+972 Magazine » Analysis http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Mon, 22 Sep 2014 14:48:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Space for perpetuating the conflict: Tunnels, deterrence and profits http://972mag.com/space-for-perpetuating-the-conflict-tunnels-deterrence-and-profits/96887/ http://972mag.com/space-for-perpetuating-the-conflict-tunnels-deterrence-and-profits/96887/#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 22:03:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96887 Israeli leaders cannot escape the idea that Palestinians must be controlled, all the time and in all areas of life. Indeed, if controlling the Palestinians is everything we want, then the separation wall and the ‘Iron Dome’ are excellent solutions. The longer this snowball rolls, however, any non-military option is ruled out more aggressively, and even relatively moderate military options become irrelevant.

By Idan Landau

It became official this summer: tunnels are the new centrifuges. For years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been waving the Iranian threat in front of us, and one morning we woke up and… poof! – the threat vanished, at least from most of the prime minister’s speeches.

Then came the rockets – from Hezbollah and Hamas. The Israeli hasbara machine painted that capability in demonic dimensions, used to justify every crime and injustice against innocent civilians in Lebanon and Gaza. And yet, after each Israeli military operation Hezbollah and Hamas improved their ability to launch rockets.

But then the tunnels made an appearance, followed by their offspring: smuggling tunnels, terror tunnels, explosive tunnels, launching tunnels, and most recently – infiltration tunnels.

We need to raise some serious questions about the tunnels, just a moment before they become a holy cow no one can question.

Israeli soldiers discover a tunnel in the Gaza Strip during ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ July 20, 2014. (Photo by IDF Spokesperson)

Israeli soldiers discover a tunnel in the Gaza Strip during ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ July 20, 2014. (Photo by IDF Spokesperson)

My starting point is an extensive post I wrote two and a half years ago about the special elite combat engineering unit of the IDF, Yahalom, which described its deeds from the days of operation Cast Lead to today. A part of it was dedicated to the significant efforts that the IDF is investing, both technological and operational, in the training of this unit for “tunnel combat.” I emphasize the expression “tunnel combat,” not to be confused with “tunnel detection” and “tunnel destruction,” which are the focus of public attention these days. It’s not the same thing, though by the end we’ll see that the conclusions are not significantly different.

That is what I wrote then:

The notable examples from our days are the tunnels that the Chinese dug in Ranzhuang against the Japanese in the second Chinese-Japanese war, and the tunnels dug by the Viet Cong against the Americans in the Vietnam war. In both cases, the empires got into a frustrating war of attrition against an elusive enemy that knew the territory much better than they did, and caused them severe losses by using explosive booby-traps and punji stake pits. The Cu Chi district in Vietnam, where the Viet cong built an immense underground network to the level of an underground city, was attacked several times by the American army. In Operation Crimp (January 1966) 30 tons of explosives were dropped on Cu Chi, along with 8,000 soldiers; in Operation Cedar Falls (January 1967) 30,000 American soldiers attacked Cu Chi; in 1969 the district was carpet bombed again. Eventually, the Americans had to retreat, and the Viet Cong won the war.

The engineers and commanders of Yahalom obviously know all that. Certainly they think it’s going to be completely different for us. We have advanced technologies (first send a robot into the tunnel, only then go down!); we have a proper combat doctrine; modernistic explosives; and so on. I assume that in every generation, the empire confronted with tunnel combatants said to itself: it’s going to be different for us. We’re smarter, we’re more advanced.

And in every generation, the tunnel combatants told themselves: we have no choice. This is our land. Now we are under it, but at some point the enemy will give up and retreat. Then we can go back up.

What is the IDF looking for underneath southern Lebanon and Gaza? There are already thousands of tunnels, an organized infrastructure for transporting goods and ammunition. The tunnels are a fact; no military force in the world will erase them. Is the IDF planning massive carpet bombings on all the settled areas in Gaza? We should know such things in advance. At most, isolated parts of some tunnels can be collapsed, a drop in the sea. There’s no way of reaching all the ammunition that’s hidden there, and as long as the Israeli restrictions on transporting goods to Gaza continues, and especially the restrictions on exporting, the tunnels are an answer not only to military, but to genuine civil necessities as well. Life is stronger than everything.

Yes, the tunnels are used for military purposes. In Israel’s official propaganda lexicon, crazy accumulation of weapon is called “power building” when it’s on our side and “weapon smuggling” when it’s on their side. Isn’t it an armed conflict? What do they expect in the general staff, that the Palestinians would smuggle crossword puzzles and woolen pompons, while Israel arms itself to the teeth with more and more and more sophisticated weapons systems with unimaginable human and economic costs?

That’s how it is in armed conflict. The enemy accumulates ammunition, trains and plants ambushes. If we have a problem with it, we might start to consider non-violent ways of stopping the violence. As long as the conflict is violent, we can stop being shocked every day by the enemy’s diligent accumulation of weapons.

This is still true and relevant. The main function of the tunnels in Gaza is transportation of goods and weapons into the strip. The Israeli attempt to eradicate this phenomenon is doomed to failure for the reasons I indicated two-and-a-half years ago, and indeed, it becomes clear now how far Israel was from achieving this goal.

Now there’s also something new to address: the “infiltration tunnels,” or cross-fence tunnels, through which Hamas combatants infiltrated Israeli population in order to kill civilians. This option is sickening, naturally, and the majority opinion is that all should be done in order to detect and destroy these tunnels as soon as possible.

Before we dive into the details, it is worthwhile noting that the Israeli PR machine did not waste a moment — it actually turned the existence of the cross-fence tunnels into the primary and nearly only ground for the operation. From its first days, analysts were already defining the goal of the operation as “the destruction of the tunnels.” That’s how a consensus was being created in motion, and it’s also most effective at silencing possible objections. For what will we do when it turns out that the new goal is as impossible as in the previous attacks on Gaza?

Then again, we can always define a new destination and go on another operation, no doubt about it. For now, I would like to concentrate on the “destruction of the tunnels.”

The tunnels in Gaza

An IDF photo dated April 8, 2001, shows a soldier entering a tunnel shaft that was discovered a few hundred meters from the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo by IDF Spokesperson)

An IDF photo dated April 8, 2001, shows a soldier entering a tunnel shaft that was discovered a few hundred meters from the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo by IDF Spokesperson)

Israel has had a “problem” with the tunnels for… you won’t believe it, since 1990. Two and a half decades. As years go by, and especially since the onset of the siege, the tunnels play a primary role in Gaza’s economy and military growth. In their prime, there were about 1,200 tunnels in Gaza, most of them in the direction of the Sinai peninsula. In recent years the Egyptian authorities have declared war on the tunnels and destroyed most of them. Israel estimates that today there are dozens of tunnels in Gaza. It’s an entrenched array inspired by the underground network of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. It’s as organized and supervised as any military project.

During the first part of this summer’s war, the concept of “strategic failure” received substantial attention: the fact that after years of alerts and warnings and examinations of alternatives, the Defense Ministry had yet to find a technological solution for early detection of tunnels. A line of geophysics experts line up for interviews, all very smart – some smart enough to hold the stocks that will jump miraculously with the granting of the franchise to the tunnel detection system – all pointing the finger at the “shuffling” of the Defense Ministry. The technological challenge is not at all simple; the ideas move from planting optic fibers underground, geological radar, gravitation measurements, microseismic monitoring, one suggests digging a 70-kilometer canal around the Strip and planting radar in it, another suggests digging a canal filled with sewage along the border.

In any case, the estimated cost is billions.

It is important to note that there doesn’t yet exist a geophysical system which is able to detect tunnels in Gaza, certainly not one which can be operational in the near future. This means that for at least a couple of years, the IDF will continue to rely on the existing system of intelligence and surveillance. As we saw during the latest opreation and as reported by Palestinian workers who took part at the mining of tunnels, this system doesn’t work. It’s very easy to disguise the work on tunnels, the entrance and exit holes, and the Palestinians have already become experts.

More crucially, even if the huge budget and technological efforts the Defense Ministry invested in its “Iron Dome Against Tunnels” soon pay off with a new efficient system, the tunnel problem will not end. And that is what nobody talks about. It’s taboo.

The pace of tunnel construction

According to the IDF, 32 attack tunnels were destroyed during Protective Edge. Once they were destroyed, the army said it had “achieved the goals” of the ground operation began its first retreat in early August.

Then what? The IDF will restore its stocks of ammunition, and the Hamas would restore its tunnels. That’s how it is between enemies: both sides spend every spare moment for military growth.

How long does it take to construct a weapon tunnel? According to this estimation (Hebrew), at a pace of 12 meters a day with five workers — three months. According to another (20 meters a day) – even less. Let us assume a short recovery period in Gaza before construction is renewed. A conservative estimation could assume the recovery of the tunnels within six months from the end of “Protective Edge.”

All of the tunnels, and perhaps more. Manpower is not lacking in the Strip. And materials? As “Gisha” point out time and again, the Israeli siege and restrictions on the import of construction materials did not prevent the construction of tunnels — it hurt only civilian construction needs. That “stopping the tunnels” would have been a condition in a ceasefire agreement is an Israeli illusion that better end. Just like Israel won’t give up on the $3.1 billion of American assistance, or dismantle an F-16 squadron as a part of an agreement, Hamas won’t give up its right to restore its military deterrence ability. Former commander of Yahalom admits the obvious: “Hamas will resume tunneling as soon as we leave.”

In six months the IDF will still be working on the development of tunnel detection technologies. More critical is the question of dealing with detected tunnels. IDF officers have already clarified during this operation that “dealing with tunnels using aerial bombardments is impossible.” Destruction of the attack tunnels was actually the basis for the ground invasion. A dropped bomb may destroy the entrance and exit, but not its entire length. For that you need soldiers to go inside.

