Analysis News

British activist detained entering Israel, facing 10-year ban

Gary Spedding was detained after landing in Tel Aviv ahead of meetings with parliamentarians and activists. He says his phone was hacked and contacts extracted. 

A high-profile member of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party and a long-standing activist for human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, Gary Spedding, was detained on arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday and told would be deported and banned from the country for 10 years. Speaking from the airport, after being held for eight hours, Spedding told +972 that the interrogating officers hacked into his mobile phone, and copied email addresses and telephone numbers. He also said no reason for his impending deportation was given, except that he was a “liar” and a “security threat.”

“I flew in to Tel Aviv from London Luton at about 4 p.m. local time,” Spedding told +972.  ”When I got to passport control the guy asked me to step aside and wait. After about an hour, three people came and took me to a room. They questioned me and took my phone, asking for my security code. I wouldn’t give my code but agreed to type it in to show the phone was a real phone. What I didn’t realize is that somebody is standing behind me and watching me do it. My Hebrew is not very good, but good enough to pick up he was reading out the digits I was typing to the rest of the security team. ” Spedding said the security team then logged onto his mobile phone without permission and scanned through his contacts, text messages and email, copying some of the content manually onto a notepad.

“They told me they’d hold me for nine days until my return flight, so as not to have to pay for my deportation,” Spedding said. The security team questioning Spedding then changed, and one official told him a decision was made to deport him and ban him from Israel for 10 years. “I was told this was a fact, not a threat, and there was nothing neither I or my government could do,” said Spedding, who is a dual Australian and British citizen.

The activist was still being held near Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday night, and the state’s plans regarding his deportation were not immediately clear. “I’m just one guy, sitting here at Ben-Gurion, pretty tired and not feeling so good but apart from that, I’m ok,”...

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Meretz: We won't oppose annexation of Jordan Valley

Far-right politicians prefer it when their more outlandish proposed laws are shot down prudently from across the aisle. One party on the Left now tries to edge out of that role. 

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon on Monday declared that her party will no longer rescue Israel’s ruling coalition from itself, and will not vote against an annexation bill proposed by Miri Regev (Likud).

The bill, endorsed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, would apply Israeli law to much of the Jordan Valley – effectively negating the possibility  a future Palestinian state that might share a border with any country other than Israel. Under international – and Israeli – law, the Jordan Valley is as much an occupied territory as Hebron, Jenin or East Jerusalem, successive Israeli governments have long insisted this area was of special concern – and Israelis have developed a narrative to match. Settlements in the Jordan Valley are referred to in Hebrew as “communities” and “kibbutzim,” creating the impression that they are in Israel proper. In a poll conducted two years ago, most Israelis under 20 did not even know the area was occupied.

The bill proposed by Miri Regev is unlikely to pass into law, and Galon hasn’t given up on the two-state solution: annexation would be a provocation even the apathetic second-term Obama would find impossible to swallow. When I interviewed Galon a few months ago she declined to even discuss alternatives to two states because she feared that would legitimize the one-state prospect. Like much of the center-left at the moment, Meretz seems intent on going down with the two-state ship rather than so much as be overheard considering a lifeboat.

The bill is actually meant as a statement of general intent from coalition members to the right of Netanyahu, and as a means of scoring points with their own electorate. The intention is not to wreck the negotiations so much as to rock the boat a bit. For balance, the provoacteurs and Netanyahu rely both on their own coalition partners – Livni’s Hatnua and Lapid’s Yesh Atid – and on opposition parties like Meretz to stop the boat from capsizing. This way, they can present themselves, time and again, as patriotic victims of back-stabbing lefties, while Netanyahu relies on the same lefties to spare him the need to intervene against a motion most of his own electorate would support. This...

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Woman fined $140 a day for refusing to circumcise son

Rabbinical judges in the case said they fear the effect that allowing Israeli Jews to freely decide on the ritual circumcision of their own children might have on the global debate over the issue. 

A Jewish child is circumcised in a traditional Brit Mila ceremony (Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com)

An Israeli woman is being fined NIS 500 ($140) every day for refusing to circumcise her one-year-old-son, Israel’s Channel 2 reported today. There is no sweeping legal requirement for Jews in Israel to circumcise their children, but the woman is undergoing a divorce process at the Haifa Rabbinical Court, and her husband has appealed to the court to pressure the woman into circumcising the son.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of information about circumcision and decided not to proceed with the circumcision,” the woman told Channel 2. “I have no right to cut at his genitals and to maim him, and the court has no authority to force me to.” Her lawyer also said the rabbinical court does not have the authority to enforce the procedure, but the secular family court would. The woman went on to add she was unemployed, and cannot afford to pay the fine, which already adds up to NIS 2,500 ($700). She said her husband originally had no objections to avoiding circumcision when the child was born, but changed his mind during the divorce process.

