+972 Magazine » All Posts http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 28 Mar 2015 16:32:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 A Week in Photos: Survivors, art and destruction in Gaza http://972mag.com/a-week-in-photos-survivors-art-and-destruction-in-gaza/104982/ http://972mag.com/a-week-in-photos-survivors-art-and-destruction-in-gaza/104982/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 15:25:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104982 Ten photos from Gaza — of survivors and the devastated urban landscape seven months after the last Israeli offensive.

Photos by Anne Paq/Activestills.org

This week marks seven months since Israel’s war in Gaza last summer, “Operation Defensive Edge.” During the course of the war, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed. Tens of thousands are still homeless due to Israeli strikes. Almost no reconstruction has taken place because of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on the import of raw materials into the Strip.

The following are images from the Gaza Strip in the past week, March 17-25, 2015, showing the destruction, the lives of survivors, memories of the dead and daily life in the besieged strip of land.

Elizabeth Tanboura stands with three of her daughters: Sundos, Malak, and Marwa (right), in front of their destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Elizabth's husband, Radad, and their children Ahmed (15) and Amna (13), were killed during an Israeli attack on August 25, 2014. Two other boys survived because they were not in the house at the time of the attack.

Elizabeth Tanboura stands with three of her daughters: Sundos, Malak, and Marwa (right), in front of their destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Elizabth’s husband, Radad, and their children Ahmed (15) and Amna (13), were killed during an Israeli attack on August 25, 2014. Two other boys survived because they were not in the house at the time of the attack.

Issam Joudeh sits where an Israeli attack killed four of his children and his wife in the Tel Al-Za'tar neighborhood of Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Israeli forces attacked the yard of the family's home without any warning on August 24, 2014. Three children survived, one of them Thae'er had his leg amputated and is still in Germany where he is receiving medical treatment.

Issam Joudeh sits where an Israeli attack killed four of his children and his wife in the Tel Al-Za’tar neighborhood of Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Israeli forces attacked the yard of the family’s home without any warning on August 24, 2014. Three children survived, one of them Thae’er had his leg amputated and is still in Germany where he is receiving medical treatment.

A photo of Abdallah Abdel Hadi Al Majdalawi amid the ruins of his home, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Abdallah (13) was killed alongside his brother Abdelrazek (19) and his cousins Rawan (9) and Mahmoud (8), by an Israeli attack which took place without any warning on August 3, 2014. The attack also destroyed the adjacent home of Ahmed Al Majdalawi.

A photo of Abdallah Abdel Hadi Al Majdalawi amid the ruins of his home, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Abdallah (13) was killed alongside his brother Abdelrazek (19) and his cousins Rawan (9) and Mahmoud (8), by an Israeli attack which took place without any warning on August 3, 2014. The attack also destroyed the adjacent home of Ahmed Al Majdalawi.

Ahmed al-Nashash, 50, stands in front of a closet that still contains clothes belonging to his sons, who were killed during the last Israeli offensive, Rafah City, Gaza Strip, March 18, 2015. The al-Nashash family was fleeing attacks on July 27, 2014, when they were struck by an Israeli missile some 100 meters from their home. Seven members of the family were killed, including his wife of Ahmad, Hana (45), and their five sons. Two of his daughters, Meena (4) and Fatma (2) survived.

Ahmed al-Nashash, 50, stands in front of a closet that still contains clothes belonging to his sons, who were killed during the last Israeli offensive, Rafah City, Gaza Strip, March 18, 2015. The al-Nashash family was fleeing attacks on July 27, 2014, when they were struck by an Israeli missile some 100 meters from their home. Seven members of the family were killed, including his wife of Ahmad, Hana (45), and their five sons. Two of his daughters, Meena (4) and Fatma (2) survived.

Gaza Strip artist Raed Issa during the opening of his exhibition, "Simple Dreams," in the Eltiqua Gallery in Gaza City, March 23, 2015. The exhibit included some of his destroyed paintings that he salvaged from the ruins of his home. Issa’s home, which included his studio, was destroyed by an Israeli attack last summer. Raed lost many paintings and art materials.

Gaza Strip artist Raed Issa during the opening of his exhibition, “Simple Dreams,” in the Eltiqua Gallery in Gaza City, March 23, 2015. The exhibit included some of his destroyed paintings that he salvaged from the ruins of his home. Issa’s home, which included his studio, was destroyed by an Israeli attack last summer. Raed lost many paintings and art materials.

Graffiti is seen in on rubble in the destroyed quarter of Shujaiya, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is being recycled to produce low quality concrete.

Graffiti is seen in on rubble in the destroyed quarter of Shujaiya, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is being recycled to produce low quality concrete.

Palestinians walk through a destroyed quarter of Al-Shaaf neighborhood, in Al-Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are still internally displaced and many are living in very dire conditions.

Palestinians walk through a destroyed quarter of Al-Shaaf neighborhood, in Al-Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are still internally displaced and many are living in very dire conditions.

Palestinians drive through a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf neighborhood, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015.

Palestinians drive through a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf neighborhood, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015.

A Palestinian removes rubble from a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf area, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is then recycled to produce low quality concrete for reconstruction.

A Palestinian removes rubble from a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf area, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is then recycled to produce low quality concrete for reconstruction.

 

The ruins of a four-story building belonging Abdul Jawad Mheesin, which was destroyed during the last Israeli military offensive, Gaza Strip, March 25, 2015. The attack killed Nisreen Ahmad (38) and her son Hussein (8), who were living in the adjacent home, as well as Suheir Abu Meddin (43), who was living in the tower and went back inside to take some belongings minutes after a warning missile was fired.

The ruins of a four-story building belonging Abdul Jawad Mheesin, which was destroyed during the last Israeli military offensive, Gaza Strip, March 25, 2015. The attack killed Nisreen Ahmad (38) and her son Hussein (8), who were living in the adjacent home, as well as Suheir Abu Meddin (43), who was living in the tower and went back inside to take some belongings minutes after a warning missile was fired.

 

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The long road to Bethlehem http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 12:38:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104862 It wasn’t the soaring arches or the elegant windows, with their curved caps. It wasn’t that the first room of the house was built in 1808. It wasn’t the jasmine that, like a woman letting down her hair, released its heavy perfume at night. It wasn’t the olive, loquat, lemon, almond, and apricot trees that filled the garden. Nor was it that the fruit from that garden seemed sweeter here in Bethlehem than it was in Jerusalem.

The apartment’s biggest selling point, in my landlady’s opinion?

The well.

She showed it to me the first time I saw the place, before I’d decided to rent the apartment. The well was hidden behind a curtain in the kitchen. She pushed the fabric back, revealing a deep recess in the wall. Inside the nook stood a pump and, on the floor, a large stone with a wrought iron handle. My landlady, who was in her seventies, gave the handle a tug. The rock lifted. There was a clunk as she placed it on the kitchen floor.

My landlady got on her knees and peered into the hole, a spot of night surrounded by chiseled white.

“See?” she tapped my calf, signaling that I should get on the floor, too. I obliged her.

I peered into the well. I didn’t see anything. But I could smell the collected rainwater below us.

My landlady put her hands on my back and pushed herself up. As she brushed the dirt off her knees, she explained to me that, if I were to take the apartment, we would share the well. And while our neighbors’ taps would run dry—as they always do here, eventually—we would never go without.

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

I remembered a long, waterless weekend I’d spent in Bethlehem in 2010. An American friend who lived and worked there had invited me to come celebrate his birthday. I was living in Tel Aviv then and had only been to Bethlehem once before, to work on an article for The National. The photographer who’d been assigned to the story also had Israeli citizenship. Unlike me, however, he had a car. That day, we’d left the Bethlehem area via the settler checkpoint outside the tunnels—a checkpoint we should have breezed through as two Jews riding in a yellow-plated vehicle. But the female soldier stopped us and asked for my ID. Nervous about the fact that I’d been in Bethlehem, which is off-limits to Jews who hold Israeli IDs, I gave the solider my American passport. She rifled through it looking for my visa. When she didn’t find it, she rolled her eyes at me, sighed, and asked me in Hebrew, “Where is your identity card?”

The photographer and I talked our way out of trouble. But I was rattled by the experience and feared that I’d be arrested the next time I was caught. Still, when my American friend asked me to come out to the West Bank for his birthday, I said yes. I told myself that I didn’t need to think too far ahead—I’d worry about leaving when it was time to leave.

When I got there, I found my friend’s house filthy; his kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes. “The water’s out,” he explained. He showed me how we could flush the toilet and brush our teeth using the water he’d saved in plastic bottles ahead of time. I would learn later that other friends keep buckets in their showers to collect the grey water. Because this is what you do in the West Bank, where you’re always waiting for the taps to go dry, where the Jewish settlements you can see from your window or that you pass on the road—the nice, neat, clean settlements that are locked away behind fences and surrounded by security—have green lawns and full swimming pools.

Despite the water shortage, what was supposed to be an overnight trip to Bethlehem turned into three nights of sleeping on my friend’s couch. Every time I thought about leaving, I remembered my confrontation with the female soldier. There are checkpoints on every side of Bethlehem: how could I get out of here without getting caught? And this time I was without a car: wouldn’t it be even more difficult on public transportation? Because I’d be coming out of a Palestinian area, I’d be on a Palestinian bus. And while settlers’ buses just roll through the checkpoints, Palestinian buses are always stopped, passengers IDs are always checked.

