+972 Magazine » Life & Culture http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sun, 21 Sep 2014 14:33:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 WATCH: Get arrested at a protest? There’s an app for that http://972mag.com/watch-get-arrested-at-a-protest-theres-an-app-for-that/96813/ http://972mag.com/watch-get-arrested-at-a-protest-theres-an-app-for-that/96813/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 17:18:18 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96813 Being a human rights activist can put you in risky situations, including the very real possibility of arrest. Amnesty International this summer released a new Android app to facilitate discreet, emergency assistance from your chosen contacts in the event of arrest. Social TV speaks with Amnesty’s Israel director about its ‘local’ uses.

Rights of demonstrators in the occupied territories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his introduction, Bregman writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When negotiations trump reality on the ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The curse of ‘negotiationism’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘pain of history’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Dear Darwish’: A poetically and politically brave book http://972mag.com/dear-darwish-a-poetically-and-politically-brave-book/96270/ http://972mag.com/dear-darwish-a-poetically-and-politically-brave-book/96270/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 10:18:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96270 Israeli-American poet Morani Kornberg-Weiss breaks with conventional poetics and mainstream politics. But who, exactly, is Dear Darwish for? 

Dear Darwish, Morani Kornberg-Weiss’s first collection of poetry, opens with a prose poem that that doubles as an indictment of Israeli society. Cleverly disguised as a letter, it is addressed to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Like the poems that follow it, “Dear Mahmoud” does many things at once. It captures the violence inherent in establishing and maintaining the Jewish state. It accurately depicts Israelis’ objectifying and dehumanizing view of Palestinians. It shows how the state’s violence against Palestinians has seeped into Israeli society, permeating all aspects of life.

It’s no short order to do all this without losing the poetry to polemics. But Kornberg-Weiss manages to stay true to the horrible, tragic content of this book—including the nakba, the occupation, torture, death, and dispossession—while rendering a beautiful collection. That doesn’t mean that she dresses things up or distorts reality to make it palatable. Rather, she uses the lyrical to strip things down and offer them up to the reader, who is unable to tear their eyes away from Kornberg-Weiss’s searing, heartbreaking images.

Take for example:

That marks one difference between Israelis and
Palestinians: so many Israelis walk around with blood on their
hands, hands soaked in red, red hands shaking, exchanging
blood, patting a bloody hand on one’s shoulder, leaving a trace of
a hand, a hand running through one’s hair, scratching a nose,
leaving creases of liquid clotted and dried up on the cheekbones,
taking a bath and then running a hand over one’s arms, arm pits,
breasts then thighs, genitals, feet all covered with blood, blood
trying to wash itself but it’s a blood so ordinary you cannot even
see it.
I write this letter.
Red fingerprints smear on the page.

But Dear Darwish isn’t just about confronting the occupation, nor does it fall into the “shooting and crying” genre. As the title of the book and the title of the first poem both suggest, this collection is about creating dialogue. While one reviewer slammed Kornberg-Weiss for writing the collection “to” Darwish, I would argue that Kornberg-Weiss is acknowledging the inescapable power dynamic of the occupier/occupied and the deeply narcissistic nature of Israeli society. In a poem titled “david antin talked about tuning,” she writes: “…i break away/from the ‘fantasy of understanding’/i barely/recognize myself in you mahmoud i/recount various experiences of misappropriation i/imagine no common knowing but my arrogant/fantasy of moving so close in you mahmoud”

'Dear Darwish' by Morani Kornberg-Weiss

‘Dear Darwish’ by Morani Kornberg-Weiss

So the question remains: who are these poems actually addressed to?

I struggled with this from the second page where Kornberg-Weiss asks Darwish in Hebrew, Arabic, and English what their common language should be. I was living in Bethlehem the first time I read the collection. When I ran into these sentences, I read the three questions aloud to my partner.

While he can read the Hebrew alphabet and speaks a bit, he didn’t have enough to get the question, which I translated for him. And he helped me, in turn, as I clumsily read the Arabic.

“Who’s her audience?” we both wondered aloud, in English. Forty-eighters who speak English? English-speakers who read Hebrew and Arabic? Hebrew-speakers who also speak English and Arabic? Arabic-speakers who speak English and Hebrew?

It might seem like I’m beating the language issue to death but poetry is all about language and, indeed, language is an issue that arises throughout collection. Language plays a central role in the conflict, as well. What sort of words one uses to discuss “the situation”—as well as one’s silences, what goes unsaid—reveals much about one’s feelings on the place and its politics. And the fight for public opinion is a war of words.

So, of course, it’s significant that the collection is written in English. Equally significant is the fact that Dear Darwish was written (and published) in the diaspora. In fact, the poems seem to me to be a collection that could only be written outside of Israel. I asked Kornberg-Weiss about this and she agreed, explaining to +972:

…my political journey began in Israel during Operation Cast Lead in late 2008. I remember seeing protestors who supported the operation and “Israel’s right to defend itself.” That slogan didn’t sound right at the time, although initially I couldn’t articulate why.

