+972 Magazine » Analysis http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:45:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The struggle for Mizrahi recognition isn’t limited to Israel http://972mag.com/the-struggle-for-mizrahi-recognition-isnt-limited-to-israel/97963/ http://972mag.com/the-struggle-for-mizrahi-recognition-isnt-limited-to-israel/97963/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:42:14 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97963 If Israeli Jewish society is going to move forward dealing with its own racial tensions, it needs British and world Jewry to do the same. Generations of Mizrahi Jews in the UK no longer understand their own history: they have been taught to weep for Krakow but never for Sanaa.

By Leeor Ohayon

Deep in the heart of North East London, where South Tottenham meets Stamford Hill, sits an Adenese Jewish community. Here, I was born and raised, born into a mixed Yemenite-Moroccan family in the middle of a Mizrahi Jewish bubble. Within that bubble, where Hebrew was sung in heavy guttural pronunciations, where cussing was done in Arabic, and where women ululated at bar mitzvahs and weddings, we lived an existence away from the “Fiddler on the Roof”-style clichés that have come to dictate society’s understanding of Jews.

In my community a large percentage were ’67 refugees. The last Jews of Aden, who in 1967 boarded British ships with nothing but the clothes on their back, forced to flee suddenly in the midst of the turmoil of the British colonial exit. An ancient community, 2,000 years old, uprooted overnight, made its way to North East London to join an already established Adenese Jewish community that traced its roots to the heyday of the British Empire. Yet, despite their historical place in the British Jewish landscape, their presence remains forgotten by the mainstream Anglo-Jewish narrative. Similarly, no one speaks of the Iraqi-Jewish merchants who set up thriving communities in London and British Mumbai, nor of the Egyptian-Jews who arrived with the empire, or the Iranian-Jewish presence.

Attending British Jewish schools my entire life, it did not take long for me to realize that my Judaeo-Berber surname, brown skin and Mizrahi identity were undesirable. Better yet, they weren’t “really Jewish.” That undesirability, that categorization of what is Jewish, is chained to a non-pluralist Eurocentric reality which dictates Jewish history and culture, from Israel to the UK.

Judaism, we are told, is uniform: it is socially Eastern European, linguistically Yiddish, ethnically White. Judaism is never Brown, Arabic or Middle Eastern.  Subsequently, the Mizrahi Jew is whitewashed from the Jewish historical narrative, which in turn has allowed for his erasure from both Western and Arab historical, social and political discourse surrounding the Middle East. The non-Jewish world thus understands Judaism and Israeli society through Eurocentric-Ashkenazi paradigms provided for them by the Ashkenazi experience, which has anointed itself as the sole narrative of world Jewry. The Mizrahi Jew is expected to partake in a mainstream historical narrative that sees itself between Warsaw and Minsk, but never Baghdad.

Throughout my Jewish education, lessons fixated on the Gaon of Vilna or the Cholent of Shabbat — never on the Baba Sali of Tafilalt or the sweet buttery Jahnoon of Yemenite Jewry. Efforts to inform teachers that at home our rituals differed, it was dismissed; one teacher conceded to the class that “Sephardis have different traditions” with an added eye roll for emphasis.

All of this served to place myself and other Mizrahi British Jews in a state of continuous confusion, dictating a one-size-fits-all Jewish identity that did not reflect the realities of our homes and traditions. Mizrahi Jews are subsequently pressured to Ashkenize, to avoid appearing “too ethnic,” to understand their Jewish identity as not only inferior but as a historical anomaly not worthy of mention in Jewish environments. From the secular to the religious who have adopted the black hats of religious Ashkenazi tradition, a rich aspect of the Jewish world is being extinguished, for the sake of “blending in” with Ashkenazi Jewry.

A significant aspect of the Ashkenization of Judaism is in part credited to the place the Holocaust holds within the Jewish historical narrative. A tragedy which barely touched Mizrahi Jewry apart from small parts of North Africa, which also remains absent from the culture surrounding Holocaust remembrance. Mizrahi Jews across the world are expected to own the Holocaust as if it is their own. In the process, generations of Mizrahi Jews no longer understand their own history: they have been taught to weep for Krakow but never for Sanaa.

The Mizrahi story has been sacrificed at the altar of collective memory, silently accepting that ancient Judaeo-Islamic civilization is not something worth mourning. We are fed the notion of a rigid dichotomy between the Arab and Jewish worlds, as if either were two separate homogenous blocs with no connection to the other. To belong to an Arabic or Middle Eastern culture and have a Jewish identity is an oxymoron — being Polish and Jewish is not.

That lack of recognition and ensuing racism is a product of a British-Ashkenazi mind-set that regulates Judaism to a race, condensing a socio-religious group according to basic physical features — features that we Mizrahi Jews do not posses, features that are strictly European. As a result the Mizrahi Jew is a humorous concept, he does not “look” Jewish; he is Indian or Arab but never Jewish. Not really a Jew, an anomaly.

The Mizrahi struggle in Israel today is one about cultural recognition, historical justice for the crimes inflicted upon it by the Ashkenazi establishment and a demand for a new pluralism, one that brings the Mizrahi story into the fold. However, the Mizrahi struggle is not solely confined to Israel, it is part of a wider struggle for Mizrahi recognition across the Jewish communities of the West. The Mizrahi identity is subsequently swallowed up by an Ashkenazi collective memory and voice; the Mizrahi is expected to conform to the Ashkenazi hegemon.

If Israeli Jewish society is going to move forward dealing with its own racial tensions, it also requires British and world Jewry to do so. If Western Jewish communities begin to understand the Mizrahi in their midst, to recognize his story and to restore his rightful place in the Jewish collective imagination, then maybe, just maybe Israeli Jewish society might begin taking steps regarding its own Mizrahi population.

‘But you’re not really Mizrahi’: Rewriting an erased identity
Can a Mizrahi girl fit into Israel’s national story?
Re-learning history: A tribute to North Africa’s Jewish artists

Leeor Ohayon is a documentary photographer from London currently in Israel focusing his photographic work on Mizrahi Jewry. 

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Surviving winter after surviving ISIS: A testimony by a Yazidi refugee http://972mag.com/after-surviving-isis-yazidi-refugees-brace-for-harsh-winter/97920/ http://972mag.com/after-surviving-isis-yazidi-refugees-brace-for-harsh-winter/97920/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 18:43:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97920 Since the beginning of August, an estimated 350,000 Yazidi internally displaced persons (IDP) have been living in villages, towns and various refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Turkey. While most of those who found refuge have taken shelter in local school classrooms, construction sites or under bridges, the IDPs who have been placed in refugee camps were housed in tents, some of which were provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Last week, as the first rains hit Iraqi Kurdistan, the Yazidi refugee camps quickly became mud traps. Should refugees not be put in caravans, these camps could potentially become the site of the next disaster to befall the Yazidis. Saad al-Avdal offers a first-hand account from Khanik, one of the largest and most densely populated refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.