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I couldn’t figure it out, and I dreaded the soldiers, so I just stayed. And stayed. I joked with my American friend that it would be easier for me to go to Jordan and take a flight from Amman to Tel Aviv than it would be to just take the bus home.

Finally, on the fourth day, I realized that I couldn’t just wait out the occupation. The checkpoints and soldiers weren’t going to disappear. And I needed to take a shower. I had to get back to Tel Aviv somehow.

When I left my friend’s apartment that day, I had no idea how I’d get home. Nor did I know that Bethlehem would soon be my home; that I’d end up moving here less than three years later, into a house—a house with a well—owned by refugees from Jaffa.

***

It happened in steps. First I left Tel Aviv and moved to Jerusalem. Comfortable enough in Hebrew, I started studying Arabic. I began writing less about migrant workers and African refugees—my old south Tel Aviv beat—and more about the occupation. I started teaching at a university in the West Bank.

The commute from my apartment in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel was long, sometimes taking as much as two hours door to door. First I’d walk to the light rail. Then I would take the light rail to Damascus Gate, get down, and walk to the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. The territories aren’t just under occupation, they’re also under separation—separation from each other, separation from the Jews. After waiting for the segregated bus to fill, I would ride it to Abu Dis.

I wept — out of shame for the things I said; because I meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now.

To arrive on time for my 8 a.m. class, I had to wake up at five and leave the house around 5:30. I needed the half-hour cushion for delays, like when the light rail was stopped because somebody reported a suspicious package. It was during Israel’s 2012 pummeling of Gaza, “Operation Pillar of Defense.” With the light rail at a standstill and time racing ahead, I had no choice but to hail a taxi.

I got in and told the driver that I was going to Damascus Gate.

Shaar Shkhem?” He repeated in Hebrew, sounding surprised.

“Yes.”

He glanced at me in the rearview mirror, giving me a weary look, sizing me up. I worried that he might refuse the ride. Once, on my way from Ben-Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv, a cab driver had threatened to dump me on the side of the highway when, in the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I wrote for Al Jazeera.

But the driver continued. As we neared the city center, however, he insisted on dropping me off there.

“No,” I pushed back. “I need to get to Damascus Gate.”

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

“But,” he began, “are you Jewish? Because, if you are, it’s not safe for you there. Especially not now.”

What, when we’re pummeling Gaza for no good reason? I thought. Instead, I just said, “It’s fine. I’m safe.”

The driver argued that I was putting myself at risk. He asked why I was getting out at Damascus Gate anyways.

I explained that I worked in the West Bank.

And thus began the political conversation I’d been trying to avoid. Because I knew where the discussion would go. Because it was early in the morning and I’d already read the bad news coming out of Gaza and because I’d dealt with the light rail stopping because of a suspicious package. Because I just wanted to get to work.

Things went exactly where I expected them to, with the cab driver telling me that Operation Pillar of Defense was necessary, that the Palestinians were getting what they deserved, that we needed to obliterate Gaza and re-occupy it.

A face flashed before my mind’s eye: one of my favorite students. Born and raised in a refugee camp near Hebron, she was hardworking, curious, sensitive, gentle, compassionate, and smart. Kind. Open-minded. Non-judgmental. In Arabic, she would be described as having a “white heart.” This student was in my Monday/Wednesday eight a.m. class and on those mornings, she was the reason I got out of bed at five. Knowing she would be there in Abu Dis, waiting for me, was what got me moving.

And the cab driver thought the Palestinians were getting what they deserved. Did my beloved student—did any of my students—deserve this?

I didn’t realize I was speaking until I heard my voice. I was shrieking at the driver, cursing him, ya ben zona, you son of a bitch, wishing death—“No, not just death. Death full of pain”—upon him and all of his family.

“You and all of your family!” I repeated as I hurled the cab fare at him and exploded out of the taxi. I turned my back to the street and faced the Old City so he wouldn’t be able to see my face as he rounded the traffic circle and headed back toward West Jerusalem.

I wept.

Out of shame for the horrible things I’d said to him; because I’d meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now, because I wanted to take them back; because I knew my favorite student would never wish death on anyone, because she would be disappointed in me, because she would no longer look up to me. Because I was disappointed in myself, because I was disappointed in the cab driver, a fellow Jew, because I was disappointed in the Jewish state.

I cried for the driver and the hatred he lugged around, for the life he was trapped in. Because he was brainwashed by the state that kept him poor, by the government that pitted him against Palestinian workers and stoked the flames of racism.

I cried for Gaza.

And then, with my 8 a.m. class drawing ever closer and my student waiting for me there in Abu Dis—her face round and innocent and full of expectations and hope, even in the middle of a war, even though her brother, in a matter of months, would be detained by the same army that had already arrested so many of her uncles and cousins—I pulled myself together and continued on my way.

On my way to the Palestinian bus station, I stopped to buy a tea from a street vendor. He saw my puffy eyes and noticed me wiping my nose with the back of my hand like a child. “What happened?” he asked me in Arabic. I told him that I was upset about what Israel was doing to Gaza.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Hezbollah will join the war soon, inshallah.”

I would have burst into tears again if I’d had any left.

***

There was another reason I headed out from my apartment in Kiryat Yovel at 5:30 a.m.: I needed the half-hour cushion because the Palestinian buses don’t run according to a schedule; they only leave the station when they are full. Another reminder of Israeli privilege. You can count on Jewish buses, the green Egged buses, which are subsidized by the state. In general, you can plan around the Egged buses, you can arrive on time. These little things end up making an impact on bigger things, like morale and productivity and the economy.

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

But it wasn’t just the five a.m. wake-up and the two hour commute that wore me out. It was also what happened during the trip. Leaving East Jerusalem, the bus would roll through the checkpoint like all the other cars entering the West Bank. Coming back in to the city, however, the Palestinian buses were singled out and pulled over. The Egged buses full of Jewish Israelis headed to and from settlements—which are illegal according to international law—were free to pass.

(Stop and think about this for a second: the settlers, the people whose presence is illegal in the territories, are free to leave the West Bank and enter Jerusalem as they wish while the Palestinians are treated like criminals. Under occupation, everything is hafuch al hafuch al hafuch—the reverse of the inverse of the reverse. Down is up and up is down and down is up. And as you struggle to make sense of it all—as you try to figure out which way is indeed up and which is down and if it even matters anymore—everything starts to seem senseless all over again.)

Coming from Abu Dis, a Palestinian area, meant that I was on a Palestinian bus. As other cars and Egged buses drove through the checkpoint, our bus would ease over to the side and slow to a stop. The driver would open the door. Everyone would get off and file into a walkway lined with chicken wire—what can only be described as a cattle chute. A soldier would stand at the front, between us and the now-empty bus. One by one, we would present him with our IDs so we could get back on the bus and continue to Jerusalem.

Because it was going directly to and from the university, almost all of the passengers on my bus were students, professors, or other administrative staff. Almost all were East Jerusalemites, meaning that they held an Israeli ID card that, from more than a foot away, looked nearly identical to mine. So, most of the time, nothing looked amiss to the soldiers. They see what they want to see—or what they expect to see. And because I’d gotten off a Palestinian bus and was surrounded by Palestinians and because I was holding up a blue ID, just like everyone else, and maybe because I look ambiguously ethnic, they waved me through, assuming that I, too, was Palestinian.

But every once in a while, the difference in my ID would catch a soldier’s eye. The reaction was the same every time. First, a double take. Second, they’d take my ID out of my hand. Next: a long look at the ID, a glance at me, back to the ID.

And then the question, sometimes whispered, sometimes barked. Sometimes asked in awe, sometimes anger.

Mah at osah po? What are you doing here?

I work at the university in Abu Dis, I’d answer in Hebrew.

The awe or anger invariably gave way to disbelief as they asked: Mah at osah sham? What do you do there?

I teach there.

Sometimes that was it and I was free to get back on the bus. Sometimes the soldier would call a second soldier and they’d puzzle over my ID together and ask me more questions, questions designed to ask without asking. Where do you live? Which neighborhood? How long have you lived there? Where did you live before that?

But sometimes they would just ask: are you Jewish?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be in Abu Dis and it’s legal for me to be on this bus. Irritated, I also pointed out the irony that I, a civilian, was explaining the laws to him, the soldier. If anyone should know the laws here, it’s him, not me, right?

Another time, a concerned girl soldier took me aside to ask me if everything was okay, if I was safe, had I been hurt?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be on this bus.

Once, a soldier didn’t believe that I was, indeed, the person in the ID. He thought I was using someone else’s to try to sneak into Jerusalem and he asked me to produce another form of identification with a picture. I had not yet bothered to get an Israeli driver’s license—I didn’t have a car—so I gave him my old Florida driver’s license. He was skeptical about that ID, too: At b’emet mi’Florida? You’re really from Florida? Asked as though I don’t speak Hebrew with a heavy American accent.

I started to panic. A Kafkaesque scenario flashed before my eyes—what if I can never prove to him that I’m me? What if he locks me up and no one believes that I’m me? And I’m arbitrarily detained forever?