The rabbinical judges in the case said in their decision the woman was opposing the circumcision as a means to bringing her husband back to her. They also referred explicitly to the growing debate around ritual male circumcision elsewhere in the world, and voiced their fear of the precedent that could be created by a Jewish Israeli woman allowed not to circumcise her son.

“We have witnessed for some time now public and legal struggles against the brit milah in many countries in Europe and in the United States,” the judges wrote. “The public in Israel has stood as one man [sic] against these trends, seeing them as yet another aspect of displays of anti-Semitism that must be combatted. How will the world react if even here the issue of circumcision is given to the discretion of any person, according...

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Kabbala curse cast upon 'Zochrot' founder

The curse, which places Eitan Bronstein in the powerful club of premiers Sharon and Rabin, was issued in New York and promises the activist death by’ mysterious work accident,’ as well as being devoured by ravens and foxes. 

A “Pulsa Dinura” curse was issued by a New York group against Eitan Bronstein, co-founder of “Zochrot” – an organization working for Israeli recognition of the Nakba and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Bronstein was informed of the curse by a letter incongruously printed in the playful Bradley Hand font and signed with a magic marker.

Authored by the “The Great ‘Pulsa Di Nura’ Committee” of 231 Street West, New York, the curse is addressed to the Zochrot conference that took place at the Eretz Yisrael Museum in Tel Aviv in September – although the letter misspells the venue as the “Haaretz Museum,” which might account for it taking some three months to arrive.

It condemns Bronstein to death “for conitnues [sic] incitement and actions against Zionism and Israel.” The spell, according to the letter, will be carried out within 30 days. A footnote explains it can take the shape of “Sudden illness, Car Accident, Mysterious Work Accident” – a perfectly explainable one doesn’t count, apparently – and, presumably by way of a bonus if you pay with credit card, “Free Fall from building.” Bronstein’s corpse will then be “devoured by Ravens and Foxes”.

Signing “for the Board” are J. Martinson and S. Epstein.

While the term “Pulsa Dinura” is mentioned once in the Talmud and once in the Zohar book – a canonical text of Kabbalah mysticism – it is used on both occasions as description of divine punishment against sinners, unsolicited by third persons. The use of the term as a curse is thought to have originated in various non-canonical texts dealing with Kabbalah “magic.” It has been frequently invoked in Israeli politics, most famously against prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon and against MK Ahmed Tibi.

The 2010 letter informing Tibi of the curse bears some resemblance to the Bronstein one in style and manner of delivery. Unlike the Bronstein letter, it is signed by a certain Johann Rasmunsen, but considering many believe the curse will revert upon its maker if the purported victim does not succumb to it within the year, and Tibi is still alive and well, some turnover among “the board”...

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PHOTO: French diplomat at the feet of Israeli troops

A French diplomat and several of her European colleagues were manhandled today by Israeli troops near the recently demolished village of Khirbet al-Makhul in the West Bank, Reuters said. The diplomats were accompanying a truck of tents and emergency aid supplies, and the French diplomat, Marion Castaing, was physically dragged out of the truck and thrown to the ground in disregard of her diplomatic immunity. The troops then confiscated the truck and drove it away.

A picture, below, taken by an eyewitness at the scene (who wishes to remain anonymous) and sent to The National correspondent Hugh Naylor shows Castaing lying at the feet of armed troops. Judging by the uniform, the troops belong to the paramilitary Border Police, which handles much of the grunt jobs of the occupation.

French diplomat Marion Castaing lies at the feet of Israeli troops, West Bank, 20.9.2013. (photo provided by European aid worker who wished to remain anonymous)

The diplomat herself sounds understandably livid, commenting to Reuters that “this is how international law is respected here.” There has been no official comment from the French embassy as of yet.

The IDF issued an announcement a few hours later, alleging that ” dozens of Palestinian and European activists [sic] tried to set up an illegal outpost in an area close to the community of Hemdat. The Palestinian activists threw stones at IDF forces that arrived to evict them. Three rioters who refused to be evicted and attacked the soldiers were detained, and the truck was confiscated.” A Red Cross convoy that set out for the same village was stopped and turned back on Tuesday.

The original Reuters report seems to have been filed by correspondent Noah Browning, but the byline in subsequent reprints was amended to Crispian Balmer, the Reuters bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Update (September 21, 12 p.m.):

The following video was uploaded by Palestinian filmmaker Enas I. al-Muthaffar. In the clip, there is no visible stone throwing or other violent activity on the side of the aid workers, diplomats or Palestinians prior to the arrests and use of stun grenades.