The collection itself was conceptualized and written in the U.S. after the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. I tried to make sense of how one Israeli solider could be released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian lives. The project could only be written outside of Israel. I feel as though I wore blindfolds while living in Israel. I was not exposed to “the other side.” Both the Israeli education system and the media censor Palestinian history and even current events. Even now in “Operation Protective Edge” the media failed to expose the atrocities in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israeli attacks. The photographs in the Israeli newspapers focused primarily on the Israeli side, while sanitizing and censoring the destruction in the Gaza Strip.

Dear Darwish could be read as a series of letters to the Jewish diaspora, or as a sort of self-interrogation that the Jewish community is meant to overhear (and undertake). The collection seems intent on pushing the increasingly divisive conversation about Israel into more radical (dare I say anti-Zionist?) territory. And that Kornberg-Weiss quotes a line from a poem by the Canadian-Jewish Rachel Zolf on the very first page is also telling. Zolf is a poet who has been publicly critical of the occupation and the author of Neighbour Procedure, a collection of poems revolving around the occupation; Kornberg-Weiss is grounding her book in that conversation.

Both the content and the immediate alignment with Zolf make Dear Darwish brave writing that, as we have seen with the Salaita affair, could have an impact on Kornberg-Weiss’s career. Her exploration of form is equally bold and makes the collection worth reading regardless of one’s politics.

That Kornberg-Weiss, who tells me that she grew up in a “center-right” family, wrote Dear Darwish and that Blaze VOX had the courage and integrity to publish it are both encouraging signs that the conversation about Israel-Palestine is changing—at least in the diaspora.

Book Review: Outrunning occupation in Palestine’s ‘capital’
Traces of the Nakba: Book review of ‘Stone, Paper’

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Palestinians continue to create life from death http://972mag.com/palestinians-continue-to-create-life-from-death/95746/ http://972mag.com/palestinians-continue-to-create-life-from-death/95746/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 15:56:29 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95746 Gaza’s injuries have provoked every Palestinian and created in us the desire for all Palestinians to live in unity in our lands occupied since 1948. 

By Badia Dweik

I was unable to recognize him from the photos I saw on social media sites. Neither could I recognize him from the hospital photos that showed him dead. I went to his funeral after Friday prayers, where thousands had gathered. Suddenly I saw a poster and on it the martyr’s name, Nader Mohamed Idriss. I was surprised, since I had seen him only a few days before in the exact place where he was killed.

Nader had been fatherless since the age of 12. He was an activist whom I got to know one year after the 1987 First Intifada, and he continued to be committed to the struggle until his last days. Nader was poor and peaceful during his life; he was employed in the shoe industry, which became unprofitable after Chinese goods began flooding the Palestinian markets.

Funeral procession of Nader Mohamed Idriss (photo: Imad Abu Shamseh)

Funeral procession of Nader Mohamed Idriss (photo: Imad Abu Shamseh)

Nader helped to transport and package donated goods for the people of Gaza from Hebron. His last photos were taken as he was volunteering. Some of the people who accompanied him said he had brought a bag of flour that he intended to use to bake goods for Gazans, since he lacked the money for a donation.

Nader was assassinated in cold blood by an Israeli army sniper who shot him in the heart; some activists in the Human Rights Defenders’ group filmed Israeli snipers using silencers on their weapons. Nader is gone and he has left his wife and seven children to face the dangers of life alone. He left us, saying: “Yes I’ve gone, but Palestine has not.”

Creating life from death

The concept of the afterlife appears in the creative work of Palestinian artist and activist Bushra Shanan. She has turned photos of death and destruction into living photos. Bushra, a founding member of Human Rights Defenders, felt psychologically affected by the extent of devastation and crimes committed in Gaza. She therefore decided to reflect this through graphic paintings like the one in which children killed in Israeli attacks are flying to heaven. In another she has painted Gaza surrounded by a huge snake hungry to swallow it. Amongst her other paintings Bushra depicts stones weeping for those destroyed.

In its latest offensive on Gaza, Israel wanted to turn buildings into ashes, to displace the civilians living in them and put pressure on the resistance through collective punishment. Regardless, the result is that Palestinians still call for freedom, breaking the siege and opening all the crossings, including the only one that links Gaza to the West Bank. Palestinians call for the freeing of those prisoners released in the Gilad Shalit deal who were then vengefully detained during Operation Brother’s Keeper, along with the fourth group of prisoners that was scheduled to be released under an American-led agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

As part of the ceasefire negotiations, Hamas in Gaza has called for the building of a Palestinian sea port. This is a simple human demand that must be met so that we don’t remain under Israeli control in the name of security. This is a security that is killing Palestinians daily and requires that we have no right to security or freedom, while Israelis must have everything. In this way, what is expected of the victim is to protect the occupier and the controller.

Artwork by Palestinian artist Bushra Shanan

Artwork by Palestinian artist Bushra Shanan

The creative Shanan said that she has established a group of friends in a campaign called “Make a child smile,” which aims to sell paintings for the benefit of Gaza’s children. She has called on all her Palestinian friends to deliver her message and help Gaza rise once again. Shanan believes that art and painting are a form of resistance that must be used to serve the Palestinian cause.

