+972 Magazine http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 28 Apr 2015 08:25:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Zoological terrorism? Israelis up in arms over ‘Palestine Gazelle’ http://972mag.com/zoological-terrorism-israelis-up-in-arms-over-palestine-gazelle/106009/ http://972mag.com/zoological-terrorism-israelis-up-in-arms-over-palestine-gazelle/106009/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 20:10:03 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106009 A Facebook post livid at the fact that the Palestine Gazelle at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is being listed as such has been making some waves on Israeli social media today. The status was posted by Israeli right-wing protofascist Yoav Eliassi, who goes by “The Shadow” (and was involved in violence against leftists protesting the Gaza war last summer in Tel Aviv).

The Shadow posted a photo of the sign at the zoo on his Facebook page and next to it the caption: ”At the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo!!!!!!”  (By the way it says “Israeli Gazelle” in Hebrew and just “Palestinian” in Arabic).

Screenshot from The Shadow's Facebook status (April 27, 2015)

Screenshot from The Shadow’s Facebook status (April 27, 2015)

The kicker? “Palestine Gazelle” is the animal’s scientifically accurate name.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo explained as much in a response on his Facebook page:

“That is the gazelle’s official scientific name, as accepted by the international community.” When we list the name of an animal we are obligated to list its name as it appears in the scientific literature. These are the accepted norms throughout the world, irrespective of politics. Let’s invest our positive energies in preserving Israel’s nature. That is where we can really have an impact!”

I don’t know what is sadder (or dumber): The fact that any human being would see a problem with this, or that the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo felt the need to respond to this idiocy.

This is truly a low point in Israeli society. An Israeli nationalist so filled with animosity that he is picking a bone with science, with history, spreading not only hate but stupidity. And a national zoo so concerned with the idea that Israelis  may begin boycotting it for using the word “Palestine” that it feels the need to respond. (The Facebook page has a bunch of comments calling The Shadow out for being a moron, but also many agreeing with him).

In some ways, this Facebook status perfectly captures the atmosphere in Israel of 2015. Next thing you know The Shadow will organize a protest at the Jerusalem Post offices for once being called the Palestine Post.  Or maybe the next government will propose a bill to ban utterance of the word “Palestine.”

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Buzzcut Season: An Israeli-Palestinian tribute to Lorde http://972mag.com/buzzcut-season-an-israeli-palestinian-tribute-to-lorde/105816/ http://972mag.com/buzzcut-season-an-israeli-palestinian-tribute-to-lorde/105816/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:15:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105816 Putting together an homage to your favorite singer is a trivial thing — if you live in a normal country.

buzzcut perfect parfect

It started off as a simple enough idea: let’s make a musical tribute to Lorde, New Zealand’s young and upbeat singer-songwriter. I’m crazy about Lorde’s music, despite being nearly 40 years old and usually more of a Schubert enthusiast. I even found myself translating her songs into my native language, Hebrew.

My easygoing friend, Yaron Fishman, was game, and he’s a musical producer. Everything fit, and then I messed it up. I put politics into it, or rather, extracted the politics of simplicity.

I am an Israeli who works with Palestinians as equals, which is rare. (Typically we are the ones bossing them around.) This experience has taught me to see my country as home to at least two equally legitimate societies. If this is to be a local tribute, I told Yaron, we should find a translator into Arabic and a Palestinian singer. It shouldn’t be too difficult.

But it was. In the year 2015, society in the Holy Land is exceedingly polarized and the air is dense. Every word, spoken or sung, can be taken as a political statement. Our potential partners were scared off at first: either by the fear of being misunderstood or because they misunderstood us.

Thinking differently

As the journey evolved, I felt it was fascinating and decided to document. The result is “The Israel Palestine Lorde Diaries,” a 15-part online novella. It tells of how I desperately chased a Eurovision star to a dark desert clifftop, how I performed “Royals” to a Jerusalem hassid, and jammed on a bus with a pre-teen from Bethlehem. Lorde remaps the country from chapter to chapter, and countless issues arise: anti-Normalization, government-sanctioned racism, identity politics, what we hear when we hear each other’s languages and music and even how we look at a land like New Zealand.

The diaries take about an hour to read, and are probably the best thing I’ve written in English (I’m a Hebrew author by day). It is certainly the first thing I have ever illustrated (apologies). Thing is: at times I came close to accepting that the Diaries themselves would be the only final product, the only outcome of the project. I allowed myself to believe that the musical project had failed and had given way to a storytelling project. Then, just as I fully despaired, the concept changed.

Since Palestinian partners were so hard to find, I decided to turn the microphone on Israeli society: to lift the blanket of pretend homogeny and explore the identities and languages lying beneath the surface. If we treat ourselves honestly, would our neighbors not be more trusting? If we break up the strict binary, would joining the pieces not prove easier?

This proved to be a good move.