Conclusion: in six months at most, the “achievements” of Operation “Protective Edge” will be erased, and the basis for a ground invasion will be renewed.

Here is the core of the argument again: (1) in most cases, the IDF is unable to detect tunnels in real-time, when built; (2) even if it could, the pace of construction and availability of resources would allow the reconstruction of dozens of cross-fence tunnels within a few months; (3) the only way to destroy a tunnel is a ground invasion (with all of its consequences, including the massacre of innocent civilians, etc.); (4) therefore, Operation “Protective Edge,” like its predecessors, in the long-run will have failed to achieve its defined goals and will only pave the way for the next round.

The IDF will not invade Gaza in six months, but talks about the “attrition of deterrence” and “violation of understandings” on the part of Hamas will start dripping in the next couple of months and will become a propaganda rainstorm soon thereafter. Public opinion will be ready, the weapons stocks renewed and the defense budget will return to voraciously chewing at the budget of everything that requires fixing in Israeli society. Righteous Israelis will continue ranting about Hamas “spending all its money on building tunnels instead of improving life in the Strip,” while nodding obediently when the Defense Ministry absorbs the budgets of social services, public education is deteriorating, hospitals are buckling and the idea of public housing is dead. The grotesque symmetry will escape them. Still there is one difference in the Gazans’ favor: nobody asked them. The dictatorship of Hamas crushes all opposition and then steals public money without fear of criticism. In Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the public voluntarily sacrifices itself on the altar of defense.

And the politicians? They’ll wait for an appropriate time. A terror attack. Renewed signs of Palestinian unity. Intolerable political pressure. Then they’ll give the order. The media, as always, will stand aside applauding the prime minister’s “responsibility” and “discretion.”

Technologies for conflict management

Woman near shattered window caused by a Hamas rocket on July 15, 2014 in the town of Sderot, Israel. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Woman near shattered window caused by a Hamas rocket on July 15, 2014 in the town of Sderot, Israel. (Photo by Activestills.org)

The cross-fence tunnels are a real threat to the lives of southern Israelis. Eighty-five percent of Israeli citizens living in settlements next to the fence fled their homes out of fear of tunnels, and for weeks after the fighting many refused to return. This threat must be eliminated. But there’s no military way of eliminating this threat, not even for six months. All military measures will only shed blood, spend enormous sums of money and their achievements will wane quickly.

That’s the honest thing to say, and that’s the one thing no politician would dare saying. The reason is saying so suggests that there’s a limit to the effectiveness of Israeli military force (beyond the moral limits, an annoying lefty niche). There do exist political problems with no military solutions. Again, an oxymoron for Israel’s leadership and most of the public.

This problems is wider, extended over a variety of military technologies that Israel adopted as a substitute for political thought. It began with the separation wall and the control and monitoring tools surrounding it, continued with growing use of UAVs and other robots for fighting, and reached the “Iron Dome.” The logics remains the same: minimum friction, maximum control and killing, and most importantly: “breathing room” or “leeway” for politicians.

Notice how frequently this term was used in the media when the “Iron Dome” is praised; also note that the alleged “room” does not include the Gaza border communities, which the “Iron Dome” does not cover. Now they’ll say: we can breath easy because citizens in the center of Israel are protected, not because the citizens in the South are protected.

And for what do we need this extra breathing room? What does Israel do with the time without casualties provided by “Iron Dome?” Again, unasked questions, though the answer is quite obvious: the time is used for escalating the current round, while the next is being planned.

Paradoxically, the allegedly defensive system of “Iron Dome” becomes an offensive gadget in the Israeli arsenal. Its phenomenal success at lowering the casualty levels in the Israeli home front has silenced a powerful political factor, one that forces politicians to end their bloody businesses as fast as possible: the protest of victims, the cry of bereaved parents. Anyone who knows the history of protests against the First Lebanon War and against the presence of soldiers in the buffer zone knows that this was a significant factor. As the casualties on the Israeli side are lowered, the government has more “space” to continue fighting and wreak havoc on the Palestinian side. The losses there will naturally not incite a significant Israeli protest.

Going back to the West Bank wall; it too spared human lives in the short run and decreased terror attacks within Israel dramatically. But at the same time it created a horrid reality for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who were dispossessed of their land, disconnected from their sources of livelihood or from their family members, and became “temporary residents” on their homeland. That is merely “collateral damage” in the eyes of Israelis, but they boomerang back to us in many shapes, all the time: terror attacks, occasional riots, escalations in the forms of Palestinian resistance and international isolation.

(Hecklers in the crowd: “so what, would you prefer to have no separation wall? No “Iron Dome”? Would you prefer to see all of us be blown up for your justice?” –No. Not at all. But wait just another moment with that one).

The problem is terminology

The problem stems from the terms Israel uses to formulate and describe the conflict with the Palestinians. The basic term is control, and all strategies are derived from it. Israeli leaders cannot escape the idea that Palestinians must be controlled, both in the West Bank and in Gaza, all the time and in all areas of life — and that idea seeps into low-ranking clerks at the Civil Administration. When this is the frame of reference, only utilitarian questions remain: is system A better than system B in maintaining Israeli control?

Indeed, if controlling the Palestinians is everything we want, then the West Bank wall and the “Iron Dome” are excellent solutions. They both ensure minimum casualties on the Israeli side and give “breathing room” for the military and political administrations, which allows them to deepen control over the Palestinians. The blind spot of Israel is that the dynamics of control and technological management only enhance mutual hatred and inability to understand the other side. Israelis in 2014 are so distant from the Palestinian’s world, so detached from his day to day life – and again, thanks the Israeli media for consistently ignoring Gaza when missiles are not launched from it – that everything they are told about Palestinians is readily accepted. On the other hand, Palestinians under the technologically advanced control of Israel are losing every hope that Israel will ever strive for an agreement with them, one based on mutual respect and equality. Try to appeal to the inhabitants of Shujaiyeh, bombarded by the Israeli Air Force with 120 bombs, a ton each, within a week or less. Try telling them that most Israelis actually want to live in peace.

You’ve heard correctly. One hundred and twenty one-ton bombs dropped on a densely populated neighborhood, with inhabitants repeating time and time again – but there’s no one listening on the Israeli side – that they have nowhere to evacuate to. And that was before the ground assault. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the neighborhood you live in after 120 one-ton bombs are dropped on it from the above.

Palestinians search among the rubble in a destroyed quarter of the Shujayea neighborhood, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians search among the rubble in a destroyed quarter of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Do you know the old saying: “when you have a hammer in your hand everything looks like a nail?” Think about who in that allegory is Israel, who is the IDF and who is Gaza. The “control above all” doctrine has a heavy toll on Israeli society, but its most startling aspect is it’s ability to self-perpetuate. The solutions it offers create a reality that requires more these sorts of solutions. If the analysis I propose here for the tunnel annihilation project is correct – the project will fail. Sticking with it means more deadly attacks on Gaza — more and more seeds of hatred for future generations. These seeds will undoubtedly sprout new, more sophisticated and ruthless methods of warfare by Hamas, answered by new creative military solutions by Israel. The longer this snowball rolls, any non-military option is ruled out more aggressively, and even relatively moderate military options become irrelevant.

This is how the logic of escalation works. From the inside, it seems inevitable. (Hamsters running in their wheel probably think that stopping would cause them such horrible injuries that it’s just not worth it.) Those trapped within it cannot imagine a solution that isn’t articulated in the current terms of the conflict. They’re shooting rockets? The only solution can be an air defense system. They’re digging tunnels? The only imaginable solution is founding an elite combat engineering unit specializing in tunnel combat. Every step seems natural, every conclusion inescapable.

Only the final result somehow seems to be a complete absurdity.

Let’s talk about… hmm… the profits

Conflict management technology is big business, and there’s a lot of money in it. Israelis don’t feel comfortable talking about this money; a bit like digging in the pockets of a heart surgeon who saves lives every day. But big businesses and big money are inevitable players in the political game, and whoever wants to understand the game thoroughly can’t afford ignoring them. The fact that “Iron Dome” saves lives doesn’t take away from the fact that there are a number of actors making good money from it, and as its operational deployment and use expands – they make even more.

The “Iron Dome” system is sponsored mostly by American money – a special budget for missile defense systems, in addition to the regular military aid (this year’s package includes $3.1 billion). To this date, the U.S. supported the “Iron Dome” with over $1 billion, and including other missile defense systems such as the “Arrow” and “David’s Sling” – over $2 billion. Only a couple of months ago the Senate approved an addition of $351 million for “Iron Dome”; in less than a week, the American secretary of defence asked for – and received – an additional $225 million to compensate for inadequate stockpiles following “Protective Edge.”

In other words, “Iron Dome” is a joint American-Israeli project. The U.S. gives the money, Israel provides the development and operational experience. The big money coming from Washington to Rafael and Elbit can teach us about the American interest in the Middle East, much more than a hollow statement from the secretary of state. Does the U.S. have any interest in revolutionizing the Middle East – a revolution that would make the expensive “Iron Dome” (every battery costs around $50-60 million, every interceptor missile upwards of $20,000) obsolete? It’s like asking if someone would be interested in deliberately throwing a fortune down the drain. (More in Hebrew here.)

The Israeli weapons manufacturers have decent profits thanks to the conflict. The profits have two stories: the first is selling to the IDF. The second, selling to foreign armies, based on solid evidence tested in the “laboratory” called the Gaza Strip. No commercial is as good as a baptism of fire. But the story is much wider; we can’t even touch the tip of the iceberg here. A huge portion of the Israeli hi-tech sector contributes directly or indirectly to the technologies of conflict management. The major earners are the stockholders, but the huge sums trickle down and actually provide for tens of thousands of families in Israel. That’s also a fact that we should look in the eye when we hear the usual rants about the “losses” due to the war: while you’re losing, someone else is earning. Connected vessels. Presumably, some Israelis who contribute their engineering or computational expertise to the conflict management technologies see themselves, in the hours after work, as peaceful, moderate people. The separation wall, as we know, goes through the soul as well.