I realized, of course, that my fears were absurd. But the occupation is an absurdity. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

As was the soldiers’ inability to wrap their heads around my presence at the checkpoint. Was it that hard for them to believe that a Jew worked at a Palestinian university? That a Jew could ride a Palestinian bus? And that I could do all these things without being harmed?

Every trip through the checkpoint—whether I was waved through or whether I had trouble with the soldiers—was distressing. I was upset, of course, at the checkpoint’s mere presence and all that it implied for Palestinians’ human rights and freedom of movement (or, rather, the lack thereof). The checkpoint was a reminder of segregation, of people’s inability to reach their friends, family, work, schools, and medical care.

And then there was my reaction to the soldiers who manned the checkpoint. I would see a Star of David dangling from a soldier’s neck and remember the chai necklace that my mother made me wear when I was a child. The thought would pop into my head: these are my people.

No. I would push back. These are not my people.

Who are my people?

***

After a semester of commuting, I was exhausted, so I took a room in Abu Dis. I’d spend the weekdays there and head back to Jerusalem for the weekend. I thought this would simplify my life. I quickly found out that it would just make things more complicated.

I realized this one bright spring morning, after I’d lived in Abu Dis for a few months. I’d just finished teaching my eight a.m. class and was headed to the hummus joint 100 meters or so from the university when a line of Israeli army jeeps came roaring up the street. They looked absurdly out of place: the ugly military green clashed with the stone buildings rendered warm and mellow by the rising sun. Their boxy shape was an affront to the rolling hills and soft edges of the olive trees that shimmered silver in the wind; their uniformity strange before the patchwork of stores and restaurants and houses, before the colorful blankets and rugs that housewives hung from their balconies. Even the jeeps’ sound didn’t fit the place, the engines drowning out the village’s morning murmurings of sabah al-kheir and sabah al-noor and Fairuz’s songs drifting from an open window and the birds’ gossipy chatter.

Entering Abu Dis, which lies beyond the wall, is a provocation in and of itself. It’s a reminder that the occupier is always near. And when he isn’t near, he’s inside: inside your village, raiding your house, demolishing your home, arresting your children, shooting unarmed civilians to death, confiscating your land for settlements, manning the checkpoints that rob you of your time and dignity. But first, before the occupier gets out of the jeep and does any of that, he drives.

The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping ‘them,’ the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep ‘us,’ the Jews, ‘in.’

He drives up the street, the street I walk down every day. The one that leads to the produce shop where I buy my fruit and vegetables and the stand that sells olives from the neighboring village, the market where I buy fresh shrak and labaneh and eggs and meat. The street that takes me to another road that takes me home, to the place where I cook and eat and laugh, where I sleep at night, where I wake in the morning to hear birds chirping outside my window. My friend and her husband and her three kids don’t live off this street but they live in that house over there, that house where in the winter, during the rain, I leave my wet boots by the door and she gives me a pair of nice, clean socks and after lunch I help her with the dishes as though I’m not a guest but part of her family, and I speak broken Arabic with her three children. The house where—when I’ve already been there for four hours and I need to get home—my friend says badri, badri, telling me it’s too early for me to go. Stay, stay. Haliki, haliki, ya Mya.

This is the street where, when I walk alone, colleagues and acquaintances stop to offer me a ride home. They know that I’m Jewish; they know that I have an Israeli ID. One sees a parallel to his own life—he’s really PFLP, he confides in me, but pretends to be Fatah so he can keep his job at the university. This is the street where we keep each other’s secrets. This is the street that keeps me safe.

And with the jeeps headed straight toward us, the street moved as one. The boys around me picked up rocks. I didn’t think, my body mimicked those around me.

I bent over and reached for a stone.

Wait, wait! a voice inside of me said in Hebrew. I saw them in my mind’s eye: the baby-faced boys in the jeeps, child-soldiers who had started learning about the Holocaust in preschool, who believed that Palestinians pose a mortal threat, human beings who had been brainwashed and believed that they were doing something good for am hayehudi, the Jewish people.

My people.

No, no, I argued with myself. These are not my people.

The spell was broken. I was no longer moving with the street. Feeling something heavy in my hand, I looked down and was shocked to see that I was holding a rock. I dropped it just as the boys around me began to pelt the jeeps with stones and the soldiers began to fire tear gas.

The jeeps stopped and the soldiers got out, guns in hand. I heard a pop I recognized from protests—rubber-coated bullets. Caught between rocks and guns, I ducked and looked for a way out of the mess. A store owner who’d come outside to close his steel shutters waved at me. He pointed at a line of parked cars and then himself. I understood. I should get behind the cars, run alongside them and then into the store.

I did and I was safe. But the moment I bent over and picked up a stone was something that I would return to over and over in my head—how I’d lost myself in my surroundings, how confused I’d felt when I thought of the soldiers, how I felt at once connected to them and the village. How mortified I’d felt when I looked down and found a rock in my hand.

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)

***

Finding it increasingly difficult to relate to Jewish Israelis, even those who weren’t in uniform, I began dating a Palestinian journalist I’d met in Ramallah. He was a West Banker with a green ID. This meant that he wasn’t supposed to visit me in Jerusalem—where I spent most of my weekends—without an Israeli army issued permit.

But he came anyway. There are a number of places where the separation barrier isn’t finished, where there are gaps in the chain-link and barbed wire fence. One is within sight of a checkpoint; my partner arrived to that particular hole in one afternoon, on his way to Jerusalem to see me, only to find soldiers on the other side. They’d closed the fence and were admonishing the crowd of Palestinians that had gathered and were waiting to cross, tut-tutting them, warning that they’d better not even try it.

“Then the soldiers got in their jeep and drove away and one of the men took out some wire cutters,” my partner laughed as he recounted the story, using the air and his fingers to show me how the fellow had cut the fence and held it open.

The hole, my partner explained, leads to the checkpoint.

“Huh?”

“The parking lot,” he clarified. “I caught the Jerusalem bus from there. First they take the people who have come through the checkpoint with permits. Then they pick us up.”

“No way. Really?” I asked him, in Hebrew.

He answered in Hebrew in kind, ken, yes, and showed me the pictures he’d taken on his phone. There was the guard tower, just meters away. There was the group that had gathered as soldiers attempted to enforce the new closure in the fence; there was the fellow holding the hole open; there were men helping an elderly woman and a young lady through. The parking lot; the bus. I was struck again by the absurdity of it all. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

That’s not to downplay Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. It’s more to point out that if someone wants to slip into Israel without a permit, they can. In fact, approximately thirty thousand Palestinian workers do it every day. But, in doing so, they risk injury, arrest, and death. In July of 2012, a Palestinian day laborer was killed when soldiers opened fire on a car full of workers that tried to pass a checkpoint without permits.

Despite the danger, we managed to see a lot of each other. But it’s impossible to have a proper relationship—to unite, to become one—when there’s a wall dividing you, making certain that you remain two. Which is, of course, the point. The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping “them,” the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep “us,” the Jews, “in.”

Moving to the West Bank started to make sense. Though I could be arrested if I was caught in the “wrong” area—that is, Area A, the pockets of the West Bank that Oslo largely put under Palestinian rule—the consequences were far less severe for me than they were for my partner. We thought it very unlikely that a Palestinian would hurt me; conversely, inside of Israel, Palestinians have been attacked in public places on numerous occasions.

The center of my life had—slowly, unintentionally—shifted to the area beyond the wall, to a place I called “outside.” It was natural that my body would follow.

***

In May of 2013, I made a trial move to Bethlehem, staying in a friend’s apartment while she was in Gaza researching a book. Still without a car, I left the city only once that month. Bethlehem is hemmed in by checkpoints—every road out leads, eventually, to a checkpoint, two of which are off-limits to me as a Jewish citizen of Israel.

There’s the one known as “300”—the massive complex of cement and spikes and barbed-wire and turnstiles and booths and bullet-proof glass and guns and bullet-proof vests and the child-soldiers who wear them—that stands between Bethlehem and its big sister, Jerusalem. Leaving Jerusalem and entering Bethlehem via 300 isn’t difficult for people like me: Jewish citizens of Israel who hold a second passport. If you’re driving through, you flash a smile and the outside of your foreign passport to the guard in the booth, who presses the button that lifts the arm ahead. And that’s it, despite the two signs outside of the checkpoint warning that it is illegal for Israelis to enter Area A and that doing so puts their lives in danger.

On foot, the soldiers don’t even look at you as you enter Bethlehem via 300—yet another reminder that the army isn’t there to protect the occupied, as it is obligated to do according to international law.

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

But turn around and try to enter Jerusalem—which the state considers “the eternal capital of the Jewish people”—and you’ll fast remember why the Israeli military is there. Those who are driving in have to pop the trunk of their car so that the soldiers can inspect whatever is inside. Those who pass on foot are subject to metal detectors and humiliating searches. A friend once saw soldiers ask an elderly woman to remove her shirt.

And, coming in to Jerusalem via 300, every ID is scrutinized.

