flushed after the Palestinian home was used as a military post by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip, August 2014. (photo: Alexandr Nabokov)

From the roof I point to other surrounding houses, showing how together they can strategically survey a large part of the area; the desolate land in front of them that had, until recently, been a thriving orchard. I point to the land closer to the border area, less than a hundred meters from us, traces of crawlers can be clearly seen. The tanks must have been neatly lined up side-by-side, shooting directly into the buildings. I point out a barn beyond where the tanks stood; there are dead cows and camels inside. It’s not likely the camels died of thirst.

It is the last day of the extended ceasefire and when we leave the area we are not alone; people who returned to what remains of their homes begin to leave them again, carrying their smallest children and only the most necessary belongings they could retrieve. They exit their houses in little rivulets, seeking out the paths back to friends and acquaintances or UN schools where they are taking shelter. This time they do not have to flee in a panic, but this time several of them also have no valuables to worry about.

Alexandr Nabokov is an international activist currently in Gaza.

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
How money vanishes into think air during a West Bank raid
In search of teens, soldiers ‘looted’ Palestinian homes

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What would Israelis say to families of civilian casualties in Gaza? http://972mag.com/what-would-israelis-say-to-families-of-civilian-casualties-in-gaza/95879/ http://972mag.com/what-would-israelis-say-to-families-of-civilian-casualties-in-gaza/95879/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 19:58:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95879 The personal losses of Al Mezan’s team are a microcosm of what Israel’s military operation is doing to Gaza’s population. If Israelis met them face-to-face, would they tell them the same excuses for those civilian deaths as they tell themselves and the world? 

By Amjad Iraqi

On August 21, the father, step-mother and niece of Issam Younis, director-general of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, were killed as a result of an Israeli air strike on a nearby house; five other family members, including a three-year old and two-month old, were wounded. The home of another Al Mezan staff member, Yousef Abu Slaimeh, was heavily damaged and 17 of his family members injured. The strike was allegedly targeting the home of militants, but the force and debris from the multiple missiles severely affected the surrounding households.

These are not the first terrible losses that Al Mezan’s dedicated human rights workers have suffered during Israel’s current military operation. Two weeks ago field researcher Anwar Al Zaaneen was killed by an Israeli missile as he met a maintenance crew to fix the water connection to his home. Other staff members have lost relatives and friends, while also fearing for themselves and their families during Israel’s heavy bombardment across the Strip. As international relations director Mahmoud Abu Rahma says, this is the third war that many of their children have had to experience, trapped in their homes and unable to sleep from the constant noise of jets and explosions.

A Palestinians child stands in front of a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, northern Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. According to OCHA, 16,800 homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or severely damaged leaving 370,000 displaced. (photo: Activestills)

A Palestinians child stands in front of a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, northern Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. According to OCHA, 16,800 homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or severely damaged, leaving 370,000 displaced. (photo: Activestills)

The Al Mezan team is a microcosm of what Israel’s military operation is doing to Gaza’s 1.8 million people. It has now killed over 2,000 people – the majority of them civilians – wounded many more, caused wanton destruction to neighborhoods and vital infrastructure, and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Furthermore, Al Mezan’s stories, like thousands of others, debunk Israel’s continued efforts to conceal the real effects of its military operation (see B’Tselem’s infographic on Gazan families bombed at home). Many Israelis, most of whom support the war, still insist that the army does not “intend” to harm civilians, and that the military operation is being waged with unparalleled care and precision.

So what would these Israelis who support the war say to Issam, Yousef and Anwar’s family and to other Gazan victims? If Israelis met them face-to-face, would they dare tell them the same excuses for civilian deaths as they tell themselves and the world? Would they tell Issam, Yousef and Anwar’s family and all the other Gazan victims that their loved ones’ deaths and injuries were an “accident”? Would they insist that they should “blame Hamas” for the Israeli missiles that destroyed their homes? Would they claim their relatives were “human shields”? Would they say that their families were “raised by a culture of hate”? How do the deaths of Al Mezan’s staff and family members fit into the belief that the army’s tactics minimize civilian casualties? Would Israelis think their own claims sound reasonable, or truthful, in the face of what was done to those families?

It is troubling to see so many Israelis encouraging this self-imposed blindness to the actual effects that the war is having on the people of Gaza, believing that diversionary arguments of “intentions” could somehow outweigh what actually happens on the ground. It is as if they believe that the 1,400 Gazan civilians killed in the last few weeks – including those mentioned above – do not count in the real world, simply because the army supposedly did not “intend” for them to be killed. Similarly strange is the narrative that attempts to place blame for civilian deaths on the casualties and targets themselves, rather than those who pulled the trigger and gave the orders.

Bodies lie on the floor of Kuwaiti Hospital after Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza Strip, August 3, 2014. Since Al Najjar Hospital was closed, Kuwaiti, a nearby private hospital, opened its doors for emergency cases. So far, Israeli attacks have killed at least 1,676 Palestinians, including 378 children (photo: Activestills)

Bodies lie on the floor of Kuwaiti Hospital after Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza Strip, August 3, 2014. Since Al Najjar Hospital was closed, Kuwaiti, a nearby private hospital, opened its doors for emergency cases. (photo: Activestills)

These arguments and behaviors reveal a significant problem that characterizes Israel’s military conduct, permeates Israeli society’s views, and allows the harm faced by Al Mezan’s staff to occur without outcry or punishment: indifference. Just as damaging as the intention to kill is the sheer disregard, dehumanization and distancing that many Israelis have shown to the consequences of the violence waged in their name. The belief that indifference to civilian deaths is morally better than intention is wrong. The idea that indifference will alleviate Israel’s responsibility for its military’s crimes is wrong. The worsening toll on Gaza’s civilians, from deaths to displacement to destruction, will remain a permanent feature of their lives as long as indifference continues to be Israelis’ main response to their state’s policies, which too many unquestioningly support.