My goal in bringing up these facts is simple. I do not intend to claim that Israeli society, or at least a part of it, diligently conspires to perpetuate the conflict in order to make more money. Things almost never work like that, but more prosaically, in a manner Marx concisely described: matter precedes thought. If your being serves the occupation, if your labor creates ideas and products that enable its continuation more easily and with no casualties on our side – this being is probably above every doubt to you; it is as justified as the rising of the sun every morning. You couldn’t even imagine acting in a manner that would undermine this being, appeal against it and try to disrupt it. People, communities and collectives act primarily for self-preservation. That’s how they act; what they’re saying is less important.

Thus, a political course which means a drastic cut to the defense budget; which means taking expensive technologies out of use; which means moving resources of monitoring and control in other directions – also means a political course that pulls the rug out from under the incomes of tens of thousands Israelis (and implicitly, the economic security of hundreds of thousands). These people cannot actively support such a course (though they can support it declaratively), they cannot cooperate with a future that sentences them to economic insecurity. As Amira Hass once wrote, “peace just doesn’t pay.”

This catch-22 has all the fundamentals of a tragedy: a foretold terrible fate, and the hero’s lake of awareness of his own part in fulfilling that fate. In front of our eyes, the hero of “Iron Dome” is replaced with the hero of “tunnel detection.” The best minds in the Israeli defense industry are already working on the sought-after “solution”; the solution that will catalyze the problem that its successor would need to solve, and so forth.

‘So what do you propose?’

This question is a snare many lefties fall into, never to return. This trap is not in the legitimacy of the question; there’s nothing more legitimate. The trap comes after the first, and second and third answer, when you realize that the inquirer is actually ruling out every possible answer and is not open to persuasion.

For this reason, it is better to kindly say goodbye to all who think that it is strictly forbidden to talk to Hamas because (delete as appropriate): the Hamas charter calls for the obliteration of all Jews / the Muslims will never accept us here / you can’t rely on agreements with Arabs / I heard an anti-Semitic speech yesterday by a bearded Imam in Deir el-Balah / look what they’re singing in that video / and so on.

Those lines are not intended for this sort of people. They’re intended for Israelis who are ready to suppose that next to fanatics there are also pragmatic people in Hamas. Just like there are Israeli politicians, religious authorities and public figures calling for ethnic cleansing or genocide in Gaza, and there are others who don’t.

In fact, you only need to recognize that people in Gaza aren’t that different from you. They also want to live in peace without being bombarded from the air. They also want to love and create and travel and enjoy a good song or a movie. And they’re also willing to keep their word if they get what they need in return.

Therefore, the answer to “what are you proposing” is very simple, even trivial (perhaps that’s the reason it sounds like a scam to fanatic right): talk, listen and sign an agreement. Here are some people saying the same thing in more words and more fleshed out arguments (Here, here, here and here). Read them. Here’s a serious expert (Hebrew) who has been claiming for years that it is possible and necessary to sign an agreement with Hamas. An agreement can be anything starting at a temporary cease fire, through a period of calm that renews every couple of months, and to a full peace agreement. All the options are open and there’s no use in committing to any of them at the moment. The demand to go into details when bodies are piling up in Gaza is another favorite snare of the right, one we need to move past.

Years of conditioning has left Israelis with a crazy paranoia that the Arabs will “violate agreements.” This paranoia has basis: no Arab side Israel ever entered an agreement with has ever violated it in military action. The Oslo accords, just a reminder, were endlessly violated on both sides, and in any case were never an equal agreement between independent political beings. Still, the Israeli asks: what if they violate the agreement?

Well, and if they do? Let’s phrase this question differently. What if the Egyptians violate the peace agreement with us? What shall we do then? The answer is of course: what kind of violation, what’s the background for it, at what risk does it put Israeli citizens, and so on. If the Egyptians start bombarding Tel Aviv tomorrow, I’m sure that the Israeli Air Force would be bombing Cairo within minutes. If Hamas were to do the same, it will also meet retaliation. Retaliation must be proportional to the violation, and unlike the murderous operations in Gaza in the last couple of years – it would enjoy worldwide legitimacy (not only the support of the arms supplier, the U.S.). And the anxious inquirer should also be asked: is the situation today, without an agreement, keeping you any safer than a situation with a peace agreement? Against the amnesia attacks during this discussion it’s always worthwhile to pull out this diagram. Eventually, the ancient demon would emerge: “there’s no reason to sign agreements with them, they won’t keep them,” an utterance that in hindsight puts the inquirer in the group of people with whom there’s no point arguing.

Most Israelis are mentally injured, paranoia struck. I’m not cynical. They too are victims of indoctrination; Hamas terror planted the seeds of doubt, but Israeli propaganda watered and nurtured it into a dense forest with no way out. There’s no way of dealing with such mental complexes with logical arguments. There are probably other ways, of therapy or empathy. These are not discussed here, since I knowingly limit myself to appeal only to the minority that is open to logical arguments.

This minority could benefit from a reminder provided by Yonatan Mendel a few weeks ago, a reminder that there is a pragmatic stream within Hamas leadership:

In 1997, 10 years after its establishment, Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin proposed to Israel a ceasefire (hudna) of 30 years. The proposal was mediated through King Hussein of Jordan and was never answered. About two years afterwards, Yassin proposed another ceasefire of 20 years in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The proposal was not answered. According to an investigative report by journalist Shlomi Eldar, seven years after that, in 2006, Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshaal sent another proposal: a hudna of 25 years in exchange for the end of the occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza. The proposal was not answered. Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, said that to end the occupation he would be willing to have ceasefire for 60 years, and that the next generations would be the ones to sign the peace agreement. The proposal was not answered. In 2007 the same Yousef passed along a proposal to an unlimited ceasefire in exchange for the release of all Palestinian prisoners and a return to the ‘67 borders. The proposal was not answered. In 2014, just before the ground assault of the IDF, there arrived another proposal of a ceasefire for 10 years. For the first time, the proposal did not include return to the borders of 67’ and release of Palestinian prisoners as conditions, but only the normalization of life in the Strip, including permitting fishing at a distance of 10 kilometers from shore, international supervision in Rafah crossing, and the release of Palestinian prisoners that were previously released three years ago in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. This proposal was again not answered by Israel.

And the tunnels? And Iron Dome?

With all of my criticism against the “Iron Dome” system and against the effort to destroy cross-fence tunnels, I’m not suggesting we stop them now, of course. The tragedy of the Israeli situation, as explained earlier, is that the political-military leadership directs the public into traps that do not allow other solutions. In my current situation, I cannot oppose the “Iron Dome,” a life saving system that may have saved my life. I also can’t oppose efforts to detect all cross-fence tunnels and deny the Gaza border communities a normal life.

My argument was that these solutions, which have in a way been “forced” upon us in the current situation, are perpetuating and radicalizing the never ending rounds of violence. The calm they provide in the short run is lost in the long run, with losses on both sides of the fence at intervals that are not actually that long (between two to three years). These solutions also take away our ability to imagine an alternative.

And this alternative can protect us much better. An alternative of a signed agreement with two equal, independent sides, without a monitoring and control system on one side, is an alternative that both sides would make serious efforts to preserve – by fighting militant elements on their own side. In this scenario, Israel learns to live with the existence of stockpiles of munitions it can’t control, just like it learned to live with the existence of ammunition stockpiles in Egypt and in Lebanon. Israel is currently learning to live with cross-fence tunnels, which it cannot completely destroy, just as much as Palestinian are learning to live with F-16s that Israel can put over their heads in seconds and that destroy families in a moment.

To summarize: Israel is learning to live under the constant threat of an armed neighbor, just like the neighbor learned to live under the IDF’s constant threat. I cite Danny Baron’s question: “does the fact that Hamas decided to use the tunnels now, though they have been ready for a long time, teach us that Hamas is not lead by a bunch of crazy radical Islamists, but actually holds a variety of instruments, which it uses intelligently, and when it is best served to do so – just like Israel?”

Israel will sooner or later need to let go the crazy fantasy that it can control the levels of armament of its neighbors, thereby ensuring the safety of its citizens. It turns out that despite all of Israel’s glamorous operations capturing weapons shipments, Hamas was able to accumulate long-distance rockets under the ever-watching eyes of the Israeli intelligence. We better not even start talking about Hezbollah. A security-mad and military-obsessed state like Israel cannot lose its senses with every rockets shipment that ends up in Arab hands. Israel must grow up and understand that real deterrence is achieved in political ways. (Did you forget it again? The diagram is still here.)

Hamas will not stop shooting missiles at us and infiltrating into our populations through underground tunnels because it is afraid we will flatten another neighborhood in Gaza or commit another massacre in response. No, we do all of that mercilessly, and Hamas keeps fighting. It will stop fighting us if and when holding its fire becomes more beneficial than using it: if a signed agreement promises it that valuable assets will be lost the moment it starts shooting. Right now, with no political assets – it has no reason to stop.

And yes, the siege must be removed — entirely.

This post was first published in Hebrew on Idan Landau’s blog.

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Resource: Privatizating law enforcement in, around settlements http://972mag.com/resource-privatizating-law-enforcement-in-around-settlements/96879/ http://972mag.com/resource-privatizating-law-enforcement-in-around-settlements/96879/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:14:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96879 ‘The Lawless Zone’ is a report by Yesh Din on the transfer of policing and security powers to the Civilian Security Coordinators (CSC) in Israel’s West Bank settlements and outposts. The report presents an analysis of the institution of the CSCs as an inherent aspect of the biased and chaotic state of Israeli law enforcement in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The report demonstrates how the regime of civilian security coordinators undermines the rule of law in the West Bank to the point of stripping it of all meaning. It constitutes another layer in Israel’s dereliction of its duty to protect the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Yesh Din writes.