By Saad al-Avdal (translated by Idan Barir)

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

I do not know where or how to begin. I simply do not know. Let me start on August 3, 2014, that black and horrific day, when my family, as well as all the Ezidkhan [a general name for all Yezidi people] fell victim to genocide by the gangs of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to the abduction of women and children and to the ruthless killing of anyone who got in their way. On that day, all of us who escaped their filthy murderous hands, were forced to flee to Mount Sinjar (Shingal) and stay there for a more than a week without the food or water that exceeds the minimum we were able to obtain in order to survive the terrible hunger and thirst.

This was the state of affairs in the particular area on the mountain where I stayed with my family. However, in other parts of the mountain there were people who could not even obtain this bare minimum – a piece of bread and some drinking water. As a result, hundreds, potentially thousands, of children, elderly and sick people died while still on the mountain.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

So as not to tire you with the horror stories from Mount Sinjar, let me describe the rescue story: on August 9 and 10, a group of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) opened a safe corridor to rescue us across the Syrian border. The corridor was located roughly 20 miles north of the mountain, through Syrian territory, back to Iraqi Kurdistan territory. As soon as we got to Iraqi Kurdistan, we all breathed a sigh of relief and had a sense of security. However, soon thereafter, we were all engulfed by a sense of distress as more than 450,000 people were displaced and forced to flee to Iraqi Kurdistan and each of us scattered in different regions of the Kurdish region. Some 15,000 Yazidis remained in Syria and another 50,000 crossed into Turkish soil.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 dead and more than 7,000 abductees have been reported by families in the various refugee camps. These figures are but a reminder of the magnitude of the calamity that has hit the Yazidis.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The refugee camp of Khanik, whose land is muddy and swampy, is now home to more than 700 Yazidi families. True, this is Kurdish territory, but the services provided to refugees are terribly scarce. Last Thursday night, following heavy rains, another disaster befell us when the tents in the camp collapsed and the heavy rain flooded them up to our legs. As a result, several elderly people died in the camp and an ambulance that was called to evacuate them ran over two children, killing them instantly.

Because of the difficult situation, we were forced to flee the camp and to find shelter, once more, in the classrooms of local schools. We therefore find ourselves forced to appeal to governmental organizations, human rights organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, UNICEF and all relevant international organizations. We call on them to intervene immediately in this critical situation in order to save the surviving Yazidis, who have already suffered the bloody fate of 74 Firmanat (genocidal campaigns) throughout their history.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

Every time it starts to rain in our camp, we fear for the lives of our children and our elderly, who are exposed to the bitter cold and the danger of slipping on the muddy ground. We also face the danger of fire, which causes us to refrain from turning on the heating in our tents. If this is the situation in the fall, what will be our fate during the harsh Kurdistan winter, unless international aid organizations supply caravans and winter clothing for the IDPs in the camps?

Our suffering is endless, even if we, the Yazidi people, do all we can to remain steadfast in the face of these calamities.

The author is a Yazidi IDP currently living in the refugee camp of Khanik, near Duhok. Prior to the ISIS invasion of Sinjar in early August, he lived in the village Zorava, north of Mount Sinjar.

Why Israel must help the Kurds in Iraq
The Kurds must not be abandoned again, this time to ISIS

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‘Klinghoffer’: New York’s Jewish right goes to the opera http://972mag.com/klinghoffer-new-yorks-jewish-right-goes-to-the-opera/97929/ http://972mag.com/klinghoffer-new-yorks-jewish-right-goes-to-the-opera/97929/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:36:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97929 Now that ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ has opened and people are learning what the opera is actually about, the outraged claims made against it are being exposed as hot air.    

Until Monday night, when the “The Death of Klinghoffer” opened at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, people knew it was being attacked by many Jews for supposedly being anti-Semitic and for defending terrorists, and they didn’t know if the accusations were true or false. But now that the opera has opened, and it’s been widely reviewed, and audience members have been interviewed, it’s becoming clear to the mainstream public that pays attention to such issues – and this controversy has attracted a lot of attention – that these claims are total bullshit.

And what should be clear, though it probably isn’t, is that the protest against the opera, the raging campaign to prevent it from being staged at the Met, was not made by “American Jews” or even “New York Jews,” but by the anti-Muslim, anti-liberal, pro-war American Jewish right based in New York – the same people whose word should never be taken for anything.

As the right-wing Orthodox Jewish Press noted helpfully in an article titled “For Grass Roots Klinghoffer Protest, Jewish Establishment MIA”:

Not one mainstream Jewish organization has lent its name or its resources to this effort. …

The mostly small, and some quite tiny pro-Israel organizations which have been working tirelessly to fight the Met’s decision to stage “Klinghoffer” are (this is all of them): Advocates for Israel, AMCHA, Americans for a Safe Israel, the Bridge Project, Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, Catholic League, Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign, Congregation Oheb Zedek, Congregaton Or Zarua, Endowment for Middle East Truth, Hasbara Fellowship, Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam, International Committee for the Land of Israel, Israel Forever Foundation, Israel’s Voice, JCCWatch.org, Jewish Action Alliance, Jewish Political Education Foundation, MERCL, Mothers Against Terrorism, One Israel Fund, Rambam Mesivta High School, Shalhevet High School for Girls, Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, Strength to Strength, Westchester Hebrew High School, Zionist Organization of America.

This is not to say, though, that it was entirely a fringe effort; a former New York governor and a few local politicians lent their names to the protest. Ronald Lauder, one of the biggest right-wing machers in the world, was on the podium at the rally across from Lincoln Center. Rudolph Giuliani, possibly this crowd’s single favorite gentile, was the guest of honor, and while he argued against forcing “Klinghoffer” to shut down and didn’t accuse it of anti-Semitism, he complained that it was guilty of “historical inaccuracy and historical damage.” In an article in the Daily Beast, he lamented that the opera, first staged in 1991, was partly responsible for the Oslo Accords.