It would be worthwhile for many Israelis to think about what they would say to Issam, Yousef and Anwar’s family and other victims before telling others that their loss and suffering in Gaza, including living under a choking blockade and their third war in five years, is for a good cause.

Amjad Iraqi is a projects and advocacy coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

The writer wishes to dedicate this article to the Al Mezan staff, their families and their loved ones for their perseverance in the face of profound difficulties, both in their work and in their lives.

Related:
Not even a ‘bump on the wing’ these days when killing Palestinians
Blaming Palestinians for their own deaths

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Israel’s other war: Silencing Palestinian citizens http://972mag.com/israels-other-war-silencing-palestinian-citizens/95795/ http://972mag.com/israels-other-war-silencing-palestinian-citizens/95795/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 10:52:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95795 Despite all my years of coexistence camps with Jewish Israelis, I’m starting to lose sight of peace. How can there be peace when Israel does nothing to stop the violent attacks against its Palestinian citizens?

By Shadan Jabareen

I had just finished my second year at Tel Aviv University and wanted to remain in the city for the summer to work, so I applied for a job at a bookshop in Ben Gurion Airport in late June; they needed employees. The operations coordinator was impressed with my fluency in Arabic, Hebrew and English, so we scheduled an interview. After explaining the requirements of the job, she told me: “First, we have to do a security check. You’re an Arab Muslim, so your check will probably take longer than usual.” This came as no surprise to me; after all, I have 21 years of experience living in Israel. A week later the Israeli offensive on Gaza erupted and I received an email from the coordinator telling me, “Sorry we have too many employees. We are not going to hire you for the moment; we will contact you in two weeks when there is a position available.” I never heard from her again.

I am a U.S.-born Palestinian Muslim living in Israel, my great-grandparents lived in the Palestinian village of Al-Lajjun that was depopulated in May 1948 by the Israeli army. They fled the village and settled in Umm El-Fahm, a town that became a symbol of political resistance for Palestinians living in Israel. I grew up in a Jewish town with my family before moving to Umm El-Fahem. I was two years old when my parents applied to live in the Jewish town of Katzir; they thought we would have more opportunities there and a calmer environment away from the noise of Umm El-Fahm’s ghettos. Their application was rejected; the committee had decided that no Arabs would live in their town.

Policemen detain a young, right-wing protester during Tuesday night's clashes in Jerusalem. (photo: Activestills)

Policemen detain a young, right-wing protester during clashes in Jerusalem that erupted following the discovery of the bodies of three teenaged settlers near Halhul, West Jerusalem, July 1, 2014. The riots broke out during the funerals of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank. (photo: Activestills)

My father decided to fight for our right to be treated equally and not to be discriminated against. We ultimately won the case and lived there for eight years. When I was old enough to understand what Arab and Jewish meant, my father told me: “I did this for you because I want you to know you have rights, and that no one can take them away from you.”

I spent half of my life in coexistence summer camps, where Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel met to discuss the conflict and tried to find ways of connecting, despite our differences. At the core of these camps is the importance of listening to and understanding “the other side” in order to promote dialogue and reconciliation. I’ve participated in every possible peace-building project there is. My brothers and sister went to an Arab-Jewish school. The eldest of them goes to a Jewish boarding school and he just got back from California, where he attended a peace-building camp for Palestinians, Israelis and Americans called Hands of Peace.

Until now I’ve been really hopeful about the future of this land – too hopeful, perhaps – and have been certain that the conflict would someday end. The growing hatred and recent waves of racism I’ve witnessed in Israel over the past six weeks – both from the government and the streets – have exposed the true face, apparently, of the so-called coexistence here in Israel. That face is nasty, racist and refutes the existence of the “Other.” It does not accept that I am Palestinian. The truth is that I’m scared; I’ve never seen this kind of hatred in my life. I’ve been discriminated against before, like all Arabs here in Israel; I was even strip-searched at the airport for imposing an alleged “security risk” at the age of 19. But this time it is worse – more explicit, much more violent, and widespread.

When I have “discussions” with Israelis about the political situation they inevitably tell me to “go to Gaza, go to Syria,” and that I “should say thank you” that they even let me live here. Every time I enter into these discussions I am asked to leave my home and to thank my occupier for having me here; I have to be a good Arab – either I say thank you or I remain silent.

Not even academia is safe. At Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Arab students received death threats, hateful slogans were sprayed in dormitories calling for “Death to Arabs. Long live Israel.” Numerous Facebook pages have recently been to publish the personal information of Palestinian citizens of Israel who expressed solidarity with Palestine and Gaza; opinions that do not fit the Israeli consensus. A campaign was launched to locate Palestinian students from Tel Aviv University who expressed opposition to Israel’s latest assault on Gaza and then have them expelled from the university. The fact that these Israeli students felt comfortable enough to target us and threaten our right to education is deeply worrying.