Here, then, is the dream fulfilled. It is “Buzzcut Season,” a five-song, Israeli-Palestinian tribute to the songs of Ella Yelich-O’Connor, six months in the making. Four of the covers are sung in languages common in Jewish-Israeli society. The fifth is in Arabic. Singing it is Palestinian Rasha Nahas, who is Lorde’s age, 18, and whose talent is luminous.

‘Royals’ in French. Cover by the Djamchid Sisters

First, Here are Shai-li and Eden Djamchid of Jerusalem, performing a dashing version of Lorde’s greatest hit to date.

Djamchid is a Persian name. I half expected the sisters to sing in their paternal ancestors’ Farsi, but they preferred their mother’s native French: the tongue of many a royal, many a pauper, and quite a few Israelis, whether of French or North African background. It was the official language around these parts during the times of the Crusades.

‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ in Russian. Cover by Diana Gern

Lorde composed this one for the soundtrack of the third “Hunger Games” movie. It is a monologue of latter day Artemis Katniss Everdeen, a rebellious tune.

Naturally, I expected the Palestinians to pick it up, but life is full of surprises. Translator Vlady Dvoyris snatched it and Pushkinized it magnificently. Russian is the native tongue of over 1 million Israelis, many of whom arrived here following the fall of the USSR.

‘Buzzcut Season’ in HebrewCover by Yuval Ben-Ami

Here is my own Hebrew version of my favorite Lorde song. The lyrics deal with escapism in a violent world and ring especially powerful in this country and in this language.

The style we picked is that of Israeli rock of the 90s: decisively European, yet with a Mideast-influenced guitar solo. I’m amazed at Yaron’s technical abilities. His studio is simply a living room filled with mics. We had to sample the drums from YouTube.

‘Team’ in Yiddish. Cover by The Technicalities

“Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams,” sings Lorde, and this would be a perfect description of the existential state of Yiddish enthusiasts: lovers of a dying language.

Shira Z. Carmel and Alon Diament make up Yiddish combo The Technicalities. They bring the brilliant “Team” to life in the tongue of European Jewry, a language we associate strongly with the elderly and the ultra-Orthodox.

‘Biting Down’ in Arabic. Cover by Rasha Nahas 

Biting Down is pretty much a Lorde B-side. It isn’t featured on her album “Pure Heroine,” but on the freebie EP, “The Love Club,” that preceded it. It’s strikingly rootsy and a bit darker than her other offerings.

Rasha Nahas of Haifa pulled this one apart and put it together according to her own vision, which is what I feel we should do with the entire system here and all our dysfunctions. Jamming together despite the barriers is a nice first step.

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Israel issues E. J’lem settlement tenders as violence spikes http://972mag.com/israel-issues-e-jlem-settlement-tenders-as-violence-spikes/105998/ http://972mag.com/israel-issues-e-jlem-settlement-tenders-as-violence-spikes/105998/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 14:45:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105998 Pisgat Ze’ev is one of Israel’s ‘ring neighborhoods,’ separating Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Settlement watchdog says tenders could not have been published without Netanyahu’s approval.

By Natasha Roth

Ongoing construction work in the Pisgat Ze'ev settlement in East Jerusalem, as seen from the Anata neighborhood on August 29, 2012. Under international law, all of the new Jewish neighborhood established by Israel after 1967 are deemed to be illegal and supposedly to be "removed" as a prelude to a peace agreement. In the meantime, residents of Anata complain of having lost a lot of land and access to the hill on which this neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev is built, although they add that several local families have actually moved to the settlement in order to find themselves on the right side of the Separation Wall, and avoid having to go through a checkpoint several times a day. (photo: JC/Activestills.org)

File photo of construction work in the Pisgat Ze’ev settlement in East Jerusalem, as seen from the Anata neighborhood, August 29, 2012. (photo: JC/Activestills.org)

The Israeli government published tenders for 77 new housing units in the settlements of Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Yaakov in occupied East Jerusalem Monday morning. The tenders follow a six-month gap in published settlement plans for the Palestinian part of Jerusalem


The move comes against a backdrop of a spike in violence in the area. A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by a checkpoint security guard at a-Zayim on Friday night after allegedly trying to stab a policeman; three Israeli police officers were injured near a-Tur neighborhood after being hit by a car on Saturday, following a day of clashes between police and Palestinians in the area; and unrest continued in a-Tur on Sunday, with dozens of injuries reported. Clashes also occurred early Monday morning surrounding the funeral of the youth shot on Friday in a-Tur.

Pisgat Ze’ev is located near Shuafat and Hizma, and with 50,000 residents is Jerusalem’s largest residential neighborhood. It is serviced by the Jerusalem light rail, which winds through East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods before arriving at the settlement. Neve Yaakov is located north of Pisgat Ze’ev, with 30,000 residents.

Both settlements are among Jerusalem’s “ring neighorhoods,” which fan out around the edges of East Jerusalem, sitting between it and the rest of the West Bank. The E1 area, where settlement activity is also underway, is the last remaining corridor through the ring that allows access between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.