Unity in resistance

Palestinians continue to be united after the failure of Israel’s campaign of mass destruction intended to undermine the will of the people. Israel could easily be condemned for war crimes if there was justice in the world. To emphasize this sentiment, youths have established campaigns calling on people to use local Palestinian products instead of Israeli ones, in a call to boycott Israeli goods. Palestine has been turned into a big workshop and many merchants have been seen emptying Israeli products from their shops.

Gaza’s injuries have provoked every Palestinian and created in us the desire for all Palestinians to live in unity in our lands occupied since 1948, so that this unity can be coalesced in the blood of the martyrs and so that Bushra can paint about life and about the Phoenix bird who reappears from the ashes after many thought that he was dead.

Badia Dweik is a Palestinian activist based in Hebron.

This article first appeared on Middle East Monitor

‘Ending the siege is not a Hamas demand – it is a Palestinian one’
The West Bank may be on the verge of exploding
Gaza dispatch: Why the people support Hamas

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COMIC: Wiesel, weaponized http://972mag.com/comic-wiesel-weaponized/95738/ http://972mag.com/comic-wiesel-weaponized/95738/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 15:11:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95738 By Eli Valley

Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel published a new ad campaign in major newspapers across the U.S., in which he claims that the war between Gaza and Israel is a battle between “those who celebrate life and those who champion death,” and refers to “child sacrifice” and “worshippers of death cults.”


Eli Valley is a writer and artist whose work has been published in The Nation, The Daily Beast, The Forward, Gawker, Saveur, Haaretz and elsewhere. He is currently finishing his first novel. Eli’s website is www.EVComics.com and he tweets at @elivalley.

Previous work by Eli Valley on +972 Magazine:
Gaza exit interview
Consensus in the conference
Dershowitz preps for Goldstone II
Google Glass for the Gaza gaze

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A letter to the Israeli government from a retired terrorist http://972mag.com/a-letter-to-the-israeli-government-from-a-retired-terrorist/95720/ http://972mag.com/a-letter-to-the-israeli-government-from-a-retired-terrorist/95720/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 13:39:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95720 Ruth Reznik was only 14 when she joined a Zionist militia and took up arms against the British in Palestine. Now, she says, is the time to understand why Gazans are taking up arms against Israel.

By Ruth Reznik (translated by Sinewave)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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POEMS: After a night full of missiles in Gaza http://972mag.com/poems-after-a-night-full-of-missiles-in-gaza/95432/ http://972mag.com/poems-after-a-night-full-of-missiles-in-gaza/95432/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:38:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95432 Gaza-based poet Manal Miqdad wrote the following poem after a particularly violent and sleepless night in Gaza during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Israeli poet Almog Behar penned a response, dedicated to Miqdad.

Burned books from the collection of Gaza poet Othman Hussein (photo: Maysoon Hussein)

Burned books from the collection of Gaza poet Othman Hussein (photo: Maysoon Hussein)

After a night full of missiles, crying and fear, the sheet of the sky opens its heart to the light

By Manal Miqdad (translated from Arabic by Sam Carlshamre and Chana Morgenstern)

I speak my words unto God, O Gaza!

After a night full of missiles, crying and fear, the sheet of the sky opens its heart to the light. But how can we wish you good morning, O Gaza? Bursting with hope, I say: maybe it is a good morning, my Gaza, after the wounds have adorned your face, and weariness has overtaken your legs. Perhaps it so, though the killing has robbed you of the right to your life and livelihood, perhaps it is so.

Paint your evening sky with the faces of the children and the holy dead; fill your throat with prayer and your spirit with tranquility.

As the reconnaissance airplanes eat your head, a shell flies by that could fell you, though your spirit has already fallen. You shatter, screaming, sobbing like mad, but a revolutionary song interrupts your cries, filling you with fervor and commitment, comforting you. Oh Gaza, will you eradicate your fears with songs? Will you infuse us, the half-dead, with life?

The shell that scared you, or didn’t scare you, that killed one of your friends or your neighbors or relatives, and injured many, deposited in you scenes of blood, scattered bodies, the wretchedness of families, their choked spirits, their weeping, and a hopelessness that made us turn to God and Medina to hasten our salvation.

O God, the girl who turned into a butterfly and fluttered to the sky, how long must she wait to be concealed in her mother’s embrace? How will the boy bear it, he who kissed his family and saw them disappear into the edges of the clouds?

My breast is crammed full, choking, while I fill my friends’ spirits with life. From their worries I weave tapestries to infuse their pallid skin with color. This pain uproots something of the anxiety of the spirit, and in its presence, the appointed hour approaches.  No memory except the dim roads, and the whisper of death as it rises in my breast!

Creator of the world, are you receiving my letters? Do you hear my suppressed cry? Do you understand my weakness, how few my options are? Why won’t you believe me when I lay down my plea before you: I do not want war, I do not want my life to end!

Read this poem in Hebrew on Local Call.