Israeli policemen arrest protesters as Palestinians living in Israel and left wing activists protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in down town Haifa, July 18, 2014. Israeli police arrested 28 activists, as protesters took the streets and blocked roads calling to put an end to the attack. (Fiaz abu-Ramele/Activestills.org)

Israeli policemen arrest protesters as Palestinians living in Israel and left wing activists protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in down town Haifa, July 18, 2014. Israeli police arrested 28 activists, as protesters took the streets and blocked roads calling to put an end to the attack. (Fiaz abu-Ramele/Activestills.org)

Meanwhile, in the work place Arab employees are targeted as well; those who called Israel a “terrorist state” and Netanyahu a “war criminal” were fired during Operation Protective Edge. One such person is a medical resident who condemned IDF soldiers for their “massacre in Gaza.” He was suspended from his job.

While at the same time many Israelis have expressed happiness over the death of Palestinians in Gaza, wishing for more “terrorists” to die. Yet no one is condemning or firing them. They act with impunity because nobody will stop them. The Israeli police have arrested Arabs for mere Facebook statuses; peaceful demonstrators have been arrested and denied their right to protest. A total of 350 protesters have been charged by the Israeli police since early July. None are Jewish. Furthermore, in the Israeli media’s coverage of these protests we are always portrayed as violent rioters, but never simply as protesters.

I think about all my years at those coexistence summer camps, about the way I was raised to accept others and respect their different opinions, about the vision of peace and living together, and for the first time I feel like there is no hope – even the word peace is starting to sound to me like some naive and unachievable utopian idea.

“Promoting dialogue” was at the core of all those peace camps I attended; we learned that understanding someone else’s pain promotes dialogue, that to express your opinion and then listen to someone else’s is called dialogue. Unfortunately Israel is proving to be a dialogue-free country, and like so many Palestinians living here in Israel, I am now paralyzed by fear, frustration and sadness. How can there be peace when a country that claims to be democratic silences and discriminates against a minority that constitutes 20.7% of the population? How can there be peace when this country does nothing to stop the violent attacks against us?

Sadly, despite all my years of coexistence camps with Jewish Israelis, I’m starting to lose sight of peace; it seems to me it is only moving further out of reach.

Shadan Jabareen is a 21-year-old psychology and English literature student at Tel Aviv University. She is from Umm El-Fahm and currently lives in Tel Aviv.

Related:
Kidnappings leave a wake of ‘revenge,’ racist violence
Not just escalation: A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel
Why Palestinian citizens of Israel are no longer safe

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Israelis in the U.S. urge the Jewish community to take a closer look at Gaza http://972mag.com/israelis-in-the-u-s-urge-the-jewish-community-to-take-a-closer-look-at-gaza/95791/ http://972mag.com/israelis-in-the-u-s-urge-the-jewish-community-to-take-a-closer-look-at-gaza/95791/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 16:07:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95791 ‘We are reaching out to you because we want to re-examine what it means to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine,’ says a public letter published by Israelis for a Sustainable Future. ‘We argue that these terms might be one and the same.’

A group of Israelis living in the U.S. has published an open letter the the American Jewish community, calling on it to join them in opposition to the war in Gaza and the years-long blockade Israel has imposed on the Strip. While condemning Hamas’ targeting of civilians, the group states that “maintaining the occupation is what this war is all about.”

The group, calling itself Israelis for a Sustainable Future, was started in response to the war, but organizers told me that they wish to continue their activity even if a ceasefire is reached. The appeal to the Jewish community was born out of its engagement and influence over Israel-Palestine, organizers say.

During a temporary ceasefire residents of Khuza'a return to find their homes destroyed and retrieve the bodies of those killed. The temporary ceasefire later fell apart and fighting in the area was renewed, August 1, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

During a temporary ceasefire residents of Khuza’a return to find their homes destroyed and retrieve the bodies of those killed. The temporary ceasefire later fell apart and fighting in the area was renewed, August 1, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Here is the public letter in its entirely. You can see the list of signatures here, or follow them on Twitter.

We are a group of Israelis currently living in the U.S. We are reaching out to you because we oppose the actions of the Israeli government in operation ‘Protective Edge.’

This does not mean we don’t recognize the threat presented by Hamas to the Israeli people. We oppose firing of weapons into civilian population and the sacrifice of civilians by the regimes of both Hamas and the Israeli government. Calling to stop the bombing of Gaza does not mean we don’t realize the impossible conditions imposed on the residents of southern Israel. Nor does it mean we don’t demand security for them. But we also recognize that their plight is consistently ignored by the Israeli government until it becomes convenient for exploitation. We have seen three major military operations in less than six years. They repeat themselves because they don’t work. Yes, Hamas reserves are temporary depleted and the group is temporarily hindered. But this is not a moral price worth paying. Even if it were, killing thousands of civilians and displacing of hundreds of thousands doesn’t weaken Hamas in the long run. This bloodshed only feeds the one resource it can’t go without: hate. Only meaningful peace talks and an end to the ongoing occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza (a blockade is still occupation) will prevent both the next round of rockets into Israel and the next round of indiscriminate killings in Gaza.