But the giveaway that the attacks on “The Death of Klinghoffer” were the product of the most closed-minded, ultra-nationalistic, bigoted reaches of organized New York Jewry was that the emcee at Monday night’s protest rally was Jeffrey Weisenfeld. Weisenfeld came to fame a few years ago when he blocked a New York college from giving playwright Tony Kushner an honorary doctorate because Kushner wrote (correctly) that Israel carried out ethnic cleansing in the War of Independence. At the time Weisenfeld said, “My mother would call Tony Kushner a kapo.” He also said Palestinians were “not human” because they “worship death for their children.” A couple of years ago he told me in an interview that it wasn’t enough for Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons, it had to destroy all its enemies’ conventional missiles, too. ”Israel can’t go on living with 200,000 missiles pointing at it,” he said.

Another star of the protest was, inevitably, “America’s rabbi,” Shmuley Boteach, scourge of Israel’s critics and sycophant to the rich and famous.

In retrospect, it should have been obvious from the names associated with the protest that the claims against the opera were nonsense. Furthermore, even Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman said the opera “is not anti-Semitic” (though he did harrumph that it is “highly problematic and has a strong anti-Israel bias …”) One just has to ask himself: Would New York’s Metropolitan Opera put on an anti-Semitic production? Would it glorify terrorism? And if anybody were going to glorify terrorism, would they do it by showing terrorists on a hijacked cruise ship shooting an old man in a wheelchair and throwing him overboard?

But again, nobody had seen the opera. People were not aware that this wasn’t American Jewry making accusations, this was hysterical right-wing American Jewry making accusations. And finally, the protest was given legitimacy by the moral leadership provided by Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa. In a letter included in the playbill given to members of the audience, they wrote that the opera “presents false moral equivalencies without context, and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. It rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father.”

Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer’s motives are pure; they’re acting out of personal anguish and whatever they say or do with regard to the opera is understandable and irreproachable. Not so at all for the protest’s rank and file, though, and unfortunately the Klinghoffer daughters’ immunity from criticism was transferred, to a large degree, to the protest itself. Whether or not the Klinghoffer daughters or the protesters intended it, the effect on the public watching the controversy play out was a kind of emotional blackmail: If the victim’s daughters say the opera glorifies terrorism, who am I to say it doesn’t, especially when I haven’t seen it?

But again, this changed after Monday night when the reviews came in, and when audience members who’d actually seen the play (unlike the protesters) began talking about it. Here’s Jordan Hoffman’s review in the Times of Israel, a centrist website:

The [protesters’] problem with the work … seemed to stem from the fact that the opera does not portray the hijackers as mindless bloodthirsty monsters, but dares to give the men and their cause a degree of backstory.

That it also shows these men shooting an innocent elderly man in cold blood and concludes with a heartbreaking aria from his widow didn’t seem to carry much weight with this bunch, nor did any discussion of whether representation in a work of fiction automatically means endorsement.

Here’s Adam Langer in The Forward, a liberal Zionist publication, after seeing a dress rehearsal:

Does the opera, as some protesters have contended, idealize terrorism or condone murder? Of course not. If anything, it seems to be an impassioned and perhaps naive plea for dialogue and mutual understanding.

That’s from the Times of Israel and the Forward, there’s no need to quote New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini’s dismissal of the protesters’ claims. But what the hell:

In the libretto, the murder takes place offstage. Here, it is depicted explicitly, which should silence detractors who charge that “Klinghoffer” explains away a vicious murder.

For the reactions of audience members, see here and here. The opening-night performance got “tremendous” ovations at the end, according to the Times. A lot of the people cheering – maybe even most of them – were New York Jews, which is important to remember.

Myself, I didn’t see the opera but I did read the libretto (the words), and I have to say that from that alone, I didn’t understand the opera’s message; the lines are written in lyric poetry, and most of it I couldn’t make heads or tails of. But there were some parts literal enough for me to understand, such as the “heartbreaking aria from [Klinghoffer’s] widow” that ends the opera, and the crudely anti-Semitic remarks spoken by a killer named “Rambo.” Plus, of course, I knew that the opera shows Palestinian terrorists murdering an old Jewish man in a wheelchair. So while I still don’t know what the opera’s message is, I damn sure know what it isn’t.

Anti-Semitism has no place in Palestine advocacy
A distorted portrait of Palestinian ‘anti-Semitism’

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For the Israeli media, Gazan lives are little more than expendable http://972mag.com/for-the-israeli-media-gaza-lives-are-expendable/97927/ http://972mag.com/for-the-israeli-media-gaza-lives-are-expendable/97927/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:35:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97927 Nearly two months after the end of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli media refuses to ask the difficult questions. Who decided that killing entire families is now allowed? What is the justification for doing so? And why won’t the army explain why it killed five members of the Joudah family?

Why doesn’t anyone care about the Joudah family? Nearly two months have passed since Israeli Air Force pilots bombed their yard in Gaza, killing the mother of the family and four of her children. Until today, the IDF has not published an explanation of the incident. Actually, almost no one has bothered to ask. A mother and four of her children were sitting in their yard and were killed with no prior notice, and the Israeli media doesn’t deem this worthy of a story. Why?

It happened on August 24. According to Issam Joudah’s testimony, the family was sitting in the shade of their yard in order to get some fresh air during the hot summer months. Issam was making coffee in the house when the missile exploded in the yard, killing his wife and four of his children. Only two children survived – one of them was badly wounded and is undergoing rehabilitation in Germany.

Palestinian children carry goods that were rescued from the village of Khuza'a, which has undergone of intense attacks and was largely destroyed during the Israeli offensive.

Palestinian children carry goods that were rescued from the village of Khuza’a, which has undergone of intense attacks and was largely destroyed during the Israeli offensive.

Why was the home bombed? The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit had this to say: “We do not respond to specific events, the updates on investigations that have been opened can be accessed via the Military Advocate General’s website.” Scanning the website, one cannot find the Joudah family’s name, but rather a list of seven incidents that took place during Operation Protective Edge that the Military Advocate General decided to investigate. That’s it. Any further questions were not answered by the IDF Spokesperson.

As I previously wrote, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily did not even report on the deaths of the family. Not a single word has been written about the bombing since. Even media outlets that initially reported on the deaths of the family members did not come back and demand answers from the army.

And really, why should they demand them? It’s just another incident, after all. Another family. One of more than 70 families who were bombed in a similar fashion, some of them much larger. The dead members of the Joudah family are just five out of over 540 family members who were killed in their homes, among them 250 minors. And if we don’t demand answers for all those deaths, what makes the Joudah family so special?

Nothing. The only thing that makes the Joudah family special is that I read more about them than any other family, not to mention the fact that Yedioth completely ignoring their deaths. Or perhaps it is that that blogger Awni Farhat interviewed the father of the family last month (Hebrew). Or that the photo he took of Rawan Sabah, friend of Raghed Joudah, still lingers in my mind. It could have been any other family. Each family and its “specific incident.”