A woman awaits a bombing

By Almog Behar (translated from Hebrew by Chana Morgenstern)

For Manal Miqdad

From her nightly resting place, during the long journey to sleep
she considers the library of books she’s collected
the travel and nature books should really go
to her good friend from class, whose been dreaming to travel next summer,
through rivers and deserts, the children’s books that remain on the shelf
should go to the orphanage born of the war, the diaries
her father should burn, if they aren’t destroyed in the bombing
and she should ask the neighbors too, the English books
she bought but hasn’t read she wills to her cousin, who confided in her his dream
to leave, the borrowed books can stay with her friends
if they promise not to fold the pages or write in the margins, and choose someone
to leave them to in case of another explosion.
behold her bed; it is not surrounded by heroic men, only fear in the night.
the books remain silent, they don’t announce to whom they wish to be willed
and she prays that tonight she will fall into a dreamless sleep.
undisturbed by explosions, undisturbed by the games of the neighbor’s kids
whose whole bellies are fright

Don’t cry for me: A letter from a little girl in Gaza
This is what life in Gaza sounds like
Gaza dispatch: ‘Death will come and life will go on’

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When ‘not in my name’ is all you have in the face of a massacre http://972mag.com/when-not-in-my-name-is-all-you-have-in-the-face-of-a-massacre/95443/ http://972mag.com/when-not-in-my-name-is-all-you-have-in-the-face-of-a-massacre/95443/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 16:50:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95443 A name is more human, more familiar and more expansive than any label can ever be. It is something that everyone in the world has in common. It is therefore in that name that I refuse to step in line behind a massacre masquerading as an existential and moral crusade.

By Natasha Roth

“Dyke, go live in Gaza.”

This directive was sent to me yesterday afternoon through Facebook, from a complete stranger. A little while later another message arrived, with an attached picture of the body of a murdered child, still lying on the floor of his bedroom – the crime scene – with blood all around. A mezuzah is fixed to the doorframe in the foreground of the photo. The picture was accompanied by the sender’s suggestion that I am in favor of the killing of Jews.

I assume the two messages were sent by the same person, as although they had different names, their profile pictures (of two men standing side by side, grinning) were exactly the same. I cannot say with absolute certainty what provoked these messages, as I immediately reported and blocked the sender(s). I am confident it is not connected to the articles I write, as I go by a different name on Facebook (for precisely the reason of trying to limit where and how much hate mail can come my way). Based on past experience, and the timing of the messages, I am fairly positive they arrived in response to my posting in public forums (regarding open positions at the company I work for) while having a profile picture that states ‘Not in My Name’ in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Given Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, it is fairly obvious to what this slogan relates.

A relative carries one of the children killed earlier in an attack in a playground in al-Shati refugee camp, Gaza City, July 28, 2014. Reports indicate that 10 people, mostly children, were killed and 40 injured during the attack which took place on the first day Eid (photo: Activestills)

A relative carries one of the children killed earlier in an attack in a playground in al-Shati refugee camp, Gaza City, July 28, 2014. Reports indicate that 10 people, mostly children, were killed and 40 injured during the attack which took place on the first day Eid (photo: Activestills)

That’s it. No overt side-taking, no public declaration that I consider the Israeli army’s operation in Gaza to be a massacre, and my government to be in the process of committing war crimes (of a far more egregious nature than those of Hamas and Islamic Jihad), although I am taking the opportunity to state these opinions now. Simply a timid, almost platitudinous phrase. ‘Not in my name’ is the epitome of pulling punches; it is my feeble, small attempt to try and create some distance between myself and the thick smog of nationalism and uncontrollable racism blanketing this country. It is a hint at the fact that even as I am woken up in the morning by explosions in the sky above my home, and I check my phone with a pounding heart and a foggy head to confirm the rockets were intercepted, the muted flicker of relief is stamped out by shame and confused despair at the accompanying headlines of the latest heavy artillery rampage in Gaza. It is my subtle way of telling the world that living under regular rocket fire for weeks has given me the fraction of comprehension needed in order to weep in vicarious terror while watching shelling in Shejaiya, and that this video scares me far more than sirens in my own city.

‘Not in my name’ is an acknowledgement that while I deplore what is taking place, I am nonetheless part of a society that is staggering around in a bloodshot-eyed war frenzy, screaming for death and revenge – and that I therefore bear some responsibility. It is an admission that as much as I wish it weren’t, this bloodshed is very much happening in my name.

In the Israel of today, such thoughts and stances are sedition, treason, heresy. To the rightwing here (very much in the majority) I am betraying my (read: our) country, people, history, heritage, religion, land. I am betraying the concept on which this country was founded, and on which it is gradually being torn apart: the united Jewish people, in their united homeland, forever and ever, amen. In this nation, which eats, sleeps and breathes its past sufferings, it is our patriotic duty to place every new conflict in the continuous narrative of attempts to extinguish the Jewish people; it is the ethos of the State of Israel that those who live must re-live, mourn and struggle, memorialize and fight. In this mindset, any aggression is merited under the banner of self-defense and survival; to believe otherwise is to forget, and to forget is a crime (unless you are Palestinian, in which case to remember is a crime). We are prisoners to our past, and we have made an entire other nation prisoner to our past, too.