We are reaching out to you because we want to re-examine what it means to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. We argue that these terms might be one and the same. We believe that supporting equal rights for both peoples is the only way to build a better Israel and a better Palestine and we want the American Jewish community to stand behind that message.

The belief that being ‘pro-Israel’ means uncritically supporting the actions of the Israeli government and military does not help the Israeli people. The Israeli people do not benefit from being oppressors. Israeli society does not benefit from ruling over 4 million Palestinians. The Israeli soldier does not benefit from risking his or her life in wars that could have been avoided.

The Israeli people gain nothing from perpetuating the occupation. Israeli children learn nothing from being taught everybody wants to kill them. And the Israeli population does not grow stronger from rising aggression within it, from a loss of tolerance and from a surge of violent racism against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

But maintaining the occupation is what this war is all about. Unfortunately, the regimes in Israel are becoming increasingly cynical, willing to sacrifice as many people as necessary to maintain their position of power and their control over the Palestinian people.

We believe this war could have been avoided. We don’t believe all Palestinians want to kill us. And we are happy to explain where we are coming from.

We believe that a biased media attempts to draw symmetry that does not exist. Just look at the numbers. Look at the pictures. Throwing blame at international criticism isn’t making Israel look any better. Taking action to stop human rights violation would. We obviously do not condone any form of anti-Semitism in this discourse, but we also feel that dismissing the entire discourse as anti-Semitism is not helpful to anyone.

Most of all, we believe that blood is blood, all equal and all worth the same. And we are well aware of what happens when the lives of one people are deemed to be worth less than those of others.

Israel needs your support to break out of the cycle of violence:

We encourage you to tell your community leaders to critically examine the Israeli government policies they rally behind. We urge you to support the moderate voices in Israel, forces that find themselves increasingly under attack by their own government and the Israeli media, and even physically assaulted by right winged vigilantes. We ask you to write to your congressional representatives to share your conviction that Israel can only be safe and prosperous if it stops the killing of civilians, ends the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and guarantees freedom and equality to all of its citizens. We invite you to start a fruitful dialogue with us.

Thank you,
IFSF | Israelis For a Sustainable Future

Related
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+972 Magazine’s full coverage of the war in Gaza.

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Not even a ‘bump on the wing’ these days when killing Palestinians http://972mag.com/not-even-a-bump-on-the-wing-these-days-when-killing-palestinians/95778/ http://972mag.com/not-even-a-bump-on-the-wing-these-days-when-killing-palestinians/95778/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 09:06:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95778 No one in Israel really talks about the killing of innocent Palestinians anymore. There was a time when we murdered people and it actually bothered us.

On Tuesday, the IDF attempted to kill Mohammed Deif, the military leader of Hamas in Gaza, by dropping five one-tonne bombs on a home. As these lines are written it is not yet clear whether Deif was killed. What can be said with certainty, however, is that his wife and eight-month-old son definitely were.

Deif has been on Israel’s wanted list for years. On Tuesday night it saw a chance, and despite the fact that it knew of other innocent civilians in the building, it went after him. The decision was made.

And as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, this is not the first time.

Mourners fill the mosque during the funeral for 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack on the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 15 of the 24 killed were children of the Abu Jame’ family. (photo: Activestills)

Mourners fill the mosque during the funeral for 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack on the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 15 of the 24 killed were children of the Abu Jame’ family. (photo: Activestills)

But no one in Israel really talks about these things anymore. I say this because I remember a time when we used to. There was a time when we murdered people and it actually bothered us.

I was reminded of this recently after watching a short documentary made by military analyst Yoav Limor for Israel’s Channel  2, called “The Human Shield.” If you understand Hebrew I highly recommend watching it, for it gives deep insight into the chilling justifications and rationalizations Israelis make for killing innocent people.

One poignant segment is that of human rights attorney Michael Sfard, who compares what is happening in Gaza today to what happened in 2002 when Israel killed then-Hamas military chief Salah Shehadeh. Sfard points out that there was a debate about the morality of killing Shehadeh, who died together with 14 innocent people that day, many of them children.

I’ve been writing for years about what this country is turning into before my eyes. The total lack of empathy for suffering on the other side is a result of deeply ingrained racism. In my eyes the Israeli response, or shall I say the lack of it, to the recent massacres in Gaza is the epitome of the unraveling of Israeli society over the past decade.

The Hebrew Wikipedia entry on the assassination of Shehadeh in 2002 states that the killing “gained criticism among left wingers in Israel.”

That wasn’t the only thing that happened back then. There were threats of taking pilots, officers and politicians to The Hague for war crimes. It also prompted the famous “Pilots Letter,” in which IDF pilots refused to take part in targeted killings. And there was even an inquiry panel that was formed, only to obviously point out that all was OK.

But probably the most memorable reaction to the assassination was that of then-Israeli Air Force Chief Dan Halutz (who later became Chief of Staff). When asked what he felt when he dropped a bomb on civilians, this is what he had to say:

No. That is not a legitimate question and it is not asked. But if you nevertheless want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release. A second later it’s gone, and that’s all. That is what I feel.

That was 2002. A one-tonne bomb, on one building.

Fast forward to July-August 2014. The IDF is dropping hundreds of one-tonne bombs over Gaza, but nobody is talking about it.

The Shejaiya neighborhood, wiped out like Dresden.

It’s a given. It just happens.

There’s no debate. No second thoughts.