Rawan Sabah sits next to where her friend, Ra'ed Joudah, used to sit in class. Joudah was killed by an Israeli airstrike along with five of her family members. (photo: Awni Farhat)

Rawan Sabah sits next to where her friend, Raghed Joudah, used to sit in class. Joudah was killed by an Israeli airstrike along with five of her family members. (photo: Awni Farhat)

But we simply do not hear these stories anywhere. Even two months after the fighting ended, no media outlet has seen fit to go back and examine exactly what happened there: How did Israel’s policy change since the assassination of Salah Shehade in 2002? Who decided that it is now logical to blow up entire families? Which intelligence, air force, state attorney or military command experts sat down and agreed that the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians is justified if there is a suspicion that a Hamas member is in the area? Is it true that there was a Hamas member or rockets near every home that was blown up or family that was decimated? Is this what happened in the case of the Joudah family?

These questions remain unanswered. The media, and most likely the Israeli public, simple don’t care for the answers. One need only remember the way in which the horrifying murder of the Fogel family was covered, in order to examine the differences in media coverage between incidents where Israelis are killed by Palestinians, and those in which Palestinians are killed by Israelis.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Gaza deaths aren’t worth a mention in leading Israeli newspaper
PHOTOS: Gaza’s children face an uncertain future

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How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians http://972mag.com/how-the-very-concept-of-human-rights-has-failed-palestinians/97883/ http://972mag.com/how-the-very-concept-of-human-rights-has-failed-palestinians/97883/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:53:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97883 Certain rights should be inalienable — yet Israel refuses to grant them to Palestinians and the world continues to treat the country as a rights-based democracy. What does this absurdity say about human rights as a political tool, and about the powers, entities and institutions that speak in their name?

Human Rights March 2009 (Naama Saar Stavy)

Human Rights March 2009 (Naama Saar Stavy)

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK David Rotem laid out some of his beliefs and world views in an extensive interview with Israeli financial daily Globes a few weeks ago. One of Rotem’s statements – which made the headline of the piece – was that “human rights are [reserved] for people who are citizens of the state.”

Rotem was referring the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decision to strike down, for the second time, an amendment to the “anti-Infiltration Law,” which authorized the prolonged imprisonment of asylum seekers who entered the country illegally. The final word in this legal battle has yet to be said, as Rotem’s committee will soon discuss and advance yet a third version of the law, which in all likelihood will be also be challenged before the High Court.

Yet when it comes to Israel’s decades-long occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, Rotem’s statement captures the entire logic of the system. This logic is tolerated, and often even accepted, by entities and institutions that see themselves as guardians of human rights. In that sense, that fact that a man like Rotem now heads the Israeli parliament’s constitutional committee is more telling than it seems. Human rights here are not a given, but something that are reserved for one category of people and deprived from another.

* * *

Many 20th century scholars, even liberal ones, have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of human rights as a political concept that can be used for advancing freedom and dignity for all human beings.

The fact that these “inalienable” rights were quickly attached to the concept of “national rights” and citizenship is even more troubling. Jewish philosopher Hanna Arendt pondered the fate of the person who is not entitled to citizenship – making it “legal” to strip him of his human rights, too. The result is a “legitimate” form of abuse, which could actually be worse than what preceded the idea of the “inalienable rights.”

This might sound too abstract — until one looks at the Palestinian case. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza comprise an indigenous population, and are a people who were uprooted from their homes in 1947-1948, only to be reconquered by Israel 19 years later. Neither group has Israeli citizenship — or any citizenship for that matter. They don’t even have the legal status of “permanent residents,” as do Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They are the subjects of a military regime.

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Under the military regime, Palestinians can have their private property destroyed or confiscated at the discretion of the military commander (and in most cases don’t even have the right to appeal such decisions); their freedom to travel outside the West Bank, and sometimes even within it, depends on special permits given by the military commander; they cannot build without the approval of the military commander, thousands can be deported from their homes with the stroke of a commander’s pen; every political assembly or protest can be deemed illegal unless it was given the permission of the military commander, and; they can be imprisoned, tortured or even killed without trial or due process.

Naturally, when it comes to the decisions of the military commander, Palestinians have no say and no mechanisms for accountability. The army and the Defense Ministry, the sovereign in the West Bank, rule as they see fit. In other words, every Palestinian in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, regardless of their actions, has had his or her civil rights and many of their human rights revoked.

* * *

There is something misleading about the term “occupation” because, in theory, it represents a temporary state of affairs. And while it is true that the international legal system allows the temporary revocation of some rights of an occupied population, Israel’s occupation is permanent. It might not have been this way in the late 1960s, when it wasn’t clear what was in store for the territories Israel captured in the Six Day War. But once the Israeli government started settling its own population in the occupied territory — and even more so, once it began arguing before its own court that such settlements are within its rights — this debate regarding the transience of the occupation should have ended.

People tend to confuse “permanent” with “eternal.” The Israeli occupation is not eternal — no institution is — but it is as permanent as can be in this world. It’s already lasted longer than the post-WWII Soviet bloc, for example. Israel itself stopped treating the OPT as occupied, now viewing them as territories held by Israel under a different status than the rest of the state. Therefore, the act of revoking the rights of an entire category of people is also permanent.

This is something that, in theory, can’t been reconciled with the idea of human rights. How could we deny the inalienable rights? Yet the very same political entities that speak in the name of rights have come to tolerate, accept, and even cooperate and support holding of a certain category of people without said rights.

The international community as a whole tends to view the Palestinian issue as a problem of war and peace, or as a diplomatic issue, rather than an issue of rights. Instead of demanding to immediately return the Palestinians their rights (because rights are inalienable and cannot be revoked in the first place), and only then discuss where those rights will be exercised (within the State of Israel or within a new Palestinian state), the rights were forgotten and the debate focused exclusively on the issue of the state. On a side note, this is also where the deep roots of the failure to reach an agreement lie. The heart of the matter was, and still is, being ignored.

The institutions that speak the language of rights are the very ones that sealed the denial of the Palestinians’ rights. The Israeli Supreme Court, for example, will review cases from the OPT, but it will not uphold Israel’s basic laws (the closest thing the country has to a constitution) in the West Bank and Gaza. The High Court rejects or refuses to hear most petitions from Palestinians, and when it does, it usually approves all the major policies of the occupation – from the confiscation of land, to the transfer of prisoners, to deportations, to imprisonment without trial (“administrative detention”), to torture and targeted assassinations. The court has set certain guidelines and limits on those measures, but the underlying notion that Palestinians have no rights — and can therefore be treated differently than Israeli citizens — has never been questioned.