What holds true for the rest of the world holds true for Israel and Palestine: When people attack others for their beliefs or identity, they are not attacking individuals – they are attacking ideas. In any episode of political or ethnic violence, categorization is a key component; the label replaces the individual’s name. It is an effective tactic. To define is to reduce, for what potential is left in the categorized? A name is more human, more familiar and more expansive than any label can ever be. It is something that everyone in the world has in common. We all have a name, and it is the beginning and end of ourselves, even as we too often forget that the same is true for every other human being. It is what makes naming the dead on ‘the other side’ in wartime such a powerful, transgressive act; it undermines our narrative and the fragile fortress of self-belief and moral righteousness we construct during times of conflict in order to justify the lives we take away and the sacrifices we make. It is why the Israel Broadcasting Authority banned an Israeli NGO’s radio advert listing the names of the children killed by the Israeli army in Gaza.

Jewish protesters demonstrate again Israel's offensive on Lebanon, August 12, 2006, in Toronto, Canada (photo: Wikimedia)

Jewish protesters demonstrate again Israel’s offensive on Lebanon, August 12, 2006, in Toronto, Canada (photo: Wikimedia)

Our names, I believe, are our greatest hope. As Salman Rushdie has suggested, true freedom is the freedom to reject, and he is right: Only with complete independence and security is it possible to cast off the definitions that form the boundaries we use to prop ourselves up. It is my profound hope that there will come a day in Israel and Palestine when enough mutual security will be felt in order to unshackle ourselves from our competing categorizations, because the labels that surround and define us – that everyone here is tripping over, choking on, blinded by – have become too burdensome to keep carrying around.

For my part, I don’t really belong in Israel/Palestine; I’m not from here and will never understand what it is like to have been born and brought up here. But it is my home and where my heart and mind thrive, and that ambiguity is the source of my privilege here: being on the margins of society offers an easy escape from labels and boxes.

All I really brought with me from the UK was my name, and it is therefore in that name that I refuse to step in line behind a massacre masquerading as an existential and moral crusade. It is in that name that I stand against the occupation of 1967, and the ethnic cleansing of 1948. And if in response to these statements one will call me a traitor, an extremist, a leftist, a dyke, a kappo, an anti-Semite, a self-hater – I will respond with my name. If I am called a Jew, a goy, a half-caste, a foreigner, an immigrant, an outsider – I will respond with my name.

I have no need to be free of my name, for it is my whole person, and it encompasses all of what I am, of who I am, who I have been, and who I ever will be. And it is for that reason I say, again: not in my name. It may be a small, cowardly stand in the face of such violence, extremism and injustice, but it is a stand that no one else in the world can take.

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.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog.

How Europe’s Jews lost their humanity in Gaza
How can you possibly oppose this war?
WATCH: British Jews hold memorial for Gaza dead at Zionist Federation conference

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‘Living with political depression in Tel Aviv is harder than dying in Gaza’ [satire] http://972mag.com/satire-gaza/95249/ http://972mag.com/satire-gaza/95249/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 18:25:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95249 The images pouring in from Gaza obscure the true victims of the conflict: Israel’s liberal opposition. Celebrated fictional author Amos Yehoshua-Shavit explains why war was necessary and how bad it makes him feel.

By Adam Shatz

Dove of Peace, Don Sutherland, Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Freedland argued that liberal Zionists “are better placed than most to move Zionist, including Israeli, opinion.” In a follow up blog post published just after the latest Gaza war broke out, Freedland added that as hopes for a two-state settlement recede, these liberal Zionists “will have to decide which of their political identities matters more, whether they are first a liberal or first a Zionist.”

Eager to find out how liberal Zionists in Israel were wrestling with this question, I turned to Amos Yehoshua-Shavit, one of Israel’s best-known writers. Yehoshua-Shavit is the author of several award-winning books, including the novel In Search of Lost Space, which won the Israel Prize for literature, and a memoir, Partition and Its Discontents: A Liberal Israeli’s Journey, praised by Leon Wieseltier as “a modern-day Kaddish”; he is also a frequent contributor to the New Republic and the New York Times op-ed page. A veteran of three wars, Yehoshua-Shavit is a leader of Peace Now, and the chairman of Israelis for Darfur. Raised on a kibbutz, he divides his time between Tel Aviv and Berlin, where his son, a former fighter pilot, runs a software company. I spoke to him at his large and airy Tel Aviv flat, elegantly appointed with modernist furniture and sculptures he acquired on his travels in Goa and Dakar. He sat on his sofa beneath a photograph of himself with Yitzhak Rabin.

You published a piece entitled ‘War: A Painful Necessity’ when Israel began its most recent bombing campaign in Gaza. Why ‘painful’?

Shouldn’t you be asking me “why necessary”? But OK, I’ll answer your question. “Painful” because war hurts; people die. We lost some of our best young men, more than 60 of them. Many Palestinians also died, in no small part thanks to Hamas, our more than willing partner in this wretched conflict. Again, we are trapped in this horrifying cycle of violence. Sometimes, living in this country, which I love so much but which causes me so much pain, I think: I can’t go on. But I must – as Samuel Beckett would have said.

But wouldn’t you say there’s something of a disparity in the casualty figures?

“Something of a disparity.” You impress me. So delicately put: I would have expected nothing less from a writer at the London Review of Books, publisher of Walt and Mearsheimer. Yes, we killed a lot more people than they killed, because we are a powerful state, and they are not. But what do you expect of us? Are we not allowed to defend ourselves? Look, I am not happy that we killed 2,000 Palestinians. As I wrote in Ha’aretz when the war began: mow the lawn, don’t uproot it. But then Kerry stepped in with his stupid ceasefire initiative and really betrayed us.