I can’t chance it. I’m too likely to be arrested. So, via public transportation, there is only one other way to get in to Jerusalem: the Beit Jala bus. As the name suggests, the bus exits the Bethlehem area via Beit Jala, a Bethlehem suburb where, technically, Israelis are allowed to be. It then passes through Area C, using the same road that leads to the Har Homa settlement. When the bus arrives to the checkpoint outside of the tunnels that lead to Jerusalem, it’s pulled to the side. Meanwhile, the settlers roll on through.

And then it’s the same routine I knew from my Jerusalem-Abu Dis commute: everyone gets off, stands in line, presents their ID to a soldier, and then gets back on the bus that continues to Jerusalem.

While, technically, I was allowed to be at that checkpoint, being on the Beit Jala bus could arouse some suspicion because the line begins in Area A. But because Palestinian buses will stop to pick up people on the side of the road—a bit like taxis—I could have, in theory, boarded in Areas C or B. I’d memorized the names of restaurants and businesses that were on the strip of the road that was in Area C so, if need be, I could say I’d been somewhere legit. But I hate lying. And I’m such a terrible liar that I was once detained at the Qalandia checkpoint for answering the question “where are you coming from?” honestly: Ramallah.

The easiest way out of Bethlehem, for a Jewish citizen of Israel, was via a yellow-plate (Israeli) car. But because I was carless in May of 2013, I only left Bethlehem once. I didn’t move for the rest of the month. And it was fine. So fine that I ended up subleasing another apartment in Bethlehem in August. And that was fine, too. So I looked for something a little more permanent—a search that would lead me to the house with the well.

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Diaspora Jews, it’s time to step up http://972mag.com/diaspora-jews-its-time-to-step-up/104978/ http://972mag.com/diaspora-jews-its-time-to-step-up/104978/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 12:04:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104978 For years there have been calls for on-the-ground opposition to the occupation. Now there are a growing number of Jewish platforms — and voices — seeking to make it happen.

By A. Daniel Roth

Activists hold a sign reading 'Segregation is not our Judaism,in Hebron , October 25, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the ‘All That’s Left’ collective at a direct action protesting segregation in Hebron, West Bank, October 25, 2013. Seven of the Jewish activists were arrested and later released. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The way the world is talking about the Israeli occupation is changing. Alongside that change, opportunity is knocking for those of us standing in opposition: calls for diaspora Jews to be present on the ground in Israel and Palestine are increasing. An important shift is beginning to take place — right now.

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The writing is on the wall. Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected, U.S. President Obama and his staff have been speaking differently about the once-incontrovertible two-state solution. One campus Hillel changed its name instead of changing it’s programming to adhere to Hillel International’s rules. If Not Now stormed onto the scene last summer in response to the violence in Gaza. Boycotts and BDS campaigns are sprouting up on campuses and at supermarkets all over the world.

That was on display for anyone to see last week in Washington D.C. The J Street conference, which brought together over 3,000 people, saw a series of fired up conversations that put shone a spotlight on the American-Jewish relationship with Israel. During a panel on liberal Zionism, Israeli journalist (and +972 blogger) Noam Sheizaf made a clear plea for a collective refocusing from “state solutions” to the urgency of ending the inequality that exists for millions under occupation, who lack freedom of movement or access to civilian courts.

Peter Beinart also took a step forward on stage, calling on young Jews from North America and around the world to stand physically in Israel and Palestine, and to take part in Palestinian non-violent resistance to the occupation.

For years there have been calls for on-the-ground participation from a variety of communities. Recently, there has been a surge in Jewish platforms for those communities to take part in peace and justice work.

A Jerusalem-based volunteer program for young American Jews (which I co-founded) called Solidarity of Nations-Achvat Amim engages in human rights work and learning based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples. All That’s Left (of which I am a member) is a collective aimed at engaging the diaspora in anti-occupation learning, organizing, and on-the-ground actions. The new Center for Jewish Nonviolence has already brought a delegation to help Palestinian farmers to replant trees the IDF uprooted last spring.

It is important that Jewish communities with connections to Israel take part in this movement. Whether they have a personal, communal, religious or cultural relationship with this land, diaspora communities should be on the forefront, stepping up to take responsibility for a peaceful and just future here.

The groups and initiatives I mentioned above are working on engaging even more people in this work: bringing dozens of diaspora Jews — who are already living and learning in Israel — to do solidarity work with Palestinians. In the coming months, they hope to bring hundreds more from around the world for direct actions and educational initiatives in the West Bank.

There are important roles for people from all over the world, of various backgrounds, in organizing opposition to the occupation. Right now, at this very moment, there is a growing call for diaspora Jews to to find their way here and stand up for equality. It’s time to answer that call.

A. Daniel Roth is a journalist and educator based in South Tel Aviv. His writing and photography is at allthesedays.org and you can follow him on Twitter @adanielroth.

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PHOTOS: When even holding signs is forbidden by Israeli Police http://972mag.com/photos-when-even-holding-signs-is-forbidden-by-israeli-police/104950/ http://972mag.com/photos-when-even-holding-signs-is-forbidden-by-israeli-police/104950/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:36:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104950 Dozens of Israeli, Palestinian and international activists protested in the Old City and Sheikh Jarrah against the Judaization of Jerusalem. The police, however, didn’t take kindly to their expressions of free speech.

By Natasha Roth, photos by Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org

Palestinian, Israeli and international demonstrators march against Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Palestinian, Israeli and international demonstrators march against Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Israeli, Palestinian and international activists gathered at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City Friday afternoon, before marching to the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in order to protest the Judaization of East Jerusalem.

The march came amid increased tensions over the attempt by Jewish settlers to take over property in Palestinian areas of the city, following the attempted eviction of the Sub Laban family from their home in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. The most recent attempt on March 15 failed, thanks to the presence of Palestinian and Israeli activists who went to the Sub Labans’ home to try and prevent them from being forced out. The threat of eviction, however, remains.

The crowd, which included individuals from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement and Women in Black, began to move away from Damascus Gate, holding signs calling for the end to the occupation and settlements in East Jerusalem, while accompanied by drumming and chanting.

Members of the Shamasneh family speak during a protest against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Members of the Shamasneh and Sub Laban families speak during a protest against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

The police immediately approached and informed demonstrators that it was illegal for them to carry their signs (without explaining why), and as the march made its way up Nablus Road in the direction of Sheikh Jarrah, they began confiscating signs one by one. Those who attempted to hold onto their signs — including elderly women — were manhandled by the police. One Palestinian who passed by the demonstration even shouted at the police about freedom of expression and questioned what kind of a democracy engages in such behavior.

An Israeli policeman confronts an Israeli demonstrator during a march against the Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

An Israeli policeman confronts an Israeli demonstrator during a march against the Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

The march continued — with the majority of signs confiscated — escorted by two Border Police on horseback, Jerusalem Police on foot and a Border Police patrol car. After pausing briefly at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah, where more police cars arrived, the procession descended into the neighborhood, where protesters met with several members of the Shamasneh and Sub Laban families, both of which face eviction. They explained their plight and thanked the demonstrators for their solidarity. One of the speakers pointed out that if the police wanted to confiscate signs, that was their problem — he would bring a thousand more.

The march carried on to the outskirts of Sheikh Jarrah, where the police again began assaulting demonstrators holding signs that had not yet been confiscated. Several scuffles broke out as police officers continued to snatch signs and tear them up, as well as attempting to confiscate people’s drums. Eventually, however, the drumming started up again, and some of the signs were returned to demonstrators who held them at the edge of the pavement, facing the traffic. It seemed that the entire performance was simply a show of force on the part of Israeli security — against an unarmed, peaceful crowd, which counted children and the elderly among its numbers.

And Israeli policemen confiscates a sign from a protester during a demonstration against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

And Israeli policemen confiscates a sign from a protester during a demonstration against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

As the protest drew to an end, members of the two families again thanked the participants and reminded them that the battle to save their homes is ongoing. There was just enough time for one final opinion to be expressed: a car driving past the group slowed, the window opened, and a young Israeli eyeballed the crowd, while putting up his middle finger. And so, another Friday in Sheikh Jarrah came to a close.

Natasha Roth, a British immigrant to Israel, is a freelance writer and researcher, and a former coordinator at the ARDC. She can be found on twitter at @NatashaRoth01.

Related:
Palestinian family under threat of eviction by settlers
The occupation doesn’t take a day off for elections in E. J’lem

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License to Kill, part 3: Why did Colonel A. order the sniping of Ihab Islim? http://972mag.com/license-to-kill-part-3-why-did-colonel-a-order-the-sniping-of-ihab-islim/104943/ http://972mag.com/license-to-kill-part-3-why-did-colonel-a-order-the-sniping-of-ihab-islim/104943/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:59:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104943 Members of a family are standing on a balcony and chatting. The commander of IDF forces in the region orders snipers to open fire on them. One brother is killed, the other one loses an eye. The commander fails to account for the order in the investigation that ensues. The case is closed, and the commander is promoted. In the following months, other civilians in the region are killed in the exact same manner. No one is found guilty. The third installment of the License to Kill series. [Read part one and two.]

By Noam Rotem (translated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman)

License to Kill, part 3.

In the first two installments of the License to Kill series, we surveyed two cases in which the need for a professional investigation was completely obvious and the failures of the Military Police and the Advocate General were glaring. However, in both cases the IDF insisted on arguing that people were shot because they had constituted a threat, despite the fact that the courts concluded otherwise. The following case is somewhat different: here the IDF has admitted that an innocent person had been shot, and that the targeted sniping of 17-year-old Ihab Islim in his head was carried out without him having committed a crime.