Once the court accepted this logic it went on to its mini-constitutional revolution of the 1990s, which won it the label of an activist institution. This too was all about rights — but these were the rights of the privileged class: citizens.

Onward, to the world: the United States, which endowed upon the world the very idea of inalienable rights, is preventing the Palestinians from taking their case to international courts. The Palestinians are regarded by all American administrations as people who need to pass various thresholds and litmus tests if they are ever to win back their (inalienable) rights. So far, they haven’t passed those tests — so their current legal status has become the normal state of affairs, while Palestinians’ efforts to challenge it are regarded as “unilateral” acts which need to be punished.

The European Union views its normative power on human rights issues as one of its sources of pride. Some see it as the essence or the EU’s legitimacy. The 1995 trade agreement between the EU and Israel even includes a clause in this spirit:

Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.

Yet the EU never attempted to reconcile these words with the existence of a population living without rights in the West Bank and Gaza. And when it did, instead of questioning the entire agreement, the EU duplicated the Israeli distinction between the “regions of rights” and the “regions of no-rights,” by moving to exclude the West Bank from the agreement. I support the EU policies regarding the settlements, but we should keep in mind that they don’t address the issue of rights; they only allow the EU to feel less complicit in their abuse.

We can go on with these examples (how about the American Jewish community – considered the most liberal in the States – and its ongoing refusal to view the Palestinian issue as a problem of rights?), but the bottom line should be clear by now: human rights are not “inalienable,” but are rather seen as something that can be revoked by a sovereign power.

In fact, as Israel denies the rights of millions of people, it is still considered to be a rights-based democracy, and therefore a natural partner and ally to the liberal West. In other words, it is the rights-based discourse itself that has allowed Israel to revoke the rights of an entire class of people and get away with it. Maintaining the rights of some made it possible to take away the rights of others; exactly as Arendt, Giorgio Agamben and others warned could happen.

Needless to say, Israel is not a rights-based democracy, if this idea has any meaning. As I argued here a few weeks back, it’s time the Palestinian issue became a conversation about rights rather than diplomatic solutions. Until then, the failure to address the occupation as such casts a long shadow on the very concept of rights as a political and philosophical tool for bettering the human condition.

Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
A rights-based discourse is the best way to fight dispossession

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For near identical crimes, an Israeli and a Palestinian’s fate couldn’t be more different http://972mag.com/for-near-identical-crimes-an-israeli-and-a-palestinians-fate-couldnt-be-more-different/97869/ http://972mag.com/for-near-identical-crimes-an-israeli-and-a-palestinians-fate-couldnt-be-more-different/97869/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:41:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97869 A Palestinian hit-and-run suspect is sent to prison and winds up dead; a Jewish suspected of a similar but deadlier crime in the West Bank is sent home to his family.

By John Brown* (translated by Sol Salbe)

Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian man, September 27, 2008. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian man. (Illustrative photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Three months ago, on July 25, Raed al Jabari, a 35-year-old a father of five, was driving on Route 60 through the West Bank. He apparently fell asleep at the wheel (having earlier taken painkillers). Near the Gush Etzion Junction he hit a woman standing on the road. The woman was slightly injured. Immediately afterwards, he veered sharply back onto the road and turned himself in to Israeli authorities. There he explained what is outlined above.

Al Jabari was arrested and taken to the Ofer military prison. He was brought to the military court within the complex, where in light of these facts, the military judge released him on NIS 8,000 bail ($2140), having decided that he was not dangerous and his action wasn’t a deliberate terrorist act. But those were the days of Operation Protective Edge, and under the cover of the fighting in Gaza, the IDF greatly intensified its repressive actions in the West Bank. Without any additional evidence, the Military Advocate-General decided not to release him and Al Jabari became a “security prisoner.”

On September 9, Jabari was transferred to the Eshel Prison in Beersheba — inside the Green Line Israel — in flagrant violation of international law, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners outside of occupied territory. According to eyewitness accounts, he refused to get out of the vehicle, but was beaten and eventually got out. A few hours later the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) announced he had been found hanged in his cell. His family wasn’t informed of the death. Only after the case was reported in the media and rumors began to reach the family did they contacted the IPS, which at first claimed it knew nothing of the matter, and then confirmed the details. Israeli news site Walla! News reported at the time: “the prisoner who committed suicide, a 37-year-old Palestinian from Hebron, was arrested two months ago during Operation Brother’s Keeper on suspicion of security offenses.”

The findings of the Israeli autopsy have not been published to this date. The Palestinian doctor who was present has been compelled by the court to desist from publishing the results. He did, nevertheless, recommend an additional Palestinian autopsy. I have been unable to get a hold of even those results. However, following the autopsy, Palestinian minister for prisoners claimed that there were no signs of hanging on the body, but that there were signs of violence.

I don’t know which of the accounts is the true one, and for our purposes it does not matter. Either way this is an IPS failure, which followed the military legal regime’s criminal abuse of a person whose only crime, it is reasonable to assume, was of a minor traffic accident, and whose death would be whitewashed using the usual means.

Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, on the same West Bank road near the village of Sinjil, a Jewish Israeli from the settlement of Yitzhar ran over and killed five-year-old Palestinian Inas Shawkat Dar Khalil, also critically injuring four-year-old Omar Asfour. He fled the scene and didn’t summon help. When he arrived at the major settlement of Ofra, he called the police. They sent him home to his family.

The settler — responsible for the death of a child and the critical injuries of another — wasn’t arrested, he was not taken to a military prison, he wasn’t tried without evidence, he wasn’t beaten up, he wasn’t taken away from his family, and he didn’t become a security prisoner.

A Palestinian under similar circumstances who only lightly injured an Israeli woman, had to endure all of that, and died because of it.

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that al Jabari struck the Israeli woman with his car on July 26, when in fact the events took place on July 25, 2014. We regret the error.

John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. Translated from Hebrew by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne Australia.

How Israel’s High Court chooses occupation over international law
Conviction rate for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts: 99.74%

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Most Jewish Israelis oppose Palestinian state, new poll shows http://972mag.com/most-israelis-oppose-palestinian-state-new-poll-shows/97833/ http://972mag.com/most-israelis-oppose-palestinian-state-new-poll-shows/97833/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 13:58:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97833 No poll is perfect, but this one happens to be an accurate reflection of the Israeli government’s policies, much of its rhetoric, and the reality on the ground.

A large majority of Jewish Israeli citizens (74 percent) oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders, according to a new poll conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank. The organization also found that 76 percent oppose a Palestinian state if it means dividing Jerusalem.