Betrayed Israel?

No, betrayed us, the peace camp. We, the peace camp, were calling for a limited war, not a massive invasion, which the maximalists around Netanyahu were pushing for. But when Kerry bent over backwards to Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’s sponsors, he strengthened the maximalists who don’t want a two-state settlement, and they got their war. Because of that genius Kerry, the same Kerry who is so eager to make nice with President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader of Iran, we are now further from peace, and further from a resolution based on territorial compromise. If it hadn’t been for Kerry, we would have had a small war like in 2012, when we made our point and made a deal. We didn’t need a big war to “protect our edge.” But don’t misunderstand me: war was necessary.

But why exactly? Hamas denied responsibility for the killing of the three teenagers, and it has since come to light that the Israeli army had reasonable intelligence that the boys were already dead – information the Netanyahu government suppressed in order to justify a massive assault on Hamas in the West Bank and in Gaza. The rocket fire that Israel invoked as a casus belli came after seven Hamas operatives in Gaza were killed.

So well informed you are about the details, so knowledgeable about who-did-what-and-when. It must be nice to contemplate our agonies from the serenity of a Brooklyn brownstone. Please, you mistake me for a political man. I am a writer. If I didn’t live in this place, I wouldn’t write about politics. I would spend my days reading Proust and writing novels like those of my friends in London and New York and Paris, who are free to write about love and relationships and washing their kids’ diapers. Unfortunately, like all of us who live in the land of Israel, I am condemned by the situation, this endless, unbearable conflict. In case you’re not aware of it, we are really depressed here, the peace camp! It’s the Palestinians who are dying in greater numbers, but at least they’re not suffering from this sense of internal exile, as we do. In some ways, living with this sort of depression is harder than dying. But, like all Israelis, we are determined to live and to fight for what we believe is right: survival, you must remember, is what Israel is about. And it’s that dialectic of suffering and survival that gives life and literature in Israel its unique power.

But to get back to the question about why Israel had to go to war…

Have you forgotten about the tunnels? How would you feel with the Ho Chi Minh trail running beneath your beaches? Would you tolerate ceaseless rocket attacks aimed at your kindergartens? If you can’t answer that question honestly, you have no right to criticize us. I also ask you: does it really matter if it was Hamas or Jihad or al-Qaeda or ISIS who killed those yeshiva students? They’re cut from the same apocalyptic-jihadi cloth. For all their doctrinal differences, which you writers in New York and London tease out with such exquisite finesse, as if you were talking about the differences between organic goat cheeses, they all have the same objective: killing Jews, the more the merrier. Analyzing their motivations is a waste of time: The Hamas Charter says all that you need to know.

But more Jews – more Israelis – have died as a result of this war, which Israel launched, than in the last few years, and nearly 2,000 Palestinians have died.

Numbers schnumbers. Look, I’m disturbed by how many Palestinians were killed, OK? But I’m no less disturbed by the number of Jews Hamas was plotting to kill with those tunnels. Would you have preferred that we waited until they carried out a big massacre? Maybe you would have. The bien pensant intellectuals of New York and London seem to like us Jews only when we are weak, not when we are strong. Sometimes I think that the only chance we have of regaining the world’s sympathy is to go back to the crematorium.

And, since you mentioned the question of responsibility, what about the people of Gaza, so beloved of the Guardian and the London Review? The Gazans voted for Hamas knowing that Hamas would continue what they call their “resistance,” and Hamas continued that resistance knowing that we would be forced to respond. When we left in 2005, a disengagement that, may I remind you, was very risky, and that threatened to provoke a civil war in the State of Israel, the Gazans had a choice: develop or arm. They made their choice, and now they are paying a price, a high price, I’m sorry to say. Imagine what Gaza might look like now if, instead of building those tunnels, Hamas had created a vibrant economy?

But the Gaza Strip has been under siege for the last seven years, and in any case comprises only two percent of historical Palestine.

Only two percent, really? I thought it was more. Well, you have to start somewhere. Imagine if we’d given them 98 percent – I mean 22 percent, with territorial swaps, as I might remind you we offered them in 2000. I’m afraid that we would have seen even more tunnels. I hate to agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but the root of the conflict is that the Arabs refuse to accept a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.

But aren’t you overlooking some of the shifts in the region, notably the solid support that Israel has received from General Sisi in Egypt, and from the Saudis?

I have always said that we should have responded to the Saudi peace plan, for all its imperfections, and, I admit, we are sleeping more easily now that Egyptians have kicked out the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it wasn’t exactly democratic. The leaders in Cairo and Damascus are consumed with their own internal problems – and handling them much as we do, in case you haven’t noticed. But the basic contours haven’t really changed, the fundamental hostility to our presence. Have you not heard of ISIS? And the Palestinians…they will not forget what happened to them in 1948. It’s a real problem. They can’t seem to move on. I wrote a book,Partition and Its Discontents, in which I talked, very frankly, about the expulsions, the Nakba. So did Benny Morris. I thought this was an olive branch. I said to myself, maybe now that we’ve admitted it, now that we’ve come clean, the Palestinians will agree to a Jewish state within – well, more or less within – the Green Line. Instead, they keep talking about the right of return, they keep making intifada. This, after we not only acknowledge their history, but, for god’s sake, write it!