Take a look at the picture below. Based on data from B’Tselem, it shows members of families killed in their homes in 59 incidents of bombing or shelling. In these incidents, 458 people were killed, including 108 women under the age of 60, 214 minors and 18 people over the age of 60.

btselem

B’Tselem figures for Palestinian families bombed at home, Gaza, July-August 2014 (initial figures)

Twelve years ago when we murdered innocent people, there were some people who were bothered by it. They raised their voices. They did something. It made it into the media. There was a debate.

There was more than a “bump in the wing.”

But now?

Now Israelis couldn’t care less.

Related:
Read aloud the names of the Abu Jame’ family, then tell me this isn’t a war crime
When ‘not in my name’ is all you have in the face of a massacre
Don’t cry for me: A letter from a little girl in Gaza

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Netanyahu’s zero-sum war in Gaza http://972mag.com/netanyahus-zero-sum-war-in-gaza/95763/ http://972mag.com/netanyahus-zero-sum-war-in-gaza/95763/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 12:24:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95763 As evidence of Israeli war crimes mounts in Gaza, Netanyahu’s latest escalation will only add to his country’s increasing international pariah status.

Just over 24 hours after reports emerged that Israel and the Palestinians – with American urging – had reached a deal to gradually end the Gaza blockade, Israel began targeting the very people with whom it had been indirectly negotiating. Following a reported assassination attempt on Hamas military wing leader Mohammed Deif, which instead killed his wife and young child, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she would “always support the targeted killings of terror leaders,” adding unequivocally: “I do not negotiate with Hamas.”

A Palestinian man retrieves his belongings from the rubble of a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, northern Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. According to OCHA, 16,800 homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or severely damaged, leaving 370,000 displaced. (photo: Activestills)

A Palestinian man retrieves his belongings from the rubble of a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, northern Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. According to OCHA, 16,800 homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or severely damaged, leaving 370,000 displaced. (photo: Activestills)

But Israel’s about-face doesn’t add up. Ultimately, the indirect talks in Cairo have always been with Hamas, and though they have been tense from the get-go, preceding periods of calm – the most recent lasting six days, and interrupted first by last Friday’s Israeli fire at residential areas in Khan Younis – have yielded hope for a long-term truce. When that hope dimmed, the ensuing violence fell within predictable, if no less horrifying, parameters – Gaza’s resistance fired rockets, and Israel’s military bombed what it termed “terror targets.” But this time those “targets” are not the facilities – hospitals, schools, factories – Israel has struck over the past six weeks; they are individual Hamas leaders.

The move suggests a zero-sum Israeli strategy aimed at “eliminating” any of the people capable of forging a way out of the current confrontation. This strategy was tried in 2012 when Israel assassinated top Hamas negotiator Ahmad Jabari, prompting Hamas retaliation and a nine-day Israeli assault that cost the lives of more than 400 Palestinians. Given that operation’s failure to achieve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated aim of crushing Hamas’ military capability, one wonders what the rationale behind Israel’s current round of assassinations could be.

If 2012 is any gauge, one answer might be that Israel hopes to dismantle Hamas entirely, re-installing the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority in Gaza. But there are no signs that any of the Palestinian factions negotiating in Cairo have broken rank, and PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has yet to withdraw his support for Hamas’s demands. Meanwhile, Israel continues to hold hostage members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Legislative Council, and last night issued, for the first time since the mid-1980s, “internal deportation” orders to Palestinian parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar.

By undermining their leadership on two fronts, Netanyahu seems to be picking a fight directly with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In the latter he has now killed more than 2,000, including most recently members of the Dalu family, who lost five women and four children in an Israeli airstrike during the 2012 assault. This time, Israeli jets reportedly unleashed five missiles on the Dalu home, leaving no doubt that Netanyahu has crossed his own Rubicon in Gaza.

A Palestinians child stands in front of a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, northern Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. According to OCHA, 16,800 homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or severely damaged leaving 370,000 displaced. (photo: Activestills)

A Palestinians child stands in front of a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, northern Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. (photo: Activestills)

Yet with Israeli troops once again amassing on the Gaza border, Netanyahu has spent all of the pretenses he manufactured for a ground operation. His military planners have declared the much-ballyhooed tunnels destroyed or incapacitated. His tank commanders have leveled virtually every major population center along Gaza’s northern, eastern and southern borders. And these areas have been all but emptied of their Palestinian inhabitants, leaving more than a quarter of Gaza’s population displaced.

All of this comes at a price – in Palestinian lives and corresponding world condemnation – that Israelis seem not to recognize. As they continue to grant Netanyahu overwhelming support, they fail to question why, for example, his government barred access to Gaza for researchers from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. As evidence of Israeli war crimes mount in Gaza, Netanyahu’s latest escalation will only add to his country’s increasing international pariah status. And that, ultimately, will force Israel’s defeat on both fronts of Netanyahu’s war – with or without Hamas at the negotiating table.

Related:
Israeli airstrikes kill three in Gaza, rockets fired at Israel as ceasefire breaks down
Netanyahu is talking to Hamas. It’s about time
‘Ending the siege is not a Hamas demand – it is a Palestinian one’
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A letter to the Israeli government from a retired terrorist http://972mag.com/a-letter-to-the-israeli-government-from-a-retired-terrorist/95720/ http://972mag.com/a-letter-to-the-israeli-government-from-a-retired-terrorist/95720/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 13:39:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95720 Ruth Reznik was only 14 when she joined a Zionist militia and took up arms against the British in Palestine. Now, she says, is the time to understand why Gazans are taking up arms against Israel.