Read more about the report here. Watch a video explaining the civilian security system here.

Settler violence: It comes with the territory
Sheriffs of the land: Meet the settlers with military authority

Yesh Din is a volunteer organization working to defend the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation.

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How the IDF abdicates its monopoly on violence in the West Bank http://972mag.com/how-the-idf-abdicates-its-monopoly-on-violence/96873/ http://972mag.com/how-the-idf-abdicates-its-monopoly-on-violence/96873/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 15:52:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96873 The IDF grants arrest and other powers to civilians in West Bank settlements and outposts but fails to ensure they are held accountable. In essence, the army has privatized law enforcement.

By Yossi Gurvitz, for Yesh Din

Illustrative photo of an Israeli settlement's civilian security coordinator. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of an Israeli settlement’s civilian security coordinator. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Privatizing the state’s use of force should be a source of concern to us all. Such a process – and particularly when the powers are transferred to a body with a clear political agenda – creates uncontrolled militias. This is the process that has occurred in the West Bank due to the army’s policy of delegating some of its law enforcement powers to civilian security coordinators, as discussed in Yesh Din’s new report, “The lawless zone.”

The institution of the civilian security coordinator in itself is not new; it is part of a spatial defense approach that predates the establishment of the State of Israel. This function was formalized in the Local Authorities Law (Arrangement of Guarding), 1961. That law established that the security coordinators and guards were to be accountable to the police or the army. In the West Bank, where this mechanism was introduced by a military order in 1971, is more complex.

Read the full Yesh Din report here

The security coordinators — and the guards accountable to them — enjoy quasi-military and law enforcement powers, such as the power to detain or search a suspect and to arrest him if he resists. Despite this, supervision over their actions is remarkably vague. In official terms, security coordinators derive their powers from appointment by the IDF’s Central Command. In practice, however, they are appointed by the settlements in which they work. In official terms, security coordinators are accountable to the army, which grants them their powers and provides training programs, and to military law. In practice, there is not even a single documented instance in which a security coordinator has been prosecuted for deviating from his authority, despite the fact that the new report itemizes a number of documented violations. In official terms, the security coordinator receives instructions from the army brigade; but he receives his salary from the settlement where he operates. The security coordinator is not an employee of the Defense Ministry and coordinators who have filed suits for compensation against the ministry have been unsuccessful for this reason.

While we were preparing the report, the IDF Spokesperson was forced to admit that there is no document establishing procedures for the supervision and assessment of security coordinators, along the lines of the procedures relating to army officers, for example. The Spokesperson also confirmed that it has no information about disciplinary proceedings against coordinators or against members of their guarding units. Yet according to an Operations Division order, the security coordinator bears a “responsibility to soldiers undertaking a guarding function in the area, including briefing them on their arrival, monitoring the execution of their task, and attending to their welfare.” It is also worth noting that then-deputy state attorney Shai Nitzan stated in an official letter that commander-commandee relations are not applicable to the relationship between security coordinators and soldiers. This claim is contradicted by the experience of many soldiers who have reported such relations.

The transfer of military powers to civilians is particularly serious when it is to a group of civilians with a distinct ideological viewpoint, who are motivated by an aspiration to seize additional Palestinian land and who refuse to recognize Palestinian land rights in the West Bank. The transfer of quasi-military powers to an ideological group, some of whom do not recognize the State of Israel and some of whose leaders have called for the elimination of the democratic regime, can only be seen as the army waiving its authority to exercise power. Or in other words – privatization.

Been there – done that. When the Finance Ministry attempted to privatize Israel’s prisons and build the first prison managed by a private company, the High Court struck down the law. Justice Ayala Procaccia explained that such privatization creates the clear potential for the violation of human rights: “the private body that receives a governmental authority carrying the potential to violate the core of individual rights is not rooted in the framework of rules of action and criteria that dictate the standards of use of the institution power of authority and guide the actions of state organs. It did not grow up and was not educated in this framework; it is alien to its concepts, and it has never internalized the theory of balances in the use of governmental power.”

Anyone seeking a practical example of all these defects need look no further than the security coordinators. By the way, we should note that the state is currently attempting to privatize another arm of the law enforcement system, namely the prosecution: it is proposing to employ attorneys from the private sector as prosecutors who will decide whether or not to serve indictments. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has asked the attorney general to halt this further attempt at privatization: responsibility for the penal process must remain entirely in the hands of the state.

To sum up: when the state – and remember that in the West Bank, the Israeli army acts as the sovereign – transfers any of its powers to use force to private individuals who are accountable not to the army but to their settlement, it damages its own standing, the ability to enforce the law, and above all – the occupied population whose person and property it is obliged to protect. Accordingly, Yesh Din’s report urges the army to correct this flaw and to appoint security coordinators who are not settlers but officers in the standing army; and to ensure that they are accountable to the army and not to the settlements. In a nutshell: the army should take back its monopoly on the use of force.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

Settler violence: It comes with the territory
Sheriffs of the land: Meet the settlers with military authority

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The U.S. is also guilty in Palestine http://972mag.com/the-u-s-is-also-guilty-in-palestine/96863/ http://972mag.com/the-u-s-is-also-guilty-in-palestine/96863/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:46:51 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96863 When an indigenous, stateless population is blocked access to opportunities for justice by superpowers like the U.S., something is wrong – deadly wrong.

By Sam Bahour

The U.S. is not a neutral mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; it is an active participant and is guilty of the crimes being committed by Israel against Palestinians, most recently, the mass killings and destruction Israel wrought on the Gaza Strip during the summer. The reality that the U.S. is an active supporter of unimaginable suffering may very well be the motivating force behind the U.S.’s adamant attempts to block the Palestinians from using any of the internationally recognized tools of accountability to hold Israel responsible, such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. When an indigenous, stateless population is blocked access to opportunities for justice by superpowers like the U.S., something is wrong – deadly wrong.

While Israeli bombs were hammering Gaza, Alice Lynd with the assistance of Staughton Lynd, drafted a 32-page pamphlet which was published by the Palestine-Israel Working Group of Historians Against the War (HAW) titled, Violations by Israel and the Problem of Enforcement (August 2014). The policy paper places the U.S. in front of its own mirror and meticulously documents how one hand of the U.S. government systematically documents Israeli violations of U.S. law and international law, while the other hand unconditionally dishes out financial, military, and diplomatic support to Israel.

The study notes that:

United States law states that no military assistance will be provided to a government that engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. Yet the United States gives more military assistance to Israel than to any other country, currently in excess of $3.1 billion per year. The U.S. participates in joint military exercises, military research, and weapons development.

Israeli and American F-15 airplanes cooperating during the "Blue Flag" exercise in November 2013. (Photo by Gui Ashash/IAF)

Israeli and American F-15 airplanes cooperating during the “Blue Flag” exercise in November 2013. (Photo by Gui Ashash/IAF)

This contradiction of its own policy would seem incriminating enough, but if all the other means of U.S. support to Israel are added – especially the U.S.’s unwavering role in the UN Security Council as a proxy for Israel’s interests by vetoing and thereby blocking international steps for justice – the evidence that the U.S. is an active player in Israel’s onslaught and continued military occupation becomes overwhelming.

It stands to reason that the U.S. very rightly fears that any step to hold Israel accountable for crimes against humanity would ultimately incriminate the U.S. as Israel’s funder, diplomatic cover, political handler, and arms supplier for decades.

While this new document was being researched, the Historians Against the War circulated a letter to President Obama and members of Congress that begins: “We deplore the ongoing attacks against civilians in Gaza and in Israel. We also recognize the disproportionate harm that the Israeli military, which the United States has armed and supported for decades, is inflicting on the population of Gaza.” (July 31, 2014). The pamphlet’s contents strike this point home with incriminating details.

The pamphlet quotes historian Robin D. G. Kelley who recently said about the ongoing conflict, “Determining next steps requires that we go back many steps—before the siege, before the election of Hamas, before the withdrawal of Jewish settlements in Gaza, before the Oslo Accords, even before the strip came under Israeli occupation in 1967.” (“When the smoke clears in Gaza,” Aug. 8, 2014, Black Educator).

Read +972′s full coverage of the Gaza war

I had the honor of working with both authors of this pamphlet following the First Gulf War (1990-1991) when they suggested we co-edit an oral history of Palestine as a tool to understand the centrality of Palestine to the entire destabilization of the Middle East, a reality that is even more true today. Following several field visits to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, and the Golan Heights, that effort resulted in the publishing of Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians (1993). Their new effort revisits many familiar topics that we addressed in our book, with chapter headings such as International Agreements and U.S. Law, International Agreements on Human Rights, U.S. Law on Foreign Assistance, Violations of Internationally Recognized Human Rights, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, Collective Punishment, among many more.

Perhaps the most important chapter in this brief pamphlet is “The Problem of Enforcement.” One need not be a historian or political scientist to understand that as long as global enforcement mechanisms of accountability are denied to Palestinians due to the political whims of a superpower, Israel has the green light to attack Gaza and the West Bank at any time with impunity.

Israel’s senseless military attack this summer (deceptively coined “Operation Protective Edge” in English, and more accurately “Solid Cliff” in Hebrew) left 2,168 Palestinians dead, more than 500 of them children. The Institute for Middle East Understanding compared the proportionate impact of these deaths to the population in the U.S. Gaza’s devastating human loss would be equivalent to 376,680 Americans killed in 51 days if such events were undertaken in the U.S. To put this in perspective, this number is slightly fewer than the 407,000 U.S. soldiers killed in World War II. It is not hyperbole to say that everyone in Gaza knows at least one person who died or was injured in this atrocity, with each person left wondering if he or she would be next.