Yet the Military Police has failed to find the shooters; an IDF video clip that documents the shooting and the preceding events; or the operations logs that could have shed some light on the events that transpired in Nablus on June 25, 2004.

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Similar failures have occurred in the investigation of the killings of other innocent civilians in the same region. Some of them will be surveyed here. These failures cast doubts on the claim that the shooting was an isolated case that resulted from an error, and may attest to an illegal open-fire policy. Despite testimonies that corroborate this version, the Military Police also failed to investigate the allegation.

The sniping of Ihab Islim

The end of June 2004 — the twilight of the Second Intifada. IDF forces are carrying out large-scale activities in the Nablus region, under the codename “Ishit Loheztet“ (Man2Man). Every night, the soldiers enter the city and the nearby refugees camps, arresting tens of Palestinian residents who are taken to a conversation with the Shin Bet security services. Soldiers who were there describe an intense, “action-laden” period that claimed quite a few casualties, mostly on the Palestinian side.

On the night of the 25th, at around 9 p.m., the father and two brothers of the Islim family went out to the balcony of their house, located in the Yasmina neighborhood of Nablus. They leaned on the railing as they chatted among themselves, as well as with the neighbors across the street, for two hours. Until, all of a sudden, a bullet cut through 17-year-old Ihab’s head, killing him on the spot. Another bullet (or perhaps the same one) hit the eye of his 15-year-old brother. Ihab’s father and little sisters, who were standing at a distance, were hit with shrapnel. Palestinian medical services were unable to save his brother’s eye, also due to ongoing IDF shooting which prevented them from immediately reaching the Islim family.

The investigation fails to find the shooters

Not a single investigation was opened for two years. No efforts were made to try and find out what had really happened there, although the basic failure — the shooting of innocent youths, standing in their house, far away from any military activity — was known to the army from the start.

Following a letter sent by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem to the IDF Military Advocate General, the Military Police was instructed to examine the details of the case. Only a year later would an investigator contact B’Tselem to receive documents and the family’s phone number. Three months later, a military investigator on reserve duty interviewed the family and the witnesses. It is clear from their testimonies that Ihab had been shot for no reason.

[See some of the original investigation materials in Hebrew, here.]

Three more months passed before the hunt for the operations logs began. The investigator made tens of phone calls, during which he tried to locate the logs from that period. Again and again, he was told that these were to be found in a locker, and the only key was with an officer who happened to be in the Golan Heights. Later the investigator was told that the logs had been destroyed, before being told that they were actually found.

The investigator drove to the brigade headquarters only to find out that the man with the key was absent. He went back to his unit, sent mails, faxes, called, went up and down the chain of command, and finally, after a year full of dozens of attempts, he was notified that the logs had been transferred to the IDF archive. But when he searched there, the investigator could not find the regiment’s operations log. Furthermore, the report had been blotted out with a pen from the brigade logs. It is not clear by whom and for what reason. However, one can still read the claim that two people had been observed crawling on a roof. This version was later refuted by the accounts of all those involved. The investigator was also told that the computer on which the operational debriefing had been stored crashed just a few months after the shooting.

Instead of looking further into this coincidence, which would almost make the entire investigation redundant, the investigator gave up on trying to find the only documentation of the incident. Two years after the start of the investigation and four years after the shooting, the Military Police was able to begin its work, but without any physical evidence or written documentation. The consequences of this should be obvious.

Does crawling on the roof justify shooting?

The investigators interviewed five soldiers over the next three years. Four of them either did not remember that they had been at the scene or argued that they had not been there. Some of the soldiers argued that crawling on the roof is an action that justifies shooting, while others thought that those who are crawling can only be shot if they have something in their hand.

In any case, the question of crawling is entirely irrelevant, since the family was standing on the balcony of their home. Indeed, this is the top floor of the building, and the distance to the roof is just two meters, but there is no testimony that claims the family was on the roof.

Posters in Nablus commemorate the killing of Ihab Islim by IDF snipers.

Posters in Nablus commemorate the killing of Ihab Islim by IDF snipers.

Furthermore, the aforementioned testimonies contradict the open-fire regulations, which allow shooting only in response to a clear and present threat to the soldiers’ lives, and not due to “suspicious behavior.” In addition, some skimming of the brigade’s operations logs from that era reveals at least eight cases in which soldiers identified young Palestinians on a roof, or crawling on it, and did not open fire. Therefore the soldiers’ claim regarding an order to shoot anyone observed crawling on a roof cannot be accepted as truth. In any case, such testimony is completely irrelevant to this case.

Later on, the investigator interviewed Major G., who claimed he had arrived at the scene only after the shooting. According to G., the commander of the shooting force told him that Ihab and his brother “were behaving in a soldierly way.” Although he himself commanded the snipers who shot and killed Islim, he claims that he “does not remember the names” of the snipers. Major B., another officer who was questioned and claimed he was not involved, said that his soldiers were not the ones to identify the brothers or shoot them. However, he did remember some talk about crawling as the reason for the shooting. He also claimed that when it comes to such long distances, soldiers do not carry out the arrest procedure, but shoot instead.

The investigator did not bother to ask what risk was posed by the family if they truly were so far from Israeli shooters.

The figures become dangerous, two hours later

The only relevant interviewee whom the Military Police investigators managed to find, six years after the shooting, was Colonel A., who served as both brigade commander and operational commander on the ground during the incident. His account of the events was quite strange: he claimed that an observation post had identified two figures on the roof, at a distance of 200-300 meters from the force. The figures stood there for two hours, during which, according to his testimony, they did nothing but talk to one another. In spite of this, he gave the order to shoot, even after he used the special snipers’ gear to see who was in the crosshairs.

Two or three snipers fired between one to four bullets each at the two figures who were standing and talking on the roof at a distance of 200-300 meters from Colonel A, and did not pose a threat to anyone. And that’s it. This seemingly incriminating evidence, remains untouched. No reason, no justification, except for “they looked suspicious.”

The commander of the force, Colonel A. is not even confronted with the indisputable fact that this was an erroneous decision. And in any case, he did not have to pay for it. Since the shooters were not found, it was impossible to pit his version against theirs, making it impossible to examine the plausibility of that decision.

Colonel A. now serves in a senior position in the IDF.

Shooting on rooftops at will

During the Second Intifada, the IDF’s finger on the trigger was much looser. However, even the “shooting due to suspicious behavior” defense is not very plausible. As a regiment commander, Colonel A. knew the open-fire regulations well, and he must have known that suspicious behavior in itself does not justify shooting.

Things look even worse when one takes into account additional killing incidents in the region. One is under the impression that a serious investigation of the shooting of Ihab Islim could have prevented the harming of other innocent Palestinians in the following months and years.

Less than two months after Ihab’s death, on August 16, 2004, Zaher Samir Abdu el-Adham was shot in the head when he was on the roof of his house in Nablus. No investigations have been opened in his case.

One day later, a nine-year-old boy, Khaled Jamal Salim el-Usta, was shot and killed at the entrance to his home in Nablus, according to B’Tselem. Ibriz Durgham Dib el-Manawi, 19, from Nablus, was shot while standing on the roof of her house on on September 17, 2004.

There had also been previous incidents. One month before the Islim family incident, on May 7, 19-year-old Bassim Bassam Muhamad Kalbouna was been shot in his chest while standing on the roof of his house with some friends. On May 2, Jamal Shehada Radwan Hamdan was shot in the back while standing on a street in Nablus. The evidence collected in these cases shows that the victims posed no threat to IDF soldiers when they were shot.

In the very same region, in April of that year, Dr. Yasser Ahmad Muhammad Abu Laiman, 32, was shot in the village of Talouza. The IDF claimed at first that this had been a targeted assassination, since Abu Laiman was suspected an active member of Hamas. After it turned out he was just a lecturer at the Arab-American university in Jenin, the IDF spokesperson changed his version. According to the new one, Abu Laiman was in contact with Palestinians wanted by Israel. This version too was refuted, and eventually the IDF admitted that the assassination was carried out by mistake, since the deceased wore clothes resembling those of the wanted Palestinian militant who was allegedly to be in the area. No investigation was opened in this case.

One month earlier, six-year-old Khaled Maher Zaki Walweil was shot and killed while watching soldiers raid Balata refugee camp from his window.

After the Intifada: The pattern repeats itself

Similar events also occurred after violence in the West Bank decreased significantly. Amer Hassan Bassiouni, 16, was killed by sniper on March 3, 2006, in Ein Beit el-Maa near Nablus. Amer, too, was shot while was standing on the roof of his house. Muhammed Ahmad Muhammed a-Natour, 17, and 16-year-old Ibrahim Muhammed Ahmad a-Sheikh Ali, both from Balata refugee camp, were shot and killed on March 19, 2006, while standing on the roof of Ali’s house.