And so I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that they have too much invested in hating us. It’s become their identity: they can’t give it up. And so they try to kill us, and when we end up killing more of them, because we are more powerful, they say we are committing genocide. Come on! Yes, 2,000 deaths is a lot. But it’s not six million. Look, I promised myself that I would not bring up the Holocaust, but I am afraid I can’t avoid it. The Shoah looms over us like a dark cloud. We are a traumatized people, and we react – we over-react – in the way that traumatized people do. That tendency to over-react, whether in war or in conversation or in our cars, is something that’s in Zionism’s DNA: it’s part of the dark, crazy energy that makes Israel such an intense and creative place. It’s what makes us a start-up nation, and, unfortunately, an occupying and sometimes aggressive nation. And believe me, though I am sometimes pained by the results – as I often tell my Palestinian friends – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But the price…

As I’ve said, I am not happy about all the killing. I know that it will lead to more bitterness, more violence, more despair, and more hopelessness on both sides. Really, we are like prisoners, us and the Palestinians, unable to see outside our cells. But suffering isn’t all that we share: we share this love of the land, even the same food! That’s why, in spite of everything, I remain hopeful. That’s why I continue to support Seeds for Peace, even as I continue to serve in the reserves. It’s so important for young Israelis to know that Palestinians are also human. To them, at least to the Jewish majority, it’s not so obvious. And this is heartbreaking. It was much better before the First Intifada, when the Arabs came to work in Israel and we developed real friendships. It wasn’t equal, but the feeling was genuine. Most Israelis had their cars repaired by Arabs, and the hummus definitely improved. Now we’ve replaced the Palestinians with Thais and Romanians, and though I love Thai food as much as any of my friends in Brooklyn, we’ve lost a lot, lost that contact with the Arabs. Well, the Palestinian Arabs. The ones in Israel are another can of worms. Did I say worms? I didn’t mean it that way.

I admit, and this is very painful to me: I do not see peace on the horizon, not in my lifetime or even my children’s. But I will continue to fight for peace as if there is no war, and I will continue to defend my country when it is under threat. You can’t imagine how lonely it is to be a dove in Israel today. It takes a particular kind of personality – determined, stubborn, crazy, a bit of a meshuggunah – to keep fighting for peace, on the basis of two states.

So you still believe in a two-state settlement?

Yes, two states and one army. The Palestinian state must be demilitarised. The fishermen in Gaza will have to rely on us for their protection. It’s not just or fair, but it’s reality, OK? And reality is something you can’t argue with.

[*] Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. He lives in Brooklyn, though not in a brownstone.

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Don’t cry for me: A letter from a little girl in Gaza http://972mag.com/dont-cry-for-me-a-letter-from-a-little-girl-in-gaza/95220/ http://972mag.com/dont-cry-for-me-a-letter-from-a-little-girl-in-gaza/95220/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 15:03:18 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95220 With Palestinian children in Gaza bearing the brunt of Israel’s offensive on the Strip, this is what one little girl may have written to us – had she the chance.

By Sam Bahour

As the latest horrific obscenity of Israel’s aggression against the Gaza Strip continues, the death toll mounts. Palestinian children are paying the highest price, both those who are killed and wounded, and, maybe even more so, those who survive.

Since I have written for decades about how Israel’s prolonged military occupation and endless violations of international law – let alone its blatant disregard for its very own self-interests – would get us to this very point, fresh analysis and fresh vantage points are difficult to find. The only words I can muster now, while the images of the carnage are freshly etched into my mind, are the words that may have come from one of the child victims whose life was cut short by a U.S.-supplied Israeli F-16 fighter jet missile.

A child of Diab Bakr is seen amidst the rubble of his home which was destroyed last night by Israeli missiles, in As-Shati refugee camp, Gaza city, July 22, 2014. Another home from the extended Bakr family was also destroyed and another one damaged. Hassan Khader Bakr, was killed during the attack in the street. Their cousins, Bakr family who live in the same area, lost four children, Ahed (10), Zacharia (10), Mohamed (9) after they were targeted by two Israeli missiles while playing at the beach on 16 July, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A child of Diab Bakr is seen amidst the rubble of her home, which was destroyed by Israeli missiles, in A-Shati refugee camp, Gaza City, July 22, 2014. Another home from the extended Bakr family was also destroyed and yet another one damaged (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Below is the imagined letter from the victim:

Dear Humankind,

Hi. My name is Eman; it means ‘faith’ in Arabic. I doubt you will have seen or remember me; only particular photos make it to your TV screen, those are the ones you will remember. I’m a Palestinian child from Gaza. I like my dolls, playing with my sister and swimming. I was told that many of you are crying for me, but please don’t cry for me. I just arrived to this place and wanted to write to let you know that I’m OK. Really, I’m fine. I just miss Mommy.

There are a lot of people here, just like back home in Gaza. Lots of Palestinian kids too, some have been here for a very long time. Why would you want to cry for only me?