If humanity is to be served, citizens who believe in equal access to international tools of justice must speak up and denounce the continued U.S. hegemony over Palestine. It is time to demand a change in policy so that marginalized populations are not shut out of systems of justice when they are the victims of crimes against humanity. Holding individuals responsible for their crimes is a core American value; it’s a value we should not compromise for any country, especially our own.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio and blogs at ePalestine.com. This article was first published in The Hill.

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All Israelis are implicated in the occupation http://972mag.com/all-israelis-are-implicated-in-the-occupation/96847/ http://972mag.com/all-israelis-are-implicated-in-the-occupation/96847/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:45:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96847 Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service.

The debate over refuseniks from IDF intelligence unit 8200 unleashed acrimonious debates all week. While I have already observed some of them, here are a few more that stand out.

Carolina Landsmann has one of the most powerful opinion pieces I’ve read in a long time, in Haaretz. It may yet appear in English, but for now the excerpts here are my translation. Like one former member of Unit 8200 who spoke to me, Landsmann says their act of refusal is a statement that intelligence work and the system of occupation are directly linked, cutting into the belief that only those who hold the guns are responsible.

She then takes this insight to its next logical step. In blunt language, she writes that the refuseniks point to a perspective built into Israeli thinking that is

key to understanding what allows the state to continue its control and oppression of millions of Palestinians for 47 years. The illusion that certain islands within Israeli society are disconnected from the military rule over the territories, and those lucky enough to fit themselves into one of them are free from the responsibility for its injustices, [that illusion] has anesthetized the conscience of those opposed to such control, and stops them from rising up against it.

All of Israeli society, writes Landsmann, supports this system. I find this one of the most essential and accurate observations of Israeli reality that is rarely understood.

Military rule… is not a secret system of the IDF – it is the largest, most visible project, with broader participation than any other endeavor in Israel.

Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service. She concludes with disturbing clarity, “No one can say ‘I have no part in it.’”

I don’t believe Landsmann means that all Israelis are evil, and I reject that idea myself. But the fact that all social and political structures of society support the occupation is true and must be internalized. Not in order to blame individuals; to help them know that stopping this means identifying their personal contribution, through whichever social system they belong, and changing it. The refusal letter, she hopes, may be the first steps of this profound mental shift.

The important thing is to break down the imaginary border-wall that separates the army from civil society, the one that distinguishes the residents of the state from those of the settlements in terms of their responsibility for Palestinians. In Israel, a democratic country, all citizens – soldiers and settlers – participate in injustices and bear the responsibility for them.

Ironically, the far right has said this repeatedly. They argue that settlers are unfairly demonized, when in fact all of Israel, people and government alike, supports settlements.

Once, at a Nakba commemoration event at Tel Aviv University, I spotted far-right Hebron settler leader Baruch Marzel wearing a T-shirt reading “Solidarity: Sheikh Munis,” the original Arabic name of the Palestinian village where the university now stands. For a fleeting instant I wondered if the world had turned upside down. But simultaneously I knew it was mockery, an extension of the slogan: “The fate of Hebron will be the fate of Tel Aviv!”

Baruch Marzel at Tel Aviv University, May 2012 (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)

Baruch Marzel at Tel Aviv University, May 2012 (photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)

Settlers in his camp believe it is hypocritical for Israel to make any distinction between its claim on Tel Aviv and Hebron. By that logic, there is also no distinction between Israelis who make life in Tel Aviv what it is today, and those responsible for making Hebron what it is today: a city divided by identity at the level of its sidewalks, by virtue of Israeli military law.

I believe the realization that regular Israelis are part of the occupation and regular Israelis must act to stop it, is at the heart of a bitter and deepening wedge between different types of “left” in Israel. The condemnation of IDF refusal by politicians considered center-left (primarily Labor, and primarily Shelley Yachimovich) infuriated some people not normally identified with the far left.

Uri Misgav, who has been writing at length about Unit 8200 all week, published a short piece today, so simple it hurt. What else can a person do?

He successfully conveyed the suffocating sense that no action opposing the occupation is legitimate or effective. His everyman citizen who rejects this policy has nowhere to turn. “Time after time he sees how the ‘left’ and ‘center’ strengthen coalitions of the right that entrench and perpetuate [the occupation].”

If Landsmann revealed that all Israelis are part of it, Misgav’s average citizen searches for some way not to be (my translation).

He just doesn’t want to contribute his part. He wants to live in peace…It seems absurd to finance [the occupation] with his taxes, but tax evasion is a criminal offense and a tax rebellion isn’t realistic. If he wants to boycott settlement products, they explain to him that boycott is an awful thing and who more than the Jews must remember that…If he joins a human rights group, they accuse him of damaging the image and reputation of the state. If he agitates for external support or international involvement, he becomes a Jew-boy doormat to the anti-Semitic goyim. Of course, he cannot fathom any sort of violence.

So, Misgav’s everyman against the occupation says, enough. I don’t know how to end it, but I just can’t take part. Switching to the first person and speaking for that everyman, Misgav writes:

I won’t bomb him from the air, raid his home in the dead of night, make his life miserable at checkpoints, spray rubber or sponge bullets at demonstrators, blackmail him to become a collaborator, and I won’t even gather intelligence that will enable all this to go on to the end of days.

Misgav then walks through the vile attacks that would be, that were, unleashed on such a person. The conclusion is a tragic plea.

He wants to live. Again, he wonders, what else there is to do? He doesn’t want to leave. He doesn’t want to commit suicide. He wants to live in peace with his conscience in the State of Israel, without supporting the project of occupation and settlements. Please help him, dear readers: is there a legitimate way to do this?

I might rephrase the end: is there a legitimate way to stop this?

Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as ‘political’
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
How can you tell that Israeli refuseniks are are scaring the system?

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Contradicting its own ruling, Israel’s Supreme Court legalizes segregated communities http://972mag.com/contradicting-its-own-ruling-israels-supreme-court-legalizes-segregated-communities/96817/ http://972mag.com/contradicting-its-own-ruling-israels-supreme-court-legalizes-segregated-communities/96817/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 14:08:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96817 The Israeli Supreme Court Wednesday dismissed various petitions against the Admissions Committees Law, which allows admissions committees in hundreds of communities in Israel to reject housing applicants based on their “social suitability.”

By Amjad Iraqi

March 8, 2000 marked a unique moment in Israeli history. In a major decision, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the town of Katzir, which was established on state land by the Jewish Agency, could not deny the right of the Arab Ka’adan family to live in the town simply on the basis that they were not Jewish. This was the first time that Palestinian citizens of Israel successfully challenged the legality of “Jewish-only” communities in the state, generating cautious optimism that it could set an important precedent for Palestinian rights in land and housing.

Fifteen years later, on September 17, 2014, these hopes came to an abrupt end. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed various petitions filed by human rights groups against the Admissions Committees Law, enacted by the Knesset in 2011. The law allows admissions committees in 434 communities in the Negev and the Galilee (about 43 percent of all towns in Israel) to reject housing applicants based on their “social suitability” and the communities’ “social and cultural fabric.” In effect, these committees are now legally permitted to refuse residency based on any “undesired” identity, including Palestinian, Sephardic, African, gay, religious, secular and others.

The Admissions Committees Law is the Israeli right wing’s response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Ka’adan case. Realizing that marginalized groups were increasingly challenging the state’s discriminatory practices, the Knesset under the 2009-12 Netanyahu government sought to turn Israel’s historical policies against these groups into law. Many Knesset members openly declared that the purpose of these laws was to subdue the “threats” posed by Palestinian citizens to the Jewish character of the state. The authors of the Admissions Committees Law even stated that, though deliberately written in neutral language, its main aim was to prevent Arab citizens from living with Jews.

This objective of segregation is not a new phenomenon in Israel, and has in fact been a central, ongoing practice since the state’s establishment in 1948. Legislation ranging from the Absentees Property Law (1950) to the Negev Individual Settlements Law (2011), along with the policies of the Jewish National Fund, Israel Land Authority and the government itself, operate with the explicit goal of securing maximum and privileged control of land for Israel’s Jewish citizens – a process known as “Judaization.” This runs jointly with the state’s goal of minimizing and concentrating non-Jewish communities in Israel, resulting in the mass confiscation of Palestinian land and the containment of Palestinian towns through discriminatory planning, home demolitions and unequal resource allocation.

Protesters outside the village of Hura in the Negev, protesting against the Prawer Plan, November 30, 2013. The Prawer Plan, if implemented, will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Protesters outside the village of Hura in the Negev, protesting against the Prawer Plan, November 30, 2013. The Prawer Plan, if implemented, will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel. (Photo: Activestills.org)

However, what makes the admissions committees case significant is that the Supreme Court – the supposed bastion of Israeli democracy – has upheld this clearly discriminatory law, claiming that it could not determine yet if the law violated constitutional rights. Numerous petitions condemned the law from multiple angles, including nationality, race, religion and sexual orientation, but the court swept them aside. More importantly, the court directly undermined its own landmark ruling in the Ka’adan case, overriding one of the few legal decisions that set a precedent for minority rights in Israel and the struggle against state-sanctioned discrimination.

The latest ruling instead illustrates the deteriorating status of Palestinian citizens of Israel at the hands of an increasingly right-wing government and high court. Rather than introducing laws that guarantee equal rights for all of Israel’s citizens, the Knesset has worked to deepen racial inequality and consolidate its discriminatory vision for the state. Meanwhile, the judiciary has allowed the government to carry out this program, choosing not to set precedents on critical cases affecting Palestinian rights. With more discriminatory laws being introduced – including the Prawer Plan Bill, the Contributors to the State Bill, and the Jewish Nation-State Bill – Palestinian citizens and others are left fearing that, despite their best efforts to overturn it, race will continue to be the prime determinant of their rights.