By Ruth Reznik (translated by Sinewave)

I was drafted to the Irgun, a pre-state, right-wing Zionist militia, in the summer break after eighth grade, after I voiced my intention to enlist with either the Irgun or with the Lehi. As it happened, the representatives of the Irgun were the first to meet me. I wasn’t even 14 at the time, but the strong desire to join the underground resistance grew ever since the hanging of Eliahu Hakim and Eliahu Beit-Zuri, two Lehi men who were executed by the British in Cairo for the murder of the Baron Moyne (responsible for the 1941 Struma disaster, which claimed the lives of over 900 Jewish refugees in 1941). Hakim and Beit-Zuri were sent to the gallows on March 22, 1945.

At the time, my resolve to join the resistance against the British grew as more and more members of the resistance were handed death sentences, and as the gates to the country were closing in the face of waves of Jewish refugees from Europe. I decided it was time to become part of the fight against the British occupier.

Irgun fighters training in 1947. (photo: Archive of Jabotinsky Institute in Israel/CC BY 2.5)

Irgun fighters training in 1947. (photo: Archive of Jabotinsky Institute in Israel/CC BY 2.5)

Even though I was only a teenager, the danger did not deter me. I sat through nights full of resistance theory; entire evenings were spent getting familiar with how to use light firearms like Stens and Brens. We also learned how to identify gun calibers in the dark as well as different kinds of grenades and explosives. During vacations, we underwent live fire training and ground exercises. The lessons took place in a kindergarten located in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood, and in 1947, Arab gunmen were already sniping at nearby Hertzl street from Jaffa’s Hassan Bek Mosque. I took part in the funerals of fallen Irgun members who died in the conquering of the Menashiya neighbourhood in Jaffa. And in May 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence and the Irgun was disbanded. At age 15-and-a-half I was already a retired resistance fighter.

To this day, I understand the need of an occupied people to resist their occupier, and establish underground resistance forces until they gain their sovereignty. The same happened with oppressed peoples in America, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Kenya, South Africa and many other countries.

I raise this issue now in order to try and show that the occupation of Gaza will bring many deaths among our soldiers. 30, 300, 3,000, 300,000? And what about the tens of thousands who will come home wounded and shell-shocked? We cannot erase the hatred toward the occupiers. I still remember how Shoshana Damari’s simple song Anemones made the Queen’s soldiers go crazy.

Suppose we manage to re-occupy Gaza again, only to evacuate it years later. Will we not create the next generation of terrorists with our own hands? My suggestion is that the Israeli government remember Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. One year before he arrived at the Israeli Knesset, he gave a famous television interview in which he was asked about the possibility of peace with Israel. He answered: “A thousand years will pass before we make peace with Israel… rivers of blood pass between us… but a wise and daring man makes brave decisions and is not dragged down by hot heads.”

I remind you that two of the leaders of anti-British resistance movements, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, became Israeli prime ministers. Nelson Mandela, who was a prisoner of the apartheid South African government, was the man who, in his wisdom, prevented terrible bloodshed in his country.

Ruth Reznik is chair of No2Violence NGO and winner of the Israel Prize for special contribution to society and the nation. The post was first published on the No2Violence website. You can also read it in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Gaza dispatch: Why the people support Hamas
‘Ending the siege is not a Hamas demand – it is a Palestinian one’

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Gaza dispatch: Why the people support Hamas http://972mag.com/gaza-dispatch-why-the-people-still-support-hamas/95697/ http://972mag.com/gaza-dispatch-why-the-people-still-support-hamas/95697/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 09:14:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95697 More than seven years of Israeli siege, a punishment for voting Hamas into power, have led Palestinians to rally around the party. After all, every time they look to Mahmoud Abbas for salvation, they are sorely disappointed.

By Abeer Ayyoub

GAZA CITY – With Operation Protective Edge becoming longer and more violent, questions over the attitude of the 1.8 million residents of Gaza toward Hamas are coming to the fore. Although both the international and Israeli media are concerned about Gazans, they are noticeably more critical of Hamas than they are of Israel. That concern is understood, but needs to be made clearer.

What ought to be clear for everyone following the events from a distance is that Palestinians have enough awareness to differentiate between Hamas as a government and Hamas as a resistance faction. It is true that Gazans have multiple attitudes toward the Hamas government. However, resistance is something Palestinians agree on almost unanimously. More importantly, people know that resistance is not only coming from Hamas.

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

One of the main accusations leveled at Hamas, especially from Israeli journalists and analysts, is that it uses building materials for constructing tunnels, rather than letting people use them for housing or supporting our civilian infrastructure. It is true that Gaza is an impoverished enclave that requires huge efforts and funds to develop. However, that does not lessen the importance of security. Like any other country in the world, Gaza has the right to self defense. It is well-known that Israel spends a lot of money on enhancing its military infrastructure, while neglecting poor neighborhoods and slums across the country. America, which has the most powerful military in the world, has more than 600,000 homeless people.