On March 2, 2007, a curfew was imposed on Nablus. Fifty-two-year-old Anan a-Tibi went up with his two sons to the roof of his house at noon to fix the water tanks. When they saw soldiers nearby, they began to go down the stairs and back into their house. Shots were fired at them. Anan was hit in the neck, fell down the stairs, and died. No investigation was opened in this case as well. The Military Advocate General argued that at that time in Nablus, “no innocent people were supposed to be outside.” This is an irrelevant argument since the family members were on the roof of their house, and were shot when they were going down the stairs.

The limits of the Military Police

The accumulation of these events attests to a recurring pattern that should have been, at the very least, a key component in the investigation of the Ihab Islim case, and bring about a minimal effort to find the shooters and those who had called for the shooting of the family. Most of all, the issue of open-fire commands, which were in effect in the region, should have been brought to a military and criminal investigation. This is all the more evident in view of the soldiers’ testimonies, which clearly attest to an erroneous understanding and implementation of the instructions. Instead, Colonel A. has been promoted.

The conduct of the investigation of Ihab Islim’s killing is outrageous. It took the Military Police investigators four years to interview five people. During one of the interviews, Major G. says that the whole incident was probably filmed on video, but a perfunctory examination by the investigators reveals that by that time, four years after the incident, the tapes had disappeared and had apparently been destroyed.

None of the investigators bothered to confront those being questioned with the fact that they all speak of two figures, when in fact at least three people were standing at the scene, and all three were shot by the soldiers (as well as two little sisters who were wounded by shrapnel). No one even bothered to ask about the “life-threatening situation” toward the officers who were standing hundreds of meters away from the two youths.

The investigators also did not bother to check why, even after two hours during which the brothers were standing and chatting among themselves, IDF soldiers armed to their teeth, sensed such a threat to their lives that they had to kill the brothers. Furthermore, the investigators fail to find the two or three soldiers — according to the testimony of the commander of the force — who fired the shots. And these are only the visible failures.

The army can no longer hide behind justifications of “combat” when it shoots people, since this army serves as a de-facto policing force. The entire condition of a military occupation, under international law as well as Israeli law, should be a temporary matter. The role of the military police in any army is to investigate its ranks, and we are convinced that in matters of order, discipline and even drug and arms trafficking in and out of the military, this unit does a great job. But when it comes to finding those who are guilty of shooting protected persons by members of the very same army, the Military Police fail time after time, and in an utterly shameful way.

In this case too, when events seemingly take place during operational activity, when the physical evidence completely refutes the soldiers’ version and when the commander of the force himself admits to an unjustified shooting of innocent youths — even then no one is to blame.

The IDF Spokesperson was asked for comment on the matter several weeks ago. The comment will be published here if and when it is received.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call, where this series was first published. Read it in Hebrew here.

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Beyond Netanyahu: On the collapse of the so-called Left http://972mag.com/beyond-netanyahu-on-the-collapse-of-so-called-left/104928/ http://972mag.com/beyond-netanyahu-on-the-collapse-of-so-called-left/104928/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 08:17:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104928 Many in the Israeli Left saw the recent election defeat as a danger to democracy. But if the Left wants to win elections, it needs to let go of its anti-Mizrahi fear-mongering and racism.

by Elad Ben Elul (translated by Joshua Tartakovsky)

In order to understand the outcome of the recent elections in Israel, one has to step away from the two central conceptual frameworks that make up the discourse of most Israelis, but in fact do not capture the complex reality below the surface. One has to step away from the traditional boxes of “Right” versus “Left” and of “religious” versus “secular,” at least if one seeks to liberate oneself from orthodox conditioning that does not reflect the reality on the ground. The key to breaking out of this conceptual straitjacket has been the Palestinian discussion regarding the Joint List and the Mizrahi discussion regarding the ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Shas party, which provide a different interpretation of political realities.

These discourses are not new, and in fact have been prevalent in the media, television, cinema, literature and politics over the past years. For some reason, however, they have not filtered in to the so-called Israeli “peace camp.” Instead, the Israeli Left chose to conduct a disengaged campaign that was not based on a genuine ideological alternative to the Zionist hegemony, and focused solely on the mantra “anyone but Bibi.”

Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)

Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)

The connection I make between the Arab and Mizrahi post-Zionist discourse in relation to the recent elections is meant to offer a new prism by which to see future possibilities, provide an alternative and ask how is it possible that some electoral outcomes appear unfortunate and despairing for some but as inspiring for others? And why is the strengthening of the Arab political camp, along with parties that offer social economic policies — such as the Kulanu or Shas — seen as a major defeat by those who view themselves as the Left?

As someone who identifies as part of the Left, I have always been proud of the fact that leftist thinking always examines itself before criticizing the Other. In my view, advancing a progressive agenda means advancing the understanding that we cannot change the Other before we change ourselves, and that if we want to improve a given situation, we must examine ourselves in an unyielding manner before we criticize our perceived enemy. But recent months have also taught me that the Israeli Left does not truly engage in self-scrutiny; rather, it criticizes the Other which belongs to its own camp. In this way, it copies the criticism, contempt and blind hatred that the Right has towards the Arabs, and projects it onto members of the Right, including religious Jews, Russian Jews, the poor and Mizrahim. In this way, the Left preserves its place (in its own eyes) as rational, enlightened, educated and righteous — a victim of the enemy within the country, rather than examining what it can change.

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Here are only several examples of many that point to the hateful nature with which the so-called Israeli Left views minorities, including Mizrahi Jews and Palestinians, those whom it supposedly claims to protect.

Several weeks before the election, Yair Garbuz, a leading Leftist cultural figure, spoke on the current state of Israeli affairs in front of tens of thousands in Tel Aviv during a pre-election rally: those who kiss amulets (a not-so-hidden reference to Mizrahi Jews’ religious practices) rule over us (referring to the “enlightened” Ashkenazi Left). Furthermore, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel called to disqualify Aryeh Deri from being appointed minister in the upcoming government, due to his conviction in 2002 for bribery. Although 15 years have passed, not to mention the fact that Ashkenazi leaders of the Labor Party have also been involved in corruption, puritans on the Left seek to disqualify him. In this way they reveal not only their racist views of Mizrahi Jews, but also their hypocrisy, as the Left usually has little to say about its leaders who were directly involved in the killing of civilians while serving as high-ranking military officials.

In effect, Garbuz’s speech not only marked the secular, Ashkenazi and racist boundaries of the “peace camp,” it actually pushed out those who were thinking of stepping in.

In the days following the defeat of the Left (or the so-called Left), its members did not do much reflection, but rather tried to exonerate themselves from collective responsibility. Some chose to upload pictures of their EU passports on social media, others said they will relocate to Berlin, or make openly denigrating comments about Mizrahi Jews. To make matters worse, a recent campaign named “Do Not Give” (in a play of words on a charity organization named “To Give”) called to punish impoverished Mizrahim who live in the periphery and voted Likud by ceasing to give them donations.

Connections of a genuine Left

The “enlightened” Left harshly criticized two incidents during the election cycle that did not fit its conceptual framework: The Joint List’s refusal to to sign a surplus agreement with Meretz (which would give surplus votes to to the party that needed them most), as well as its refusal to join a potential center-left government headed by Isaac Herzog. Members of the Zionist Camp claimed that those who vote for the Joint List are wasting their vote, and therefore cannot think beyond their narrow interests. From the Palestinian perspective, it is clear that the competition between the Right and the Left reflects an internal Jewish discourse which is temporary, imaginary and insignificant.

Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog gives a speech at the end of the party’s election night event, Tel Aviv, March 17, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog gives a speech at the end of the party’s election night event, Tel Aviv, March 17, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

In addition, while left-wing governments were responsible for actions that can be considered “right wing” from a political standpoint — such as expropriating Arab land, expelling and destroying entire villages, establishing settlements — the right-wing governments signed peace agreements, released terrorists and allowed for some forms of economic revival in the West Bank. I will not go as far as to say that right-wing governments were good for the Arabs, but that from the perspective of the Arabs, the difference between Right and Left is negligible. Expecting the Joint List to agree to every request made by a Zionist Jew who identifies as leftist is both condescending and privileged.

For privileged Israelis, the day after the elections was one of mourning, depression and despair — one in which the state was stolen from them, yet again. For the Arab and Jewish public that supported the Joint List, on the other hand, this was a day of hope, change and historical breakthrough. The gap between the feelings of the Zionist Left and the supporters of the Joint List testifies to the lack of collaboration, dialogue and responsibility that a Leftist ideology is supposed to encourage, as well as the disconnect that exists between the Left and the populations it claims to “save.” A true Left stands by the victim, by the Other, without preconditions.

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Furthermore, I was amused to discover how many Palestinian activists expressed ironic support for parties such as the Likud,  Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu, rather than Meretz or the Zionist Camp, since at least the right-wing parties “tell the truth” and “do not pretend.” The Arab and Mizrahi publics are not dumb; they know when certain parties scorn them and their way of life, even if their declarations say otherwise. “And which party do you genuinely believe in?” I asked a Palestinian human rights activist. “Did you see Shas’ ‘invisible campaign?’ I saw something real there,” she said.

This election saw many left-wing Mizrahi activists encouraged Mizrahim to vote for Shas and Kulanu — parties with a clear social and Mizrahi agenda. These parties center social-economic discourse of the Left, yet they stray from the ethnic, religious, class and geographic parameters of both the Left and Right. In a way similar to Palestinian discourse inside Israel, the Mizrahi discourse is a response to the disillusionment from the leftist narrative, due to its criticism of the Left’s hidden racism since the days of Mapai (Labor’s precursor), not to mention its socialist image that was built at the expense of Mizrahi ghettos and destroyed Arab villages.