My neighbor arrived a few months ago from the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Syria, he shares a room with someone who came from a different refugee camp in South Lebanon called Sabra; he arrived in September 1982. I really don’t know what a refugee camp is, even though Mommy told me that’s where we live too.

Down the road I saw a really older girl, maybe 13 years old. Her name is also Iman, but she spells it with an “I”. Iman came here in October 2004. She told me she was walking home from school, not far from my house in Gaza, when an Israeli soldier emptied his magazine into her after she was wounded and lay on the ground. She says he was caught on radio communications saying he was “confirming the kill.” I don’t really know what that means, either.

There are a lot of old people here, too: mommies and daddies. Some have their kids with them and some are alone. I actually saw a sign on one house that said the person arrived from Kufer Kassem in 1948 – that’s a long time ago! I think Kufer Kassem is not far from Gaza, but I really don’t know since Daddy never took us on trips far away.

Anyway, I made friends with another girl exactly my age, Amal. Her name means ‘hope’ and she is from Qana in Lebanon. She lives with her sisters; one arrived in 1996 and the other in 2006. There are really a lot of nice people here from Lebanon.

See, I’m in good company, so please, don’t cry for me.

I am exactly eight years and 23 days old; a pretty big girl, wouldn’t you say? I have one baby sister and two older brothers, or at least Mommy tells me that I have two brothers. I’ve only seen one, the other, Mommy says, lives in an Israeli prison and has been there for a very long time. Even though I never saw him, I still love him.

It is true that I was born in Gaza, but Grandpa told me when I was very young that our real home is in a place called al-Majdal. He still has the key to his house. It’s all rusted but I think it may still work. I bet you don’t know where al-Majdal is located, but you may know a place called Ashkelon. I understand how this can happen, it happens all the time. Those people who made Grandma and Grandpa come to Gaza keep changing the names of everything, even their own names. They not only changed the name of al-Majdal, they changed the name of many cities and villages too. Daddy told me that one organization called Zochrot goes around and puts up signs with the original names of Palestinian towns and villages that were wiped off the face of the earth. This way no one will forget. You really don’t need to worry, because here they must have a very big computer, as all the names are what they used to be, nothing is forgotten. So please, don’t cry for me.

Let me tell you what happened to me last month. It was the beginning of Ramadan. I love Ramadan because at the end of the month there is a big feast and Daddy takes us all to the marketplace and we each are allowed to buy two toys. A few days before the end of Ramadan, Mommy takes us to buy new clothes and shoes. This is the happiest time of the year for me and my brother and sister. But this year, Mommy was sad. She stayed sitting in my room crying while she nursed my baby sister. When I asked her why she was crying she said that we would not be able to buy new clothes this year because all the stores were closed. I understood (I am almost nine years old, you know), so I surprised her. I went to my closet and pulled out my dress from last year’s Ramadan and I dusted off the pink paddy leather shoes Mommy bought me on my last birthday and I told her she can stop crying because I don’t mind wearing old clothes, even if they don’t match. But she cried even more. I think I know why she was crying. The neighbors were playing with fireworks all night and day, even though Ramadan was only in its first week. Usually fireworks happen only at the end of Ramadan. I asked her if she wanted me to go tell them to stop but she said no, she liked to hear them. I pretended as if I liked the fireworks too, but I don’t think she was telling me the truth because they are scary, especially at night. I’m glad there are no fireworks here.

Anyway, just as I was putting my Eid clothes back in the closet something happened. I want to tell you what happened but I really don’t know how. I felt like I was swimming, but I wasn’t. The water did not feel like the bathtub, it was warm and sticky. When I glanced down I think it was red too. The last thing I remember is looking up and seeing the light fixture in my room, the one that looks like a clown’s head (Daddy bought that for me when my sister was born). It was falling, coming straight at me. I know this is not making sense, because ceilings don’t fall, but I swear that was what it looked like.

Next thing I knew, I was brought to this nice place. I love it here but I really miss Mommy and my baby sister. I wonder why they did not come here with me. Mom would love it. We have electricity all day and night, and the stores never close. Really, I’m not joking. In my home here, I can drink water right out of the faucet any time I’m thirsty. One of my friends told me that when I get a little older we can even go on trips far, far away, even to Jerusalem. I’m not sure where that is but I’m sure I’ll be able to ride a plane for the first time ever to get there.

I want to tell you so much more but I’ll have to write again later because I need to go now. My two newest friends, Hadar and Issa, are bringing their bikes to take turns in giving me a ride. Can you tell Mommy to send me my bike? I also forgot my toothbrush in the rush to get here so I need that too. Tell her not to send me my Eid dress and shoes. I want my baby sister to wear them for Ramadan next year, because I doubt the stores will open anytime soon. One more thing, please: tell Mommy to empty my piggybank, and send all my savings to The Palestine Children Relief Fund because I’m sure that many of my friends who did not come with me are going to need a lot of help.

After going for the bike ride I’m coming back home to take a nap. I was so happy that I found the CD here with the same exact song that Mommy use to sing to me every night at bedtime. It’s this one.

So see, I’m fine. Really, don’t cry for me. Cry for yourselves.



Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, Palestine, father of two daughters, and blogs at epalestine.com

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

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