It is therefore up to the public, non-governmental actors and the international community to take a principled stance against this unjust law. Racial separation, especially when engineered by a state, must elicit the same condemnation as other cases have before. Under the segregation laws of the Jim Crow South, gentrification and ghettoization were deliberately used against black Americans in order to keep white neighborhoods economically superior and racially homogenous, the effects of which remain damaging to this day. A more infamous comparison is apartheid South Africa’s Group Areas Act, which legalized the state’s policy of designating land for separate races. Like some of the Israeli law’s proponents today, South Africa’s leaders attempted to sugar-coat their intentions by describing racial separation as a policy of “good neighborliness.” However, such claims cannot conceal the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court’s approval of the Admissions Committees Law has granted legal cover for the principle of segregation and, at worst, has permitted a housing system that disturbingly resembles apartheid.

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

Knesset passes segregation law
Israel’s other war: Silencing Palestinian citizens
On the Israel-apartheid analogy, yet again

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Against spy revelations, Israel doth protest too much http://972mag.com/against-spy-revelations-israel-doth-protest-too-much/96781/ http://972mag.com/against-spy-revelations-israel-doth-protest-too-much/96781/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:18:40 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96781 The nation’s establishment has called the whistle-blowers of Unit 8200 every bad name, but it has no answer to their charge that information deliberately gathered on innocent Palestinians is used to blackmail them into collaborating.

Illustrative photo of digital surveillance. (Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of digital surveillance. (Shutterstock.com)

The 43 refuseniks in Unit 8200, Israel’s legendary high-tech snoops, are this week’s Gideon Levys, this week’s Haneen Zoabis – the focus of patriotic hatred in the land. “Baseless slander” is what Netanyahu called their letter, published Friday in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which they declared they would no longer spy for the occupation.

Aside from being called traitors, the 43 reservists have been called cowards, spoiled brats, cynical political operatives and, as mentioned, baseless slanderers. But neither Netanyahu nor any of the other accusers have answered the whistle-blowers’ most incendiary revelation: that Unit 8200 not only spies on the phones, emails and other devices of militants, but on those of completely innocent Palestinians, hoping to find out their secrets so the Shin Bet can use the information to blackmail them into becoming collaborators.

Interviewing six of the letter’s signatories, Yedioth’s Elior Levy wrote (in Hebrew), “According to them, the Israeli public believes that intelligence is gathered only against those involved in terror. They want to publicize the fact that a substantial portion of the targets they follow are innocent people who are not connected in any way to military activity against Israel, and who interest the intelligence branches for other reasons.”

According to “N.” one of the six dissidents interviewed, “At the base they told us that if we turn up some ‘juicy’ detail, this is something important to document. For instance, economic hardship, sexual orientation, a severe illness that they or someone in their family has, or medical treatments they need.”

“N.” continued:

If you’re a homosexual who knows someone who knows a wanted man – Israel will turn your life into a misery. If you need urgent medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank or overseas – we’re on your tail. The State of Israel will let you die before it lets you go for medical treatment without your first giving information about your cousin, the wanted man. Every time we hook an innocent person who can be blackmailed for information, or to conscript him as a collaborator, that’s like gold for us and for the entire Israeli intelligence community. In a training course we actually learned and memorized the different Arabic words for homosexual.

The army spokesman’s response to these and other specific accusations goes as follows: “The concrete claims made in the report are unknown in the Intelligence Directorate.”

In an interview on TLV1 radio, I asked Noa Levy, a former draft resister who now defends others taking that route, what she thought of the army spokesman’s response. She gave a derisive laugh and said,

That is quite ridiculous, which I can say from my experience as a human rights lawyer. There are many cases of LGBT people from the Palestinian territories who get to Israel and try to get refuge after the Shin Bet blackmailed them, and they get to the point when they are known to Palestinian society as homosexuals or traitors, and [Palestinians] presume they’re informers. This phenomenon was known for a long time, but it was thought to be marginal. What these soldiers allow us to say is that it’s a general thing … a general policy. [Unit 8200]  gathers information on [Palestinian] homosexuals and uses it to turn them against family members or friends.

In Yedioth, Israel’s leading print journalist, Nahum Barnea, fully defended the truthfulness (though not the judgment) of the dissidents:

One would have expected the military to respond to this claim [of spying on innocent Palestinians to blackmail them into collaborating] with a commitment to examine it and correct any failings. Instead we got a wholesale denial – a denial that brought a cynical grin to the face of everyone who is familiar with the reality of the [intelligence-gathering] system. …

The occupation corrupts, say the refuseniks of 8200, and they’re telling the truth. In the best case, the information they pick up prevents terror; in many other cases it serves the malice, arbitrariness and stupidity of the occupation, or it provides a presentable wrapping for some deceitful government policy.

To balance out Noa Levy on the radio program, I asked Eitan Meirsdorf, a reserve Israeli soldier and head of the far-right Im Tirtzu organization at Bar-Ilan University, what he thought of Unit 8200 spying on Palestinian innocents for the purpose of blackmail. Meirsdorf, at least, was candid enough to say what the Israeli establishment is not: that he has no problem with it:

This is not specific to Israel – every single intelligence unit in the world does it. [Unit 8200] is trying to catch terrorists, and at the end of the day, as an Israeli citizen, if there’s a chance that a terrorist is going to blow up my house, my family, then yeah, I would try to do everything I could to stop them. For them to pass up a chance to catch a terrorist and then that terrorist kills Israelis – that doesn’t seem very moral to me.

In other words, in the name of Israeli security, anything and anybody goes.

As for the refuseniks’ charge that medical information on innocent Palestinians is also leveraged by the Shin Bet, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel said, “The testimony PHR gathered from [Palestinian] patients matches the description given by the reservists in Unit 8200. [Palestinian patients] tell of direct and implied blackmail, the latter being in the nature of ‘Help us and we’ll help you.’”

Read PHR’s full report on the practice

Faced with the dissidents’ revelations, official Israel has tried to change the subject, to make the dissidents themselves the subject. The army accuses them of running to the media with their complaints before going to their commanders, which sounds far-fetched, and which some of the reservists have flatly denied, saying they complained first to their commanders, but were rebuffed. The army also claims that only 10 of the 43 signatories, the officers in the group, were part of the “circle of control” in intelligence-gathering on Palestinians. The refuseniks say they were all involved in the work.

The army’s complaints seem beside the point – but that is the point: to distract attention from what these honorable young men and women are saying, because neither the army nor any other part of official Israel has any honorable answer to it.  So they lie, throw mud, threaten and rage – because when it comes to its treatment of Palestinians, Israel can’t handle the truth.

More on the 8200 refusal letter:
Resource: How the Shin Bet holds Gazans’ health ransom
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as ‘political’

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There’s nothing static about the West Bank ‘status quo’ http://972mag.com/theres-nothing-static-about-the-west-bank-status-quo/96770/ http://972mag.com/theres-nothing-static-about-the-west-bank-status-quo/96770/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:03:05 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96770 Israel is already carrying out Bennett’s annexation plan, only without the formal annexation part. The West Bank is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. It will be even more different five or 10 years from now.

The indispensable Amira Hass reported this morning about an Israeli plan to push thousands of Palestinian-Bedouin into a new town it plans to build in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley is one of three areas in which Israel is trying to relocate Bedouin into designated areas or towns; the others are south of Hebron and east of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s government treats all “state land” in the West Bank as if it already belongs to Israel, as opposed to land under dispute. For Israel it’s actually better than annexed land: projects that would take an arduously long time to plan and execute under the civilian planning system in Israel proper can materialize in a matter of months under the IDF military regime in the West Bank.

The government has also been transferring Palestinian municipal — and even private — land into its own possession and control. Despite commitments to several American administrations not to build new settlements, the Israeli government has been legalizing outposts for several years now. It even started construction on the first “official” new settlement since the Oslo accords. Most recently, the government appropriated 1,000 acres near Bethlehem for a new settlement. Altogether, 2013 was a record-setting year in settlement construction.

There will be no Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. Israel will not allow it, and the political circumstances that would otherwise force it to reconsider its position simply don’t exist. Instead, Israel is maintaining the status quo of occupation in the Palestinian territories. But the term is misleading. There is nothing static about the status quo. Israel constantly strengthens its control over the West Bank — and while doing so, it creates a new reality on the ground.

A Palestinian Bedouin family after their Jordan Valley home was demolished by Israeli army forces. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian Bedouin family after their Jordan Valley home was demolished by Israeli army forces. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The effort in the Jordan Valley is especially telling. Netanyahu’s government made the Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley a key demand in its negotiations with Secretary of State Kerry earlier this year. In fact, it was one of the key hurdles that prevented the American administration from presenting a framework for a final status agreement.

Since the Gaza war and the shift of international attention to radical Islamic militias in Syria and Iraq, Israel’s desire to hold onto the Jordan Valley has only grown. The effort to create a contiguous Jewish population in the area and to clear the land of Palestinians can only be understood as part of a long-term project that would isolate the rest of the West Bank from Jordan and as consequence – from the rest of the world.

The logic in the government’s other measures isn’t hard to find, either. Its land appropriation near Bethlehem and measures against Palestinian rural communities are aimed at pushing the Palestinian population into several disconnected urban areas, while maintaining a contiguous Israeli presence around and across the West Bank.

Settler leader Naftali Bennett long ago proposed that Israel annex Area C – roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli administrative and military control – giving full civil rights to the roughly 100,000 Palestinians living there. The other millions would live under some form of “enhanced autonomy” in the remaining 40 percent of the land, which would be so fragmented and non-contiguous that it looks like an archipelago.

I don’t think Israel will annex Area C. The international fallout would be too great. More importantly, forced relocation, advancing zoning plans and creating new settlements is actually much easier when the land is under military sovereignty — especially in comparison to the bureaucratic difficulties of civil control west of the Green Line, not to mention the greater degree of transparency.