Correction:
This article originally questioned whether the border policeman’s weapon was pointed at Castaing in the above image....

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Three men talking: Stepping away from privilege is not enough

You can practice gender awareness all you like, and it will still be incredibly easy to slip back into familiar patterns. But quietly washing your hands of it is not enough, and a dramatic renunciation can backfire. 

A few weeks ago, I took part in a discussion after a film screening at the SOAS Israel Society in London. The film concerned the Wannsee Conference, where the “final solution” was planned, and the screening was organised by a member of the society, a barrister doing his PhD at the LSE. Of those present, three were men (myself included), and six were women, including one of the principal organisers of the society, a theater student who, as we remembered much too late, had said before the discussion she’ll want to talk about Holocaust education in Israel; and another principal organiser, a history student, who, among other things, has been exploring issues of complicity and real-time denial by combatants conducting ethnic cleansing in the War of 1948.

The credits rolled, and the barrister made some introductory remarks explaining the political and legal history after the events of the film. He then opened the floor to the rest of the group. Nobody spoke, so I pitched in. The third man, a history PhD student in his forties, picked up, and the moderator rejoined him.

Fifteen minutes into the discussion, it hit me that only we men in the room were talking.

Once I realised I was part of the problem, I contended myself with withdrawing from conversation. I was hoping one of the women present would step into my space, but in reality, all I did was let the two other men seamlessly fill up that space with their own conversation. And while women did join the discussion towards the end, they still spoke considerably more briefly (even if more to the point) than the men. The fact the men were in their thirties to forties, mid-career (myself) or PhDs and most of the women were postgrad or undergrad students under 25, didn’t help either. Whenever the discussion died down and no one would say anything, I would permit myself to pitch in with a comment, assuming that someone has to say something and no one was saying anything, so I might as well. I was usually rejoined by one of the men, followed by the other, and the dynamic cheerfully resumed itself.

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Rightists say bring down the Wall, leftists say let's keep it

Noted right-wingers call to demolish the separation wall. True, they are driven by a desire for annexation, but the Left finds itself in an unseemly position – defending one of the great injustices of the occupation in the name of the distant prospect of two states. 

Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens yesterday told Ma’ariv he thinks the separation wall – which snakes its way around the West Bank and has been responsible for cutting tens of thousands of people from their livelihoods and from each other – should be torn down. “The wall is no longer of any use and it’s only doing Israel harm,” he told the website. “It’s obvious today that the separation wall [sic] is completely useless. It’s damaging Israel in the international arena and it causes hardship for the Palestinians in their day-to-day lives.” Arens, a noted hawk who has served as defense minister in three different Likud cabinets (Begin, Shamir and Netanyahu), attributed construction of the wall to hysteria rather than strategic thinking. “There was panic. When terror attacks occur almost every day, sometimes twice a day, and the Shin Bet comes to you and tells you it’s impossible to block terrorism without a wall, you get convinced. I was also convinced, but today it’s clear there is no connection between the wall and the cessation of attacks.”

The former defense minister instead attributed the slump in Palestinian political violence to IDF activity within Palestinian areas and the collaboration of Palestinian police forces, adding that “the wall is ugly. It’s like a scar on the face of the Land of Israel. There have been walls before and they fell down.” Finally, he said, “we should remember many Jews live beyond the wall,” and some fear the wall might someday become a political border.

In my mind, the last argument is the most important – both for Arens himself and for the settler politicians who rallied to his support. MK Yoni Chetboun of Habayit Hayehudi party (led by annexationist Naftali Bennett) argued to Ma’ariv that “the wall actually increases motivation for terrorism among the Palestinians by projecting a message of weakness, defensiveness and entrenchment.” Chetboun, who sits on the pivotal Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, credited the wall with a “short term” role in stopping waves of attacks, but said, “what...

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Prisoner X: A false-flag agent?

An already reported, Iran-related  story  developed in parallel to that of Prisoner X, with numerous factors allowing for overlap. Could Zygier have compromised a false-flag operation to enlist an Iranian armed opposition group? 

Ben Zygier, alleged Mossad agent who was held without trial in Israeli prison and found dead in 2010 (photo from ABC Australia video)

It’s always difficult to try and discern the full picture when all you have is a few pieces of a puzzle, not necessarily even pieces belonging to the same box. But this is precisely the trouble with censorship and gag orders: it forces us to make do with what we have and to use only information already in the public domain. With this in mind, I’d like to draw attention to a story that developed in parallel to that of Prisoner X and had numerous factors that could (though not necessarily should) allow for some overlap.