Shas MK Aryeh Deri (Photo by Activstills.org)

Shas MK Aryeh Deri (Photo by Activstills.org)

Social activists who adopt the Mizrahi discourse seek to blur the distinctions between Arab and Jew, leftists and rightist, religious and secular. Rather than segregating themselves in a separate party, they chose to stand alongside disempowered communities and make the change from within. Replacing Netanyahu with Herzog was not the highest priority for Mizrahi activists or traditional Shas voters since, very much like the Arab public, they see through the illusion. Shas, in its current form, offers a new agenda according to which religious, Jewish, Arab or Mizrahi identity is not associated with a right-wing, ultra-nationalist and racist ideology. On the contrary, it allows for a fresh and more progressive dialogue. It should not come as a surprise that there is a base of support for Shas among the Arab public, which is closer to the traditional, cultural and socio-economic world of many of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Unsurprisingly, secular Mizrahi support for Shas was also mocked by Zionist Left. Both Haaretz and social media outlets were filled with patronizing criticism regarding feminist Mizrahi women who showed their support for Shas (a religious party without women); Mizrahi leftists who expressed their support for a party that said it would sit with Bibi; and Aryeh Deri who refused the spontaneous proposal by Joint List leader Ayman Odeh to form “an alliance of the oppressed.” As soon as someone does not dance to the Leftist, Zionist, humanist, secular and cosmopolitan tune, his moral and ideological legitimacy is lost. Here too, one who chose a genuine partnership with the Other over “rational” self-segregation was seen a threat the old order.

The Israeli Left: Between Rabin and veganism

In Professor Nissim Mizrahi’s article “Beyond the Garden and the Jungle: On the Social Limits of Human Rights Discourse in Israel,” it appears that the discourse of human rights, liberalism, universalism and secularism of left-wing organizations is suspiciously rejected by the same communities the claim to serve around the world. Mizrahi argues that the reason for this is that this same discourse does not allow for a diversity of identities, and forces groups to forgo their systems of faith and ethnic, religious and ideological values.

The secularism of the Israeli Left, with its cultural and geographic symbols such as Yitzhak Rabin and veganism, is nothing short of a religion in itself, which contains many internal moral and ideological tensions. While the same Left is not being asked to give up its religion, culture or ethnicity, marginalized communities are required to do so in order to belong to the exclusive club of the holders of morality. Even if left-wing groups fight for a more equitable sharing of resources, they do not genuinely recognize the identity of marginalized communities, and in fact lose their relevance.

Despite the common claim that secularism is a sign of a world moving from away from a religious past to a modern future, Israel (and most of the world) is not moving toward the secular way of life. Judaism, Islam and Christianity continue to hold great significance in the world. Despite their humanist vision and commendable parliamentary activity, parties such as Meretz, the Zionist Camp and Lapid’s Yesh Atid choose to view themselves as bearers of an anti-religious struggle, thus preventing a center-left coalition with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas.

The film “Selma,” which depicts the struggle of Martin Luther King Jr. against the racist laws and violence of the U.S. government, shows how a religious discourse does not necessarily need to be one of racism, ultra-nationalism and hatred, but rather one that pursues peace and justice. The Bible, the New Testament and the Quran serve as essential and rich sources for instilling ideologies of change, advancement and morality. The atheist/modernist loathing and rejection of these sacred sources is seen as a loathing of the Jewish and Palestinian communities that make up the country. Organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights seek to break this duality and thus hold the key to a breakthrough for the Israeli Left.

In the meantime, one can only focus on the conceptual breakthroughs that resulted from these elections, and to hope that another defeat of the so-called peace camp will result in the formation of a strong and effective opposition alongside the Joint List. One that will provide for genuine self-scrutiny in which disparate voices can form one authentic, broad, unyielding voice. One that can take inspiration from a variety of identities, traditions, and cultures of the region in order to promote such values as the love of one’s neighbor, equality and justice.

Elad Ben Elul is a doctorate student of anthropology and sociology at Tel Aviv University. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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PHOTOS: Hundreds mourn Palestinian youth shot dead by Israeli soldiers http://972mag.com/photos-hundreds-mourn-palestinian-youth-shot-dead-by-israeli-soldiers/104900/ http://972mag.com/photos-hundreds-mourn-palestinian-youth-shot-dead-by-israeli-soldiers/104900/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 20:47:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104900 By: Ahmad al Bazz / Activestills.org

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered to take part in the funeral of Ali Safi in the Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah Thursday. Safi, 18, was shot with live bullets by Israeli soldiers during clashes near the refugee camp on Wednesday, March 18. He was taken to a hospital in Ramallah and placed in the ICU until he died on Wednesday night.

Hundreds participated at the funeral of Ali Safi in Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. By: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Hundreds participate in the funeral for Ali Safi, Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org)

Palestinian medical sources reported that the bullet exited Safi’s body through his back, leaving him in a coma. At least three other Palestinian were wounded by live fire during the clashes.

According to Ma’an News Agency, the clashes erupted last week after a protest against the construction of a wall between the nearby Israeli settlement of Beit El and Jalazun.

Hundreds participated at the funeral of Ali Safi in Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. By: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Hundreds participate in the funeral for Ali Safi, Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org)

 

Hundreds participated at the funeral of Ali Safi in Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. By: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Hundreds participate in the funeral for Ali Safi, Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org)

 

Hundreds participated at the funeral of Ali Safi in Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. By: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Hundreds participate in the funeral for Ali Safi, Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org)

 

Hundreds participated at the funeral of Ali Safi in Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. By: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Hundreds participated in the funeral of Ali Safi, Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, March 26, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org)

 

Construction of a wall is seen between the near by Israeli colony of Bet El and the refugee camp, March 26, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills

An Israeli bulldozer builds a wall between Jalazun refugee camp and the Jewish settlement Beit El, March 26, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills)

Related:
PHOTOS: Clashes follow funeral of 14-year-old Palestinian-American
PHOTOS: Police kill Bedouin man, wound dozens at funeral
PHOTOS: Palestinians mourn woman who died after inhaling tear gas

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WATCH: Palestinian hip hop group tackles patriarchy in new video http://972mag.com/watch-palestinian-hip-hop-group-tackles-patriarchy-in-new-video/104898/ http://972mag.com/watch-palestinian-hip-hop-group-tackles-patriarchy-in-new-video/104898/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 20:17:39 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104898 Acclaimed Palestinian hip hop group DAM adds a female member, releases new video which looks at patriarchy and feminism in Arab society.

By Rami Younis

Palestinian hip hop group DAM released a new video for their single “Who You Are?” Thursday in a joint project with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The song tackles women’s rights and criticizes the patriarchal society in which the group grew up in.

This is DAM’s first project that was fully completed with its newest member, Maysa Daw. Daw joined the group, which is comprised of brothers Tamer and Suheil Nafar, and Mahmood Jreiri. “I’m excited,” she tells +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. “I’m very proud of both the song and the video. I think it is an honest attempt at criticizing our society. Men try to stereotype women all the time, and I just want to ask which stereotypes define men, if any?”

WATCH: DAM’s ‘Who You Are?’ (with English subtitles)

Tamer Nafar emphasizes their attempt at criticizing “feminist men,” who he believes should not be spared any critique. “We speak out against our own oppressive society, of course, but I believe it is just as important to criticize the hypocritical part of our society, which likes to play ‘make believe feminism’ from time to time.”

The video was directed by Scandar Qupti, who also directed the award-winning film “Ajami.” Nafar says working with Qupti exceeded his expectations. ”He was the first director we approached, and we were very happy when he said yes. The idea of the video is very creative, and it’s not just the fact that it was filmed in one shot. It is one of the projects I am personally most proud of.”

The group, which formed in 1999 and hails from the city Lyd, is considered the first Palestinian hip hop group. They have released two albums and star in the documentary film “Slingshot Hip Hop,” which takes a look at the nascent hip hop scene in Palestine.

The author is a Palestinian activist and writer. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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PHOTOS: Joint List marches for unrecognized Bedouin villages http://972mag.com/photos-joint-list-marches-for-unrecognized-bedouin-villages/104884/ http://972mag.com/photos-joint-list-marches-for-unrecognized-bedouin-villages/104884/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:13:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104884 Arab leaders begin four-day march across Negev to pressure Israeli government to recognize dozens of villages that lack electricity and running water.

Photos: Oren Ziv, text: Yael Maron

Hundreds march from the unrecognized village of Wadi Al-Na'am on a four-day journey through the unrecognized villages of the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens march from the unrecognized village of Wadi Al-Na’am on a four-day journey through the unrecognized villages of the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens of members of the Joint List — including chairman Ayman Odeh, Dov Khenin and other future members of Knesset — marched alongside other Arab leaders Thursday on a four-day trip through the Negev/Naqab’s unrecognized Bedouin villages. They were joined by representatives of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages. The march is set to end at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Odeh, who opened the march in the unrecognized village of Wadi Al-Na’am, just south of Be’er Sheva, told the marchers: “Nearly 100,000 citizens live in the Negev in poor living conditions. Can you imagine your life without electricity? Without running water? Where your children have to drive kilometers, on poor roads, just to get to school?”