The poll surveyed 505 Jewish Israelis, dividing them along their personal political orientation. Three hundred and four identified themselves as right wing, 125 as centrists and 68 as left wing. It is interesting to note that of those who consider themselves “centrists,” 63 percent oppose a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 border, compared with only 19 percent who identify as left.

When it comes to Jerusalem, a not surprising majority of both rightists and centrists oppose conceding East Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state. However, while 51.5 percent of leftists support it, nearly 40 percent of them oppose it. This means that even those who consider themselves left wing in Israel are on the fence about giving up East Jerusalem. From this we can conclude that most Jewish Israelis oppose a two-state solution, and even those on the left are not quite sure about it. It also illustrates that the notion of what is considered “left wing” in Israel has shifted to the right along with the rest of the public.

Palestinian activists lifting the Palestinian flag in the "Bab Al-Shams" village. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Palestinian activists lifting the Palestinian flag in the “Bab Al-Shams” village. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

On the issue of the Jordan Valley, a large majority of Jewish Israelis, including those identified as left (42.6 percent), oppose withdrawal for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The poll, published in Israel Hayom, is obviously meant to serve Netanyahu’s agenda. And while it is dangerous to rely on solely on a single poll to back up any claim, this specific poll – no matter how flawed or skewed – happens to be an accurate reflection of the Israeli government’s policies, much of its rhetoric, and the reality on the ground.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said time and time again that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and will never be divided. Members of the Likud party have openly come out against the establishment of a Palestinian state and leaders of both Yisrael Beiteinu and the Jewish Home party could not be more explicit in how much they oppose the notion of a Palestinian state.

Just the other day, Defense Minister Ya’alon said plainly that he is “not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and maintain relations in a way that works for our interests. We need to free ourselves of the notion that everything boils down to only one option called a [Palestinian] state.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is welcomed by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. (State Dept Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is welcomed by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. (State Dept Photo)

So even though many polls over the years have shown and still show that a majority of Jewish Israelis support a two-state solution based more or less along the 1967 border with land swaps – such sentiment is reflected less and less in the way Israelis vote and talk. This new poll seems to provide a much more honest assessment of the reality on the ground and the reality in the halls of government.

If government policies, government rhetoric, the reality on the ground and polls like this one don’t convince the U.S. government and the rest of the world that Israelis have no interest in negotiating a peace deal that includes a viable Palestinian state, what will?

Polls: Two-state solution was a casualty, even before the war
After Kerry, only BDS may save the two-state solution
COMIC: Why even god can’t reach a two-state solution

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Can a Mizrahi girl fit into Israel’s national story? http://972mag.com/can-a-mizrahi-girl-fit-into-israels-national-story/97823/ http://972mag.com/can-a-mizrahi-girl-fit-into-israels-national-story/97823/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 13:25:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97823 I grew up in a place where my first name was nothing more than a word on my identification card. Where the Holocaust was something that didn’t belong to me. Where my story had no place. All because of my ethnicity. 

By Adi Sadaka

Ever since I was a young girl and through my years growing up in Kiryat Tiv’on, I found myself trying my best to conceal my last name. In the small town where I lived in Israel’s north, the heartland of Ashkenazi identity, I felt, without even understanding what I was feeling at the time, that it was better simply not to admit that I was Mizrahi.

The first step in this process was to try not to say my last name out loud. Sometimes this worked. But my last name was almost always revealed, and regardless of where I went, everyone just called me “Sadaka.”

My first name became nothing more than a word on my ID card.

In high school, my brother’s older friends – he was also called “Sadaka” – called me “Little Sadaka.” Even after I left Tiv’on, went to the Garin (a pre-army year course), was drafted into the army and moved to Tel Aviv,  people insisted on calling me by my last name. And I’ve heard it in all of its forms: Sadakush, Sedek, Sidkit, Sudoku.

My first name, Adi, is used only by my family members and maybe two or three friends.

My classmates who grew up with me in Tiv’on will be very upset with me if they hear me claim that even in our small town there is discrimination based on ethnicity. They will surely say that I am searching for racism in places where it does not exist, and that no one in actually Tiv’on cares where you come from. But when you talk about where you are going, well, that’s where you can see the difference.

Tiv’on is clearly divided into two areas. On the lefthand side of Tiv’on Junction there is Kiryat Amal. Kiryat Amal includes the most Zionist streets in town: Alexander Zaïd, Moshe Sharett, Yigal Alon, Yitzhak Rabin and Hannah Senesh. People whose reputation precedes them.

On the righthand side of the junction, one sees the old Kiryat Tiv’on and the relatively new neighborhood of Ramat Tiv’on. These neighborhoods are named after flowers and plants.

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I spent my childhood and teenage years on a small street called Rehov Ha’Vradim (Rose Street) on the top of the hill. The street is part of a neighborhood called Skhunat Ha’Gefen (Vinyard Neighborhood), and most of its residents are Mizrahim. There are a few exceptions, just like there are a few Mizrahi families who live in other parts of Tiv’on. The number of Mizrahi families in Ha’Gefen, however, is far greater.

When people asked me where I’m from, I’d say that I lived near Ramat Tiv’on. I didn’t want to say “Sadaka” nor did I want to tell them what street I lived on. I wanted so badly to be like those Ashkenazi kids from central Tiv’on or Kiryat Amal. Those wonder children who were always the center of attention. I wanted to be just like them. But nothing helped. I remained Sadaka.

Eleventh grade came around, and with it the annual school trip to visit the death camps in Poland. It was clear to me that I was going to go, even though I had no relatives who were in the Holocaust or even ones who escaped just in time. Yes, I have family members, including my father, who were forced to flee Syria in the middle of the night on a dangerous and frightening journey. But I didn’t appreciate this story at the time; I only wanted to see the train tracks at Birkenau. So I spent the entire summer working as a baby-sitter, painting walls and gardening in order to save enough money and be like the others. And I succeeded.

When we arrived in Auschwitz, everyone in my class stood in a ceremonial circle and read aloud the names of their relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. The teacher then pushed a video camera into my hands and said, “Since you don’t have any family members who were murdered in the Holocaust, you need to film the ceremony.” I stood in the middle of the tearful circle and filmed silently. I felt completely disconnected.

Even today, almost 15 years later, I still go back to this incident. I think about where I fit in, from Tiv’on to Auschwitz. I think about the physical places that Mizrahim like myself have been concentrated in. And especially those who live in the nice neighborhoods of Tiv’on or take part of those circles in Auschwitz. I think about the symbolic spaces that we are allowed to occupy with last names such as ours. I think about those who are allowed two names – both first and last – and the kids who prefer to go by their first name. I think about entire families who are reduced to a single last name, and the fact that there is no effort to differentiate between the different people who make up those families.