Israel is already carrying out Bennett’s plan, only without the formal annexation part. The West Bank is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. It will be even more different five or 10 years from now.

In the past 20 years or so the international community’s strategy toward the occupation was to try and slow down Israeli measures in the hope that the establishment of a Palestinian state would actually reverse them. This school of thought has failed miserably.

Israel’s ability to find — and use — creative legal and political tools that allow it to pursue its territorial ambitions is constantly improving; efforts to contain those ambitions, meanwhile, have completely disintegrated. Every few years, Israel demands that new “facts on the ground” be recognized as a starting point for any negotiation; the international community then has no option but to discuss these demands, and at times, even accept them as the new norm.

It is now clear that the current road will not lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. A new approach is required if the Palestinian population is ever going to gain its rights, freedoms and at least some of its assets.

Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
Jordan Valley fence would finalize the West Bank’s complete enclosure
PHOTOS: A week in a demolished Jordan Valley village
How Israel uses the pretext of peace talks to build more settlements

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A most determined occupation and its cursed victory http://972mag.com/a-most-determined-occupation-and-its-cursed-victory/96731/ http://972mag.com/a-most-determined-occupation-and-its-cursed-victory/96731/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:07:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96731 It is not momentum or errors or personality quirks which have sustained the occupation, but a clear determination by Israel’s elite to maintain control of the West Bank and Gaza. Those who are willing to openly examine how Israel – and the pre-state Zionist Jewish community in the Holy Land – conducted itself prior to 1967, can only view the occupation as part of a natural continuum.

Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories. By Ahron Bregman. Allen Lane; 416 pages; £25.

Israeli soldiers attempt to control a crowd of Palestinian men at the Qalandia checkpoint separating Jerusalem and Ramallah, September 27, 2008. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers attempt to control a crowd of Palestinian men at the Qalandia checkpoint separating Jerusalem and Ramallah, September 27, 2008. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

I received my copy of Cursed Victory – Ahron Bregman’s history of the occupation – on the very first day rockets were fired on Tel Aviv during the latest Gaza war. It was one of those rare moments when the reality of the occupation intruded into my daily life, because like most Israelis, most of the time, I am largely sheltered from its pernicious effect.

The same cannot be said for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The occupation shapes every aspect of mundane existence in their cities, towns and villages. This asymmetry of experience, added to the inherent asymmetry of power between the Palestinians and Israel, is reflected in each side’s views, perceptions and politics.

'Cursed Victory'For Israelis, the occupation is mainly a subject for negotiations in the halls of power. If they think about it at all, they think about positions to be defended in talks and diplomatic discussions, about the terms of agreements and political maneuvering for advantage. Palestinians consider all of these things, of course, but for them, the occupation encompasses everything else as well: access to water and power, urban planning, economic development, education. There is no rhythm of life that is not interrupted by Israel’s control, no public policy issue that is not overshadowed by it.

Cursed Victory reflects this asymmetry, as would any factually accurate account of the issue. But Bregman’s history does not address or analyze this massive imbalance, and this is its greatest flaw. Indeed, as the narrative progresses, despite being highly critical of the occupation and Israel’s policies, it increasingly adopts the Israeli viewpoint (at least, its center-left version) and as a result, critical aspects of the story are missed.

In his introduction, Bregman writes:

While I deal with both the occupied and the occupiers, my focus is necessarily on the latter, as it is in the very nature of its role that the occupier is more often the one driving events… All the same, I try to let the reader also hear the voices and understand the experiences – and indeed the pain – of those living under the occupation, thus putting a human face to the story.

The book delivers on both elements of this promise. Some of its most powerful sections are those that describe the Palestinians’ human experience and pain, mostly in their own words. But the equation it attempts to establish – the Israeli decision makers “driving events” on the one side, and the Palestinians as the “human face” of the issue on the other side – while accurate, misses major elements of the story, which do not fit either rubric.

This point is best demonstrated by the book itself: specifically, part one, dealing with the first decade of the occupation, between 1967-1977. Bregman seeks to present a narrative history, rather than an analysis, and this portion of the book does so quite well. It vividly describes how the occupation’s mechanisms were established, how control was imposed and implemented.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Ze’evi (right) and Gen. Uzi Narkiss walk through the Old City of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, during the Six Day War. (Photo by GPO/Ilan Bruner)

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Ze’evi (right) and Gen. Uzi Narkiss walk through the Old City of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, during the Six Day War. (Photo by GPO/Ilan Bruner)

In this section, the narrative unfolds neither on the Israeli side, nor on the Palestinian side, but between them. Israel is in the driver’s seat, but as it creates the occupation through one-sided dictates, it does so necessarily in response to the various challenges and opportunities presented by the Palestinians’ themselves, their resistance and its limits (and the same goes for Syrians in the Golan; although not really for the Sinai Beduin, who hardly appear in the story). This in no way mitigates the brutality and injustice of the occupier’s actions, indeed it often exacerbates them. Nonetheless, it is the dynamic that shapes the occupation and makes it what it is.

Unfortunately, as the narrative progresses, the book’s focus shifts from this crucial interaction to another: the one occurring between leaders and diplomats, haggling on the terms and conditions of political agreements.

When negotiations trump reality on the ground

Partly, this shift reflects the access Bregman has gained to some sensitive and heretofore confidential documents, detailing high-level discussions, especially between U.S. president Clinton and various Israeli leaders during the 1990s. This is where Bregman has several juicy “scoops,” which have already gotten the book some media attention. But the eagerness to milk his unique materials is only a partial explanation for the book’s focus on “peace” talks.

Although Bregman never says so explicitly, this emphasis makes it clear that he considers negotiations more important than the reality on the ground. His gaze returns to the actual reality of the occupation only when violence explodes.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton and King Hussein of Jordan depart after the Israel-Jordan peace treaty signing ceremony in the Arava, October 26, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Avi Ohayon)

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton and King Hussein of Jordan depart after the Israel-Jordan peace treaty signing ceremony in the Arava, October 26, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Avi Ohayon)

This pattern is apparent, for example, in the narrative regarding the occupation of Syrian lands. In describing the first decade, Bregman extensively discusses how Israel deported or prevented the return of more than 130,000 residents of the Golan, some 95 percent of its pre-1967 population; how it enforced its rule on the remaining Druze; and how it began establishing Jewish settlements on occupied ground.

Afterwards, events in the Golan are mentioned again when Israel formally annexes the heights in 1981, and the remaining Syrians bravely and tenaciously resist this decision. From that point onwards, for the final quarter century covered by the book, the Golan is mentioned almost exclusively in relation to diplomatic maneuvers between late Syrian president Hafez Assad, Clinton and several Israeli premiers.

We learn minute details about the American president and his secretary of state, about Israeli prime ministers and the Syrian leader, but nothing about what happened on the Golan itself, to either the Druze or the settlers. As this once quiet border starts to fray, following the Syrian civil war, this is a particularly unfortunate omission.

Read also: Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t

The occupation in the West Bank and Gaza is described much more extensively, but the pattern largely holds. The issue of “security” provides a striking example. The security discourse has been dominant in Israeli discussions regarding the occupation. It has been used both to justify “concessions” and oppose them, to crush Palestinians when violence erupts and forget about them when it subsides. The creation of the massive Palestinian security apparatus following the Oslo accords in 1993 is a product of this discourse, and marks one of the most dramatic turns in how the occupation has been organized and sustained since its inception in 1967.

But you hear nothing about this in Cursed Victory. Since the issue of security has been largely marginal to the negotiation of major Israeli-Palestinian “peace” agreements, it is also marginal in Bregman’s narrative.

The curse of ‘negotiationism’

It seems that Bregman is afflicted by the same “negotiationism” (my neologism) which generally dominates the Zionist left viewpoint regarding the occupation. “Negotiationism” can be defined as the assumption that the intricacies and maneuvers of peace talks are the key to solution, and that the solution itself – at its core – is political and diplomatic, rather than institutional and democratic. “Negotiationists” tend to focus on leaders, as representatives of their “side” in negotiations, and often neglect the complex internal politics of each side and their critical role. (Bregman, for example, hardly mentions that as Barak was furiously negotiating with the Palestinians in 2000, his coalition completely collapsed, and he became a lame duck, with no public mandate to reach any settlement.)

“Negotiationists” implicitly assume that if a treaty is agreed and signed, the people and the reality on the ground will just fall into place and accommodate whatever the agreement states. This is generally true regarding the peace agreements that Israel signed with Egypt (with the return of the Sinai), and Jordan (where there were few border issues), and it might prove true for a future agreement with Syria. But this perspective is inadequate for understanding and describing the occupation of Palestine and how it has evolved over the first 40 years. (Bregman’s book does not cover events after 2007.)

This failure is particularly evident when Cursed Victory strays from narrative to analysis. Bregman’s thesis is that the occupation has persevered through a series of missed opportunities, unfortunate events, miscalculations, truculent personalities, and a general “policy drift” toward solidifying the occupation on the Israeli side.

Instead, the simpler and more economical explanation is that Israel’s policy has been to maintain the occupation – albeit in varying guises and forms. It is not momentum or errors or personality quirks which have sustained the occupation, but a clear determination by Israel’s elite, from the leadership to middle ranks, to maintain control of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Mughrabi Quarter, Wailing Wall and Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, 1898-1946 (American Colony Photo Dept.)

The Mughrabi Quarter, Wailing Wall and Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, 1898-1946 (American Colony Photo Dept.) The Mughrabi Quarter residential neighborhood was demolished immediately following the Six Day War in order to make room for the Western Wall prayer plaza.