In January 2012, a few days after another assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, Foreign Policy published an expose by Mark Perry, an expose that met with a fierce backlash and clampdown reminiscent of the one experience by Israeli media over the last few days. Drawing on testimonies and memos from senior intelligence officials in the Bush Jr.  and Obama administrations, Perry revealed that as recently as 2008, and perhaps even to this day, Israeli agents “touting American passports and flush American dollars” posed as American intelligence operatives in order to recruit members of Sunni terrorist organization Jundallah, infamous for attacks within Iran (targeting both officials and ordinary civilians). According to the report, the recruitment took place in Pakistan, but also in Morocco, London and elsewhere.

What do we know about Ben Zygier? Apart from biographical details preceding his involvement with the Mossad, we know that he changed his name several times: first to Ben Alon when immigrating to Israel, and then, in a new Australian passport, to the nearly-homonimic Ben Allen; later still, he also added Benjamin Burroughs to the list. We know that using at least one of the latter two identities, Zygier visited Syria, Lebanon and Iran; and that his name changes and his...

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Yair Lapid: The rise of the tofu man

Despite an astonishing surge to second place in the polls, chances of Yair Lapid making  an actual premiership bid are slim. He is risk-averse, lacks a political program, and his projected coalition is too fanciful to work. Lapid is much more likely to join Netanyahu’s next government, and the only question is: Will Lapid be Bibi’s pretty face in Washington as Foreign Minister, or will he be the Finance Minister, and therefore fall guy, for Israel’s upcoming austerity drive? 

Yair Lapid with “Yesh Atid” activists (photo: Yotam Ronen / activestills.org)

LIKUD VICTORY RALLY, TEL AVIV – After months of predictions for a comfortable right-wing win, Israel reeled tonight at a surprising near-gridlock between the “Right” and “Left” parliamentary blocs, with the Netanyahu-Liberman union barely scrambling past 30 seats, instead of the 45 42 they held between them in the departing parliament. But Netanyahu’s ratings were in steady decline ever since the union pact in late November and not least thanks his petty and paranoid attacks on settler leader Naftali Bennett.  The true surprise of the landslide vote was ultra-centrist candidate Yair Lapid. Lapid, a TV personality who avoided taking any remotely controversial stand on almost any issue, careened past rivals right and left to end up with 17 to 19 seats, rendering him the kingmaker of these elections. Bennett himself, the other golden boy of the 2013 elections, is currently forecasted to win 12 seats, a solid achievement but a far cry from the utopian poll projections of 15-19. Kadima, the centrist party that led Israel to wars in Lebanon and Gaza during its first term in the Knesset, and imploded in a series of ill-judged political manoeuvres at the end of its second term, has not made it to a third term at all, evaporating from Israeli politics with zero seats in the exit polls.

On the Left, Shelly Yacimovich doubled Labor’s seats but fell far, far behind her promise to oust Netanyahu or even to restore Labor as a significant force in Israeli politics. To add insult to injury, after making every possible effort to depoliticise and centralise Labor’s toxic brand, she was overtaken by an ad-hoc party led by a man who lacks any of the political structures, networks and traditional strongholds...

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J14 fades into grey in Labor primaries: New faces, old politics

The most important news about the Labor primaries is the depressing scarcity of news – most of the list  belies the same old politics Israeli voters grew weary of years ago. Even J14 has not managed to breathe new life into the party – and the most prominent new figure on the ballot had to fight her way in past her own party leader. 

Israel’s Labor party, widely viewed as the closest thing to an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, announced the results of its primaries on Friday, and its slate for the Knesset. The party is led by ex-journalist Shelly Yachimovich, the first woman in that position since Golda Meir led Labor’s antecedent Mapai in the 1960s-1970s. Unlike in Golda’s day, when Mapai saturated the country’s politics inside out and ruled nearly every institution, from parliament to union to local councils, this position is now far from an enviable one.

While Labor is currently set to just about double its eight seats to 18-20, and while the party is capitalising on the widespread social discontent brought to the fore by the 2011 J14 protests, it remains a far cry from challenging Netanyahu-Lieberman’s projected bloc of 34-40. For better or worse, Yachimovch’s chances of stepping deeper into Golda’s shoes and becoming prime minister are slim, and the largely lackluster list assembled under her leadership confirms this.

The entire realistic list (the top 20) is below. The most important aspect of it is the least remarkable: it is composed mostly of either stale old-timers clinging onto their seats by sheer power of habit, or party functionaries utterly unknown outside Labor circles. This will be addressed at the bottom of the post; what follows are notes on the newcomers.