Another accusation, and one no less important, is that Hamas uses its citizens as human shields. But can Hamas really do so when the Israeli army intentionally targets civilian compounds? If the fact that civilians are near a military location doesn’t stop Israel from firing rockets towards them, what is the point of Hamas “hiding behind civilians?” Besides, Gaza is a very densely populated area, meaning that any military action will always take place close to civilians.

Hamas is also accused of firing rockets at Israeli civilians. This is a valid accusation and no one can deny it. But if one compares the number of causalities among Israelis, almost all of whom were soldiers, it becomes clear that civilians are not Hamas’ main targets.

Furthermore, Hamas is being blamed for its rejecting most of the ceasefire initiatives during the ongoing conflict. Palestinians see it differently; they are fed up with the stringent blockade being imposed on them for the past seven years. Borders are often closed to both individuals trying to exit the Strip, as well as goods entering entering it. People say they have been slowly dying this entire time; now, after more than 2,000 been killed, they refuse to accept their slow death. This is the reason that Hamas is rejecting any truce that doesn’t, at the very least, lift the blockade.

One more important factor that leads the majority of the population to support the resistance is the huge disappointment Palestinians constantly feel from the President Mahmoud Abbas. Whenever they have any sort of expectations from their president, they are always sorely let down by his collaboration with Israel’s occupation. In Gaza, Hamas and the rest of the armed factions are still defending the population with their lives, so it is no wonder that the popularity of Hamas increases as that of Abbas decreases.

In these sensitive times of war, Gazans know that they better support the home front and confront Israel, rather than become split over their leadership and lose the battle. Moreover, the large number of people being killed creates unity among the public, which has led Palestinians that to hold the same set of demands.

A mourner carries the body of a child among 24 members of the Abu Jamea family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip.

A mourner carries the body of a child among 24 members of the Abu Jamea family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip.

More than seven years of being under Israeli siege, a punishment for voting for Hamas, have led people to rally around the party. Hamas was boycotted widely by international community, as well as many regimes in the Arab world. However, Palestinians now understand that Hamas, despite the disadvantages, managed to survive the battle.

Today, Palestinians will not accept anything less than the lifting of the siege and the building of an international port. Gazans are still convinced that having a port is not a fantasy, especially, with the humiliation they must encounter while travelling through the Egyptian border.

Abeer Ayyoub studied English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a journalist who covered the last war on Gaza and has recently covered various internal issues. She has written pieces online in English for Al Jazeera, Haaretz and other publications.

Related:
‘Ending the siege is not a Hamas demand – it is a Palestinian one’
Netanyahu is talking to Hamas. It’s about time
Photos of the week: Gazans search for normalcy among the ruins

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Wedding crashers: Do anti-miscegenation protesters hate or love Judaism? http://972mag.com/wedding-crashers-do-anti-miscegenation-protesters-hate-or-love-judaism/95680/ http://972mag.com/wedding-crashers-do-anti-miscegenation-protesters-hate-or-love-judaism/95680/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:29:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95680 With chants of “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead” in the background, the 30-something couple spoke earnestly, their faces worried. “As far as I’m concerned,” said the woman, an economist who didn’t want to be named, “I came to a funeral. The father is in mourning. I’m here to support the family in their pain with our presence.”

They have come to a grimy parking lot outside a tacky mall in Rishon LeZion, deep in the center of Israel, to protest the wedding of an Arab Muslim Israeli and an Israeli woman born Jewish, who converted to Islam. The wedding is in a hall about 200 meters away from the protest, as per a court order. About 200 protestors have gathered in the thick, hot air. The couple talking to me come from Rishon; they say they are secular.

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

The band of youth who have been chanting close by start jumping, in formation, screaming: “There are no classes in Gaza/because there are no kids in Gaza!” – referring to the hundreds of children killed by Israeli forces during Operation Protective Edge – and “Jews have souls; Arabs are sons of bitches!” The secular husband gestures towards them. “I don’t agree with that ‘death to Arab’ stuff. It’s too bad this has become a platform for extremism.” He bounces a giggling, pigtailed toddler. “We are here to give the bride’s family hope, to remind them: it’s reversible.”

The ingredients are all there for an explosion. Large placards with elaborate slogans, such as “what future can there be for someone who forgot her past?” are spread on the ground for participants who might want one. A 15-year old girl in a long skirt holds a huge canvas sign speaking of shame. The core of the protest is a group of wild-eyed teenage boys, dotted with far-right stalwarts such as former MK Michael Ben Ari and Kahanist Hebron settler Baruch Marzel. A left-wing counter-protest in support of the wedding is taking place across the way; one of them murmurs that the anti-wedding group is from La Familia, the thuggish sports fans widely thought to have been behind the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, in July.

Mahmoud Mansour celebrates in Jaffa before heading to out to his wedding reception. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Mahmoud Mansour celebrates in Jaffa before heading to out to his wedding reception. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Many of the protestors are wrapped in Israeli flags, draped over black T-shirts of “Lehava: The Jewish honor guard.” Lehava is a self-anointed “anti-assimilation” movement. The previous week, the group posted Mahmoud and Morel’s wedding invitation on the Internet, exhorting followers to come demonstrate. Mahmoud and Morel sought a court injunction.

Emotions rose: On the day of the wedding, the court ruled that the demonstration would be permitted at a distance of 200 meters from the hall, and the activists would not be allowed to communicate with the couple for 90 days. President Reuven Rivlin condemned the demonstration as racist incitement, and writing on his Faceboook page, gave the couple his blessing.