Hundreds march from the unrecognized village of Wadi Al-Na'am on a four-day journey through the unrecognized villages of the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens march from the unrecognized village of Wadi Al-Na’am on a four-day journey through the unrecognized villages of the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“The reality in the unrecognized villages is unbearable, and it is our responsibility to struggle together in order to bring about real change for these citizens. I invite all citizens of the country, Arabs and Jews, to join us in our call to recognize all the unrecognized villages, and to invest in a joint future for all residents of the Negev.”

Odeh organized the march as part of his pre-election promise to support the years-long struggle of the unrecognized villages. The plan is to present President Reuven Rivlin with an operative plan for recognizing the Bedouin villages of the Negev, which will emphasize the benefits that such recognition will have on both the Jewish and Arab populations of the Negev.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh (center) and MK Dov Khenin (left) march during a four-day journey across unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Joint List head Ayman Odeh (center) and MK Dov Khenin (left) march during a four-day journey across unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Fady Masamra, who heads the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, spoke to +972 at the beginning of the march: “The issue of recognizing the villages has been up in the air for too many years. This march is just the beginning of the recognition process. The 100,000 residents of the unrecognized villages have suffered enough. Children have lived without water and electricity for long enough — now it needs to stop. This is a call for everyone who believes in human rights to come march with us and join the struggle of the Negev’s indigenous people.”

Hadash MK Dov Khenin also spoke to +972, saying: “We are marching today from the place that most acutely represents the injustice and danger of the unrecognized villages. Students from Wadi Al-Na’am learn in tin shacks next door to the chemical factories of Ramat Hovev. Despite the dangers facing the villagers, we have not been able to advance a solution to their unbearable situation over the past years. Wadi Al-Na’am is just one story out of many. We cannot continue to make peace with this kind of reality. Instead of fighting the Arab Bedouin citizens, the time has come to solve their problems, and first and foremost recognize their villages.

Villagers from the unrecognized village Al-Araqib march with dozens of others during a four-day march across the Negev desert, March 26. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Villagers from the unrecognized village Al-Araqib march with dozens of others during a four-day march across the Negev desert, March 26, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The four-day march stopped in the unrecognized village Al-Araqib, which has been destroyed by Israeli authorities over 80 times. They marchers will also stop in Beit Jubreen and Abu Ghosh before ending in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Joint List chair Ayman Odeh leads a recognition march throughout the unrecognized villages of the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Joint List chair Ayman Odeh leads a recognition march throughout the unrecognized villages of the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The unrecognized villages of the Negev have existed for generations, and many of them were either established before the founding of the State of Israel, or were moved to their current location by the state. The villagers live without basic infrastructure, including water and electricity, health services, roads or schools, which forces families to send their children long distances in order to exercise their basic right to education.

Related:
Negev Bedouin are now demolishing their own homes out of despair
How many cars does it take for a Bedouin village to vote?
Israel’s Bedouin: Civilians in death alone

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Stop blaming Mizrahim for everything wrong in Israel http://972mag.com/stop-blaming-mizrahim-for-everything-wrong-in-israel/104859/ http://972mag.com/stop-blaming-mizrahim-for-everything-wrong-in-israel/104859/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 13:10:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104859 Despite what many commentators would have you think, Israeli elections were not decided by racism among Israel’s Mizrahi population.

By Leeor Ohayon

Jewish nationalist activists from anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest in Rishon Lezion, August 17, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Jewish nationalist activists from anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest in Rishon Lezion, August 17, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election is largely credited to votes from the Mizrahi periphery, but to credit the Mizrahi periphery alone would be naïve. The Likud party, after all, is an Ashkenazi one at heart, with Ashkenazi supporters. The magnitude of Netanyahu’s win, as a result of his “gevalt campaign,” (a desperation blitz) actually came from the Ashkenazi Right — Jewish Home voters sacrificed their party to save Netanyahu.

In a recent article, Larry Derfner condemned “poor” Mizrahi Israelis for Netanyahu’s victory. Did “poor” refer to the working class? If so, does working class equate being “poor?” Is poor synonymous with being uneducated? Can one be educated and poor? When an Ashkenazi Israeli voted for Likud or Jewish Home, did that mean he was “poor” and thus uneducated? Or just uneducated? While Derfner sought to present a post-race, post-classist argument for ending the “infantilization” of the Mizrahi working class, it effectively perpetuated the very idea that the Ashkenazi Left is aloof and alienating.

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Asserting that “the Mizrahi poor hate weakness, worse than the average Israeli,” is akin to the rightist statement that the “Arabs only understand dictatorships.” The idea that poor Mizrahi Jews worship fearless leaders is orientalist at its core; it plays on an age-old concept of oriental populations as an uncivilized, hot tempered and dangerous lot in need of iron-fisted rule. The idea that this hate is worse than that of the average Israeli, further implies that the poor Mizrahi is not really Israeli. For if hatred for the weak is an exclusively “poor Mizrahi” feature, where does that place Naftali Bennett and his election slogan of “not apologizing?”

Assigning Mizrahim collective features is dangerous, not least because stereotypes breed intolerance. It is dangerous because we are talking about an umbrella identity patched together by a 67-year-old shared narrative in Israel as the Jewish “ethnic other.” Mizrahim come from a geographically, culturally and linguistic diverse area that spans from Morocco to Iran.

The Ashkenazi Left’s wasted opportunity for new governance continues to snap at the Mizrahim of the geographic periphery, as the unruly apes that ruined the party for everyone in Tel Aviv. It is that exact historical psyche that guides the Ashkenazi Left in assuming the role of the “chosen” people for the chosen people, which views the Mizrahi savage in need of re-education and guidance. It is the same patronizing racism that provided a historical pretext for the cultural suppression of Mizrahi Jews, the wide-scale theft of Yemenite new-borns and infants, the segregation of housing, discrimination in employment, the erasure of cultural identity, the theft of goods and historical relics.

Mizrahi distrust of the Left runs a lot deeper than hatred of weakness. It also runs deeper than just the transit camps of the 1950s; to simplify it to that one event in history, as Derfner does, is to disregard the Mizrahi story in its entirety. The transit camp serves as a collective symbol no different to the historic symbols of slavery for African-Americans and the Holocaust for Ashkenazi Jews. The transit camp stands testimony to the lasting inequalities vis-a-vis Mizrahi representation in academia, politics and income.

Jewish immigrants from Yemen at a camp near Rosh Ha’ayin. (Photo: GPO)

Derfner further argues that working class Mizrahim hate African asylum seekers and Arabs. And yes, like any other socio-ethnic group, Mizrahim do have a racism issue, and like any sector of society, those issues should be tackled by members of that group — not by those who make up Israel’s de-facto privileged caste. Just like a white feminist cannot speak on behalf of the issues that black women face, Ashkenazi leftists cannot dictate the need to fix the racism of the poor Mizrahim.

Any hatred of African refugees and asylum seekers cannot be confined to the poor Mizrahi Israelis. No race or class is exempt when the mainstream Israeli media continues to refer to the refugees as “infiltrators,” drawing a (sub)conscious connection to the Palestinian fedayeen fighters of the 1950s. It is that imagery which creates nationwide hostility, borne of government policy and media coverage that casts the refugees as yet another threat to Jewish statehood. Racism toward African refugees isn’t a Mizrahi problem — it’s an Israeli problem, full stop.

Likewise, to lay racism toward Arabs on the shoulders of Mizrahim is to ignore the history of Israel. Ben-Gurion long emphasized the need to fight the “Levantine spirit” of the Mizrahi Jews, a mentality he believed was beneath the Ashkenazi foundations of the new Israeli identity. It was the Left that ensured Mizrahim became ashamed of their roots, that “Arabness” would leave a bad taste in their mouths. To deplore poor Mizrahim as being full of hate for those below them is to dismiss all the elements of the Mizrahi story.

If the poor Mizrahim hate Arabs, it is in also in part due to their own historical baggage with the Arab world as the indigenous sons of this region, having been punished for the Nakba, the Ashkenazi Left’s expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. If the Mizrahim hate Arabs, it is because of the segregated housing policies that put poor Mizrahim on the Israeli-Arab front lines, absorbing the brunt of the Ashkenazi Left’s historical conflict with the Arabs. Poor Mizrahim worry that an Ashkenazi left-wing government will destroy any progress that they have made within Israeli society.

If Israeli society wasn’t built on a complex ethnic racial hierarchy, then perhaps the Ashkenazi Left could denounce the working class Mizrahi voter and his racist tendencies. But the reality remains that Mizrahi Jews, both rich and poor, remain inferior to the Ashkenazi population, socially, economically and historically. As long as racist inequality remains, then there is no need for the Ashkenazi Left to re-educate a subordinate, indigenous part of the population.

When the day after tomorrow comes, when the party ends and white flight causes the privileged to exit en masse with their EU passports, it will be the Mizrahim, rich and poor, with nowhere to go, who will clean up the mess alongside the Palestinians. Because only they will know how to live alongside their Arab counterparts, as they have done for two millennia.

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

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