*Make way: The most important and highest-ranking among the newcomers is journalist Merav Michaeli (no. 5), easily one of the most thoughtful among Haaretz columnists and one of the two-three most prominent feminist voices in Israeli mainstream media. Although a celebrity and an extremely popular figure on the Left, Michaeli was reportedly stonewalled by Yachimovich and had to fight tooth and nail to get into the top 2o - without cattle-trading that we know of, without endorsements* against the resentment of party functionaries old and new.  Her close alliance with Yachimovich’s arch-rival Amir Peretz notwithstanding played an important part in keeping her on the ballot, but her election to the no. 5...

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Photos: Bus bombing in central Tel Aviv; at least 17 wounded

At least seventeen people were wounded, two of them seriously, when a bomb blew up in a bus in central Tel Aviv earlier today. This was the first bus bombing in the city since 2006, and although several armed groups voiced support for the bombing, Israeli police were cautious not to assign direct responsibility even hours after the attack. Uncharacteristically for a conflict area more than accustomed to suicide bombings, the bomb appears to have been left on the bus and set off some time after the bomber or bombers left the vehicle. Police described the attack as “amateur-like.”

In Gaza, meanwhile, IDF navy and air force continued to bomb the city, striking another media building and killing 12 people by the late afternoon. Among the reported victims were a two-year-old child and a father with his two children.

Activestills has photos from the scene of the Tel Aviv bombing:

The aftermath of an explosion on a bus in central Tel Aviv, November 21, 2012. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

 

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion on a bus with passengers on board. At least 17 people were injured in a blast on a bus in central Tel Aviv. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

 

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion on a bus with passengers on board. At least 17 people were injured in a blast on a bus in central Tel Aviv. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

 

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Gaza: Time for real men?

Israeli viewers are currently under attack – not only by rockets, but by a legion of serious, gruff, tough, men’s-man manly commentators manning the studios and explaining why the war makes sense to any reasonable… man. A text by Idan Landau. 

Scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, superimposed with members of the Israeli cabinet. (Amir Schiby)

 

“And once again the screen is awash with men, battalions, battalions of men, swarms of men; commander men and commentator men, calming men and threatening men, men with a rich past in positions of command, men with greying temples, men with a rich past in position of command and greying temples, Ashkenazi men and Mizrahi men, men who know what’s best now, men who have no idea what’s going on now, men who talk much but say little, stern-gazed men, stern-faced men, men with a knife between their teeth and a quiver in their loins, men who lost their teeth, men who know “their” mentality all too well, men who’ve spent sleepless nights in roles that are best keep silent, men who are best kept silent, explicit men and implicit men, men yanked from among the mothballs, from the kitbag, leftovers from primaries, parachuted CEOs, retired generals, retired experts, retired men, chewing men and swallowing men and men regurgitating, men with frameless glasses, men who start each sentence with “I would suggest that all of us…”, men horny as hell, men horny for hell, for blood and for bombs, men for whom this is their finest hour, men who flower now, youthful men, men whose old age is worthy of their youth, men who’s erection never rests, men whose erection, whose erection, whose erection, whose erection, men who ate from the same tin bowl, men who have known each other since —-  and even since ——, men who say wars are not for sissies, men who lack the female touch, men whose heart is untouched by the breath of a sleeping baby, whose manly, sane, reasonable, baboon-like, warmongering reasoning is unclouded, men who are retired war criminals, who meet in the studio with smiles of relief, hello War Criminal A, hello War Criminal B, men who know...

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Facebook won't remove photo of woman 'begging to be raped'

You may have heard about the massive cyber-war against the Reddit group “Creepshot”, which featured users sharing surreptitiously taken pictures of women’s cleavages, upskirts etc. The war hit the headlines when one of the thread’s contributors was revealed to be a school teacher taking pictures of his own students in class. It seems now that some of its denizens have found a new home – Facebook.

Yesterday, a Facebook page titled “Creepshots” posted a photo of a woman in a short skirt with the caption “begging to be raped“:

Although almost all 45 comments (at time of writing) were negative and most promised to report the photo to the Facebook admins, 24 hours later it was still there, and users who attempted to report it today got the following response:

“Status: Content Not Removed

Details:Thank you for your report. We carefully reviewed the photo you reported, but found it doesn’t violate our community standard on hate speech so we didn’t remove it.”

Here, for example, is a screenshot of the response given to one user:

And here is another:

And another:

And so on and so on.

How on earth is “begging to be raped” not considered hate speech by Facebook? Seriously, it’s more than just getting them to remove the picture now: Users deserve to know just why the Facebook employee who reviewed the block request did not think this caption was beyond the pale.

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