Fearing violence, earlier reports said the couple was forced to hire 33 security guards at their own expense – for NIS 15,000 (over $4,000). In addition, the parking lot is full of police who push the demonstrators back when they try to get closer to the wedding hall. Still they advance; within an hour, Lehava activists are just across the street from the entrance. An angry counter-protestor demands that a policeman enforce the 200-meter distance. The policeman responds that he does not have a copy of the court order on him, although it has been widely reported in the press.

The counter-protest supporting the couple is a gaggle of barely 50 people holding motley clusters of flowers, raggedly cut. They dangle small construction-paper signs saying “Freedom of Love!” decorated with hearts. What they lack in organization, they make up for in joy: they are singing a robust unaccompanied version of “The Flower in my Garden,” an iconic, fast-paced love song played at nearly every (Jewish) wedding in Israel. Whenever a wedding guest walks by, they cheer and clap “Mazal Tov!!” The guests, with women in high heels, head coverings and glitzy jewellery, smile with slight embarrassment and hurry toward a group of burly security men waiting to search them at the door.

Counter-demonstrators show their support for Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka on their wedding day. (photo: Activestills.org)

Counter-demonstrators show their support for Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka on their wedding day. (photo: Activestills.org)

Something about the situation has struck a nerve. Many of these counter-protestors tell me that they are not political and generally don’t go to demonstrations. I run into my neighbor, a 34-year-old man named Uriel who grew up in a Haredi family in Kfar Habad. About a decade ago, he defected from his community and became secular. He says this is his first demonstration ever. Nir, also 34, works for the appliance company Tadiran and says he is usually not an activist, but Lehava’s protest made his blood boil. “Next time it could be against people for the color of their eyes.” Meirav and Assaf, a young couple from Tel Aviv, echo the sentiment. Next, they say, it could be against Ashkenazi and Mizrahi marriages.

Lehava’s theme of “anti-assimilation” appears to be a sanitized label to win legitimacy for an organization known mainly for harassing people. One woman at the counter-protest has a partner from Darfur. She says she has been shoved and hit by Lehava members. When they threatened her with further violence on the Internet, she says she went to the police, who told her there was nothing they could do – she should hire a lawyer.

Those protesting the wedding are concerned about more than assimilation. Some say that the bride herself doesn’t realize her awful mistake. “Somewhere deep in her heart, she knows it is wrong,” says Simcha, a 51-year-old religious woman who immigrated from France in 1981. “You can’t convert to Islam – you’re born a Jew, you have a Jewish soul.” Others tell me that Jewish women have been manipulated, brainwashed or otherwise trapped into converting to be with Muslim men. Simcha says that Muslim men beat women and drag them by the hair.

The bride, Morel Malka, takes part in pre-wedding festivities in Jaffa. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The bride, Morel Malka, takes part in pre-wedding festivities in Jaffa. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Another resounding theme is that the bride’s children, Jewish according to Jewish law, will be raised Arab. That makes them potential terrorists. One sign says: “You wanted a grandchild? You got a Shahid!” (martyr). The wife in an older religious couple from Kochav Yair, a well-heeled suburb in central Israel says, “The children could all turn out to be Hamas! They might be Jews killing Jews, and they wouldn’t even know it.”

What about the idea that a woman has a right to choose, that it’s the couple’s private business? Tiferet, the 15-year-old from Beit Shemesh carrying a sign, is shy but firm. “Just because someone jumps off a roof doesn’t mean I’ll let her. She’s not only hurting herself. She’s hurting all of Am Yisrael.”

And there at the heart of the summer circus lies the core: a struggle to define, re-define, own or appropriate Judaism in the state of Israel today. Uriel, the formerly ultra-orthodox man, explains that Judaism is fundamentally racist, while a fellow pro-wedding protester chants “Judaism is not racism.” A Lehava activist shouts at cars looking for parking. “Whoever goes to the wedding is destroying Am Yisrael!” while others insist that assimilation is more dangerous than physical persecution.

Legal scholar Aeyal Gross, in an excellent Haaretz article, argues that the state itself set the stage for such attitudes by denying legal frameworks for religious intermarriage in Israel. Yair Ettinger, also in Haaretz, writes that the real problem in Israel is assimilation through alienation or apathy, not intermarriage. How many Israelis simply detest Judaism for all it has come to represent socially and politically here? In my experience, Uriel, now a sworn atheist, represents many secular people with less dramatic stories.

But last night what might have been a healthy debate looked for all the world like anti-miscegenation activities from some of the ugliest days of American not-so-distant history. Gross writes that the very fact of a public discussion about such a wedding is shameful. Meanwhile, one protestor said, “We want the bride to have a pinch in her heart. We want her to know that she’s missing something.” What? Membership in the community of Lehava?

Deep in their own hearts, the protestors, too, know about secular Israeli alienation from Judaism; but they may not know or recognize their culpability. One older religious woman referenced the “Sh’ma” as she spoke to me, perhaps the most important prayer in the Jewish canon. She paused and said “do you know that sentence?”

Related:
Court to allow anti-Arab protest outside Jewish-Palestinian wedding
Palestinian-Jewish couple hires wedding security for fear of anti-miscegenation group
Jewish anti-miscegenation groups distribute racist, sexist flyers

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