Indeed, despite its increasing focus on diplomacy and negotiations, Bregman’s narrative supplies little evidence to bolster the “negotiationist” viewpoint, and plenty of material that undermines it. From the very first days of the occupation, when Israeli forces expelled about a quarter of the territories’ population, and destroyed whole neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (with residents sometimes buried alive under the rubble), through the rapid expansion of settlements under the supposedly pro-peace governments of Rabin and Peres (1992-1996), to the current blockade on Gaza and restrictions on movement in the West Bank, almost every action by Israel indicates an intention to maintain control.

Even a narrow analysis of Israeli positions in negotiations reveals the same attitude. Complex arguments on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/ Haram Al Sharif, the right of return, the end of the conflict and recognition of Israel as a “Jewish” state often obscure this basic fact. But the history of “peace talks” shows that almost all Jewish Israelis expect the Palestinians to have highly restricted sovereignty, with complete Israeli discretion to intervene in their territory, which will be misshaped and contorted by various parts annexed to Israel.

The ‘pain of history’

How does this kind of “peace” differ from continued occupation maintained through a subservient, if occasionally rebellious, Palestinian proxy government (as is largely the situation right now in both the West Bank and Gaza)?

If the facts do not support it, what is the source of the “negotiationist” view? Bregman cannot be accused of sympathizing with the occupation. In the introduction, he explains how his resistance to the occupation caused him to emigrate from Israel. Throughout Cursed Victory he vividly describes the suffering and travesties caused by Israel’s subjugation of millions of Palestinians.

Paradoxically, the vehemence of Bregman’s opposition to the occupation may be the key to understanding his “negotiationist” view. This perspective is closely associated with the idea – popular among the Israeli left – that 1967 marks a major break in Israel’s history. As Bregman writes in the introduction:

That Israel – a vibrant and intellectual nation overwhelmingly aware of the pain of history – went down the path of military occupation is in itself quite astonishing.

In fact, the occupation is anything but astonishing. Those who are willing to openly examine how Israel – and the Zionist Jewish community in the Holy Land before it – conducted itself prior to 1967, can only view the occupation as part of a natural continuum. Palestinian citizens of Israel were under martial law from the country’s founding in 1948 to 1966, just a year before the West Bank and Gaza were occupied. Displacement, deportation, oppression and violence were used against Palestinians before, during and after the 1948 war. Indeed, the enterprise of Jewish colonization was premised on ignoring and subordinating the rights and interests of indigenous Palestinians.

The “pain of history” remembered by Israeli Jews was not a force that acted against the occupation: it was one of its primary drivers. Jews had suffered as minorities for millennia, and more than six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Although persecution motivated them to immigrate, in Palestine, they increasingly became the persecutors. But as this role reversal has deepened, the mindset has remained the same. Israeli Jews, despite all evidence to the contrary, continue to view themselves as a besieged and persecuted people, constantly on the brink of total extinction.

As justified threats receded, paranoia replaced genuine concern; hate, animosity and suspicion feeding the demonization of Palestinians and Arabs. In that situation, the sense of control provided by the occupation became an essential building block of Israeli “security.”

Bregman does not even consider the possibility that negotiations were never perceived by the Israeli leadership or Jewish public as an “opportunity” to end the occupation. They were seen as a means to entrench and legitimize it. And that opportunity was not missed. Israel’s international standing has never been higher, its control of Palestinians is at its peak of efficiency.

As the occupation nears the end of its fifth decade, the future may hold in store many more guises and forms it can assume. But a fundamental change in essence would require Israel to relinquish control and assume certain risks. You do that if you have trust. And you can only build trust if you view your counterparty in realistic terms, as fully human as you are. This prospect still seems far off.

Related articles:
Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t
The Zionist story, re-told by the elite, for the elite
What’s behind Israel’s biggest economic boom? The occupation

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Kitsch, death and god at Israel’s Education Ministry http://972mag.com/kitsch-death-and-god-at-israels-education-ministry/96702/ http://972mag.com/kitsch-death-and-god-at-israels-education-ministry/96702/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 08:41:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96702 The Israeli education minister’s letter to the graduating class of 2014 is evidence of the fact that Israeli education is little more than an ongoing IDF preparatory course.

By Avner Ben-Amos (translated from Hebrew by Miriam Erez)

A letter to the high school class of 2014 published by Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron in the July 24, 2014 issue of Israel Hayom is a worrying wakeup call. A wakeup call because the education minister presents a worldview that rests on distorted, revisionist history. Worrying because this minister determines, directly or indirectly, how our schoolchildren perceive their reality. Even if only a few of them end up reading the letter, written as a farewell to last year’s graduates, it is quite instructive regarding the minister and his positions, and is therefore worth analyzing.

Let’s begin with the headline. “Only our wars are wars of no choice”, states the minister with undisguised glee. It’s a statement reminiscent of the arbitrary one by Elazar Stern, former chief IDF education officer, that, the IDF is “the world’s most moral army,” after obviously studying, measuring, and comparing all of the world’s armies and determining our ethical ranking among them.

Education Minister Shai Piron (Source: Yesh Atid/Wikimedia Commons) December 2, 2012

Education Minister Shai Piron (Source: Yesh Atid/Wikimedia Commons) December 2, 2012

But beyond that, Minister Piron ignores the fact that all of our wars since 1967 – including the most recent one in Gaza – were intended to clinch our control over the occupied territories, all of which make them wars of choice, including the first Lebanon War, whose architect, Menachem Begin, declared it as such. And if we work backward we even find that the 1956 Sinai Campaign was a war of choice that Israel joined together with the declining imperialist powers of France and Britain.

Another wild statement in Piron’s letter is, “We’re the only country that on the day of its founding, did not rejoice in the defeat of its enemies, but rather extended its hand in peace.” Considering that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees expelled by the IDF in 1948 were left on the other side of the border and not permitted to return home, it’s not clear how we extended our hand in peace. This statement also elucidates Piron’s ongoing refusal to allow Arab schools to mention the word nakba in their curricula, referring to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during Israel’s creation. It surely isn’t a cynical plot to erase the Palestinians’ national identity, but rather simple ignorance, which lucky for us, a mere skimming of Benny Morris’ book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, can remedy.

Moving on, the claim of equal rights granted to the Arab minority, while correct as per Israel’s Declaration of Independence, has remained only ink on parchment. Beyond the inherent discrimination in, for instance, the Law of Return, which grants Jews the world over immediate citizenship, a quick glance at the figures for allotment of resources and socioeconomic positioning shows that the Arab population is at the bottom in all rankings. Piron’s decision to move funds from the Orthodox Jewish sector to the Arab sector – for which he is to be commended – shows that even he is aware of the ongoing systemic discrimination.

Nor can we ignore the cloying, kitschy tone underlying the letter, whose importance should not be minimized. Kitsch, as Milan Kundera explained, is a type of aesthetic “…that denies completely the less-than-pleasant,” i.e., it neatly eliminates any real grappling with difficulties, and blocks skepticism and questioning. Thus we read in Piron’s letter of “the weeping eye” and the other eye “that believes in the good to come”; of King David, who was “a warrior, yet who gently plucked the strings of his harp, which calmed his mood”; and of “the courageous commanders who display sensitivity toward an elderly man in need of assistance.”

What does Piron’s kitschy attitude hide? It is now clear that the minister who introduced the civic studies theme, “The other is me” as the theme of the past school year, is now demonstrating his blindness to the Palestinian “other,” who lies outside his close circle. Piron doesn’t hesitate to throw around clichés about the “eternal Jewish people” and “our eternal Land,” all while ignoring the fact that since 1967 we have subjugated another people who sees “our eternal Land” as its land, too.

Moreover, beyond an oblique reference to “superfluous hatred and bigotry among us and between us and our neighbors,” there is no explicit mention in the letter of the rabid hostility against both Arabs and Jewish leftists that permeated the country this summer following the murder of three Jewish teens in the West Bank, not to mention calls on the parts of politicians and rabbis to crush, flatten, destroy and wipe out Gaza ahead of and during the war. And not a word, of course, about the destruction and killing wrought by the IDF in Gaza even as those words were being penned.

Yet what’s most worrying of all is the blindered horizon that the minister sees for the class of 2014: he reinforces all those who claim that our school system is nothing but an IDF prep course. That prep course, of course, includes the internalization of the lesson of force “taught” by the Holocaust, which now begins as early as preschool with an introduction to the evil Hitler – brought to your preschooler by none other than Piron’s program – and ends with high school study trips to Poland and IDF officers brought into schools as guest teachers in civics classes.

Piron sees our 2014 grads as nothing but soldiers in uniform patrolling Gaza; “thousands of them, fueled with a sense of mission and driven by mutual responsibility.” He addresses them directly: “in Bible class, you learned of our battles to conquer the Land.” That’s right: welcome to the Book of Joshua and verses such as, “those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives” (Joshua 8:22).

Piron, who loves to quote from scripture, ends his letter to the soldiers-to-be with the Prayer for a Safe Journey. In normal times, it could be viewed as an innocuous ending, even natural for someone who wears a yarmulke – except these are not normal times. When Givati Brigade Commander Ofer Winter defined our latest war as a battle against “the Gazan terrorist enemy who curses, abuses and reviles the god of the hosts of Israel,” he transformed a national conflict into a religious one, conferring upon the rabbis the ultimate authority in all things battle-related.

This phenomenon dovetails neatly with the proposal in the “Basic Law: Israel: State of the Jewish Nation,” to make Jewish law the “inspiration” for our legal system, as well as Piron’s cockamamie idea to assign rabbis to schools as “spiritual instructors.” It’s an ambitious vision, and unfortunately one that’s far from delusional: shaping the three main entities that are controlled by the state – the army, the schools and the legal system – into entities controlled by clergy. While I’m not convinced that Piron would want it, it’s directly where we’re headed, and he’s at the forefront of the march.

Prof. Avner Ben-Amos is a lecturer in the history of education at Tel Aviv University. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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