I think about this and claim my own place. I am Adi Sadaka – Mizrahi wonder child.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Café Gibraltar.

‘But you’re not really Mizrahi’: Rewriting an erased identity
‘How can this monkey be talking about an ideology that developed in Europe?’

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How the Israeli media covers massacres: Lessons from 1953 http://972mag.com/how-the-media-covers-massacres-lessons-from-1950/97807/ http://972mag.com/how-the-media-covers-massacres-lessons-from-1950/97807/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 14:14:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97807 The killing was justified, the terrorists hid among the civilian population, the West is anti-Semitic, and on second thought, perhaps the whole thing never actually happened. From the 1953 Qibya massacre to Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli media is the same media, and the lies the same lies.

By John Brown

At 9:30 p.m. on the night of October 14, 1953, soldiers from Israel’s Paratroopers Unit as well as Commando Unit 101 fired mortars at the West Bank villages (then under Jordanian control) of Qibya and Ni’lin. Following the barrage, over 130 soldiers swarmed Qibya, laying down land mines on the outskirts of the village in order to prevent Jordanian troops from accessing it. Israeli forces then destroyed 45 homes and killed 69 people, most of them in cold blood by throwing grenades, including those who attempted to flee for their lives. Many were killed under the rubble of their own homes. Approximately two thirds of those killed were women and children. The soldiers received the following order from then-commander Ariel Sharon: “The intention: Attack and conquer the village of Qibya, with maximum damage to humans and property.” The massacre took place in the wake of the murder of three Israelis in the Israeli town Yehud.

Israeli newspapers quoted Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion when reporting that the massacre was committed by “settlers living on the border, some of them lived through Nazi concentration camps, while others are immigrants from Muslim countries, where the tradition of revenge is strong… and their patience ran out. No one will be more sorry than the Israeli government should it turn out that innocent blood was spilled in the revenge attack. The Israeli government vehemently rejects the outlandish and fantastical versions of the story, which claim that Israeli soldiers took part in the operation against Qibya. We examined the issue, and found that not a single military unit was missing from its base on the night of the attack on Qibya.” The Davar daily added that Ben-Gurion’s speech was delivered “from the heart of every Israeli” and that “Arab states are granting refuge to Nazi criminals.” Ben-Gurion would later repeat that very same lie in the Knesset.

Inhabitants of Qibya coming back in their village after its attack by israeli forces, October 1953. (photo:

Inhabitants of Qibya coming back in their village after its attack by israeli forces, October 1953. (photo: unknown)

The newspaper reports from October 1953 are incredible both in terms of the lies they tell, as well as how similar they are to today’s stories. And all this despite the fact that the editors were well aware of reports from around the world that pointed the finger at the Israeli army. They were also aware of the simple logic that the scope of the killings and damage in the village, along with the coordinated efforts in Ni’ilin must have been the work of a well-trained military unit. And yet the spiritual forefathers of Channel 2′s military correspondent Roni Daniel and his ilk still chose to cover up the massacre while justifying it.

After invoking the Holocaust, they used just about everything in their arsenal to try and debunk the claim. The following quotes can be found in Benny Morris’ article “The Israeli Press and the Qibya Operation, 1953,” as well as the National Library of Israel.

Did it even happen? Perhaps Hamas killed them

On October 18th, the editor-in-chief of the Ma’ariv daily, Dr. Azriel Carlibach, wrote the following: “The Security Council will surely condemn Israel over the Qibya incident. But what actually took place in Qibya? Our main argument is that the incident was never investigated by a neutral and objective party.

“Unlike in Yehud, where UN observers did not even visit the Arab village that ostensibly ‘was erased from the face of the earth.’ They did not check nor count the number of people killed there – and we cannot even speak of fifty victims. And they didn’t even bother themselves to investigate who the attackers were, and whether IDF units were even involved in the incident. All Western governments… unquestionably believed the description of… Radio Ramallah, with its exaggerative, Oriental imagination. The station said that ‘half an IDF battalion’ participated in the operation. Where are their tracks and who saw them? Western powers have knowingly bought into Arab propaganda.”

Everything Carlibach wrote is a lie. The UN visited the village, counted the dead and collected testimonies regarding the IDF’s involvement.. Radio Ramallah’s report was accurate.

Look at what’s happening in Syria

On October 19th, in the wake of global condemnation, the Herut daily published the following: “How many innocent Kenyans were killed in cold blood by armed British soldiers as a response to terrorist attacks? In any event, there is no… basis to the claim that the attack was committed by IDF forces. Would anyone be surprised if it turns out that the Israelis on the border became fed up with seeing those who want them dead crossing the borders?”

The anti-Semitic West

On October 19th, Davar published the following: “Therefore we are astounded by the activity [of world powers], especially during these days in the wake of the great commotion by Arab countries after the explosions and victims in the Arab village over our border. No mention of the mother and her two children who were murdered in Yehud, nor all the others who were killed… those did not upset the politicians.”

The killing was justified since the terrorists hid among the civilian population

On October 18, Ma’ariv wrote that “Qibya served as the headquarters of Hassan Salame, one of the heads of the “gangs” during the Arab Revolt in 1937.” This is a lie. The following day, Ma’ariv published an article on page two titled “Israel’s Hasbara is Lacking.”

The only places one could read trustworthy accounts of the incident were in the Communist Party’s Kol Ha’am newspaper, as well as in Uri Avnery’s Ha’Olam Haze. After publishing his account, Avnery was ambushed and had both of his arms broken.


Although the lies were revealed over time, not a single person involved in the massacre or its cover up was ever tried. Some of them, like those from Unit 101, turned into cultural assets. Ariel Sharon became prime minister, and a different commander, Meir Har Zion, became an Israeli hero on whose principles today’s commanders are being raised. It is important to remember this the next time you hear someone talking about how Palestinians glorify their terrorists, especially because the Qibya massacre is up there with the worst of Palestinian terror attacks.

It is difficult to guess whether truthful reporting on the massacre would have changed this ethos. Perhaps not. But there is no doubt that the journalists of the time betrayed their profession – a betrayal that, when it comes to the IDF and its operations, continues until this very day. A betrayal that perpetuated the endless cycle of violence in the region, and has allowed IDF commanders to operate unhindered, without legal or public oversight.

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

The media adopts the lies of the state, allowing crimes to be committed until this very day. It actively labels all those who attempt to report the truth as “traitors” or “delusional liars,” thus creating a public ignorant to its own reality – one that dooms itself to a cycle of bloodletting that ends in military solutions – the same ones that are always deployed in the name of security.

Despite the disinformation, whoever wanted to know what happened in Qibya in ’53 or in Operation Protective Edge could have found out. Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote the following after Qibya:

There is a Jewish aspect to the Qibya incident; it is not a moral problem, but rather an entirely religious one. We must ask ourselves: where does this teenager come from, the one who has no qualms about committing such an atrocity, when was he pushed from within or without to commit revenge? The teen, after all, is not part of the rabble, but rather someone who grew ip and was educated on Zionist principles, alongside human and societal values.

John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

For Palestinian citizens, 1956 massacre is not a distant memory
His finest hours: On Sharon’s murderous legacy

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At Open Hillel conference, Jews demand their spot at the communal table http://972mag.com/demanding-a-place-at-the-jewish-communal-table-five-takeaways-from-first-open-hillel-conference/97789/ http://972mag.com/demanding-a-place-at-the-jewish-communal-table-five-takeaways-from-first-open-hillel-conference/97789/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 16:55:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97789 By demanding their voices be heard, Open Hillel students are making dissent within the Jewish community impossible to deny.

By Sarah Anne Minkin

Hillel is the Jewish home for college students. With more than 550 Hillels worldwide, mainly in North America, it is one of the primary sites where young Jews express, explore, and cultivate their Jewishness. So a few years ago when Hillel International, the parent organization, imposed strict guidelines around engagement with Israel, many students were upset to find themselves facing formal prohibitions.

After years of struggles within Hillels over who was in the “big tent” of Jewish community, the guidelines were supposed to clarify the boundaries of what was acceptable within the Jewish community. They prohibit hosting or cosponsoring an event with any organization or person who support BDS or commit Natan Sharansky’s “3 D’s” – demonizing, delegitimizing, or applying a double standard to the state of Israel.

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

The guidelines epitomize the marginalization and exclusion of dissent from within the confines of formal Jewish community on college campuses. Just look at the attempt to establish a JVP chapter at Brandeis, for instance, or the Breaking the Silence controversies at Penn and other places, or the brouhaha over Jews and Palestinians wanting to co-host former Knesset Chairman Avraham Burg at Harvard.

Frustrated students responded by getting organized. In 2013, under the “Open Hillel” banner, students launched a campaign and petition calling on Hillel to cancel its guidelines. Starting at Harvard, the effort caught on; Swarthmore Hillel declared themselves Open in December 2013, followed by Vassar in February 2014 (timeline here).

Open Hillel held its inaugural conference on October 11-13, gathering more than 350 people, mostly students and young alumni, representing a range of backgrounds, interests, and connections to Israel/Palestine. Some arrived as committed BDS-ers planning campaigns on their campuses. Some oppose BDS and align with J Street. Others arrived without a firm position.

The point of Open Hillel is to flex the muscles of inquiry and analysis rather than constrict debate. This aim will lead some to political action and others to inquire more. But in an age in which conversation is preemptively sterilized – speakers barred, ideas silenced – just convening an open conversation is a political act.

Five takeaways from the conference:

1. Students reject the idea that the Israel they are supposed to “love” is somehow separate from the system of ethnic privilege that they reject. That is, the mainstream approach of featuring Israel “beyond the conflict” does not work with this crowd. They want to unpack the ways in which occupation, discrimination against non-Jewish citizens, and the Nakba are central features of this Israel that they are instructed to support. In pursuing the debate, Open Hillel airs big questions with no clear answers.

2. Israel/Palestine is not just a Jewish issue. Organizers invited Palestinians to lead workshops and asked Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi to give a keynote. Where most Jewish organizations might hold “dialogue” sessions with Palestinians behind closed doors, Open Hillel made it clear that hearing from and engaging with Palestinians is an imperative.

Penny Rosenwasser and Judith Butler speak during a panel at the Open Hillel Conference. (photo courtesy of Open Hillel)

Penny Rosenwasser and Judith Butler speak during a panel at the Open Hillel Conference. (photo courtesy of Open Hillel)

3. Intersectionality is a fact. One student shared that her Hillel director said their campus couldn’t deal with Israel in a more complex way because “then we’d have to deal with race and gender, too.” The Open Hillel conference made clear that race, gender, sexuality, and intermarriage are critical issues in the Jewish community overall and in relation to Israel/Palestine.

That the personal is political is a given. Open Hillel made space for articulating, investigating, and surfacing some of the contradictions, challenges, and implacable struggles of being a Jew in America. These struggles are intertwined with, but not limited to, the debate over Israel/Palestine.

4. Fear matters – but it is does not get the final word. The pain of isolation from Jewish family, friends, and institutions; the threat of being sidelined or cast out of Jewish spaces; the heartbreak at hearing yourself called a self-hating Jew or being told you’re not a Jew at all – these are common experiences among Jews who criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. For many, especially those who work in academia or for Jewish organizations, speaking out can lead to the loss of a job, a grant, a promotion. At the same time, anti-semitism is a real and frightening phenomenon that no one wants to abet.

Yet conference organizers committed to holding an open conference, inviting participants and speakers from opposition organizations (including the Zionist Organization of America), welcoming the press and encouraging tweeting. It is a tactic of the right to try to undermine critics of Israel by spying and reporting, threatening exposure to ensure silent compliance. People who have used these measures were at the conference. But instead of closing the conference off and trying to make it safe behind closed doors, organizers welcomed transparency. This powerful decision declares the legitimacy of dissent.

5. Two parallel and enmeshed struggles are at work here: Ensuring justice in Israel/Palestine and expanding and changing the discourse in the U.S. These are both big battles. The Jewish struggle to open up Jewish spaces to candid, wide-ranging, no-holds-barred conversations about the state of Israel is a key factor in both.

Open Hillel students are forming alternative communities, as every dissenting movement does. But in their demand to be allowed a place at the Jewish communal table, they make dissent within the Jewish community visible and impossible to deny.

Only time will tell how this effort will unfold as these students graduate and move on from their college years. But if this inaugural conference offers any guidance, Open Hillel is creating a community for whom serious debate, challenging conventional wisdom, struggling for justice, and wrestling with Israel are the Jewish values to which these committed Jews subscribe.

*For more on the Open Hillel conference, see these articles by Dina Kraft, Batya Ungar-Sasson, Peter Beinart, and conference organizers Naomi Dann and Evan Goldstein.)

Sarah Anne Minkin is a post-doctoral fellow at University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies.

‘Open Hillel’ seeks to redefine U.S. Jewish debate on Israel-Palestine
Israelis in the U.S. urge the Jewish community to take a closer look at Gaza

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