Today’s tenders are significant because they are the first such decision taken by Netanyahu following his election victory, explained Daniel Seidemann of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli NGO that tracks any developments in the city that may affect the political process. “These tenders could not have been published without the prime minister’s supervision, and represent Netanyahu testing the waters.”

The announcement is also a possible indicator of how settlement activity in East Jerusalem will proceed, Seidemann continued: “Large-scale construction in East Jerusalem has been pretty much exhausted. We’re now likely to see more tenders of this type – tens of units here, tens of units there.”

There is, along with E1, one last large building project in Jerusalem, which Seidemann referred to as a “doomsday settlement.” Givat HaMatos, in south Jerusalem, will cut off East Jerusalem from Bethlehem when completed.

Until then, however, the Israeli government’s battle for property and land in East Jerusalem will continue to be a war of attrition against local Palestinians: tenders such as those published today; settler takeovers of Palestinian property; and official government eviction notices served to Palestinian families.

Each move takes place under the broad umbrella of the Judaization of East Jerusalem, and in the city’s febrile atmosphere, even “testing the waters” is a dangerous provocation.

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Israeli Right renews its fight on funding for human rights orgs http://972mag.com/israeli-right-renews-its-fight-on-funding-for-human-rights-orgs/105989/ http://972mag.com/israeli-right-renews-its-fight-on-funding-for-human-rights-orgs/105989/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 09:59:04 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105989 Legislative attacks on EU funding of human rights activities could backfire by forcing the Europeans to revisit the basis for its entire economic relationship with Israel — something that not even BDS has succeeded at accomplishing.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

The Israeli Right is once again seeking to introduce legislation that would limit the ability of human rights and anti-occupation organizations to seek funding abroad. As part of coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party is demanding that foreign-government funding of local institutions require approval by the Defense Ministry and the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The next government is unlikely to adopt Bennett’s demand as policy, but some softer version may very well reach the Knesset floor, and even gain the necessary majority to become law.


The right-wing media is already preparing the ground. Right-leaning newspaper Makor Rishon (now owned by Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson) published a major article last weekend based entirely on press releases by NGO Monitor, and focused on the European Union’s support for human rights organizations and other similar groups in Israel.

Like most of the public debate around this issue, the portrait the article painted was biased and one-sided — the organizations themselves weren’t even given a chance to comment. The Jewish Home party and NGO Monitor are not interested in the wider, general effect of foreign entities on the public debate in Israel, nor do they seek to look into the entire array of political organizations that are funded from abroad. They will not, for instance, tell you very much — if anything at all — about right-wing non-profits’ sources of funding. (NGO Monitor itself is funded abroad, and doesn’t have the most transparent record.) The goal of the Jewish Home and NGO Monitor is to attack what they see as the last political platform for anti-occupation activity inside Israeli society. (Full disclosure: the non-profit that operates this site is among the organizations that are often attacked by NGO Monitor. Eight percent of +972′s budget last year came from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which is defined as “a representative of a foreign government” under Israeli law.)

There is little doubt one way of gaining influence is to fund certain activities, and that includes gaining political influence. “Soft power,” the common phrase used to describe such humanitarian, cultural or economic activities by governments, already betrays this fact. Every country engages in similar activities – including Israel, which, among other things, sends paid envoys to university campuses and synagogues overseas to engage in political activities designed to influence public opinion, with the eventual goal of influencing governments’ foreign policies to support the Israeli side of the conflict.

A debate about foreign influence in local politics is a good thing, but it should encompass the whole picture and put things in proper context. Most of the European Union money that is sent to Israel, for example, does not go to human rights activities, but to other fields, most notably to scientific research. As part of the Horizon 2020 program, for example, Israeli scientists and institutions are about to receive up to NIS 1.5 billion, which is more than what all of the human rights organizations got from all European countries combined (not just the EU), over a period of several years, and that’s according to NGO Monitor’s own data.

In other words, there is no “political” and “non political” money, but rather support for all sorts of activities that fall under the broad agenda of the EU (or the American government, for that matter). Anyone seeking to stop funding for human rights organizations will also necessarily risk losing university grants as well. That is the reason Netanyahu torpedoed previous versions of anti-NGO legislation in the Knesset.

And it doesn’t end there: Article 2 of the 1995 agreement between Israel and the Europe, the very document that made Israel a favorable trade partner to the EU, states that:

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

I believe that the EU should have long ago realized that the permanent state of occupation Israel perpetuates, which deprives millions of people of their most basic human rights, is a major violation of Article 2 of the agreement. But Brussels has never applied Article 2, let along considered backing away from the Israeli-European agreement. The public discourse in Israel — full of conspiracy theories about European agents — tends to miss that simple fact.

If Israel decides to place limits on the EU’s ability to support human rights causes, it will be inviting the Europeans to revisit the 1995 agreement, including Article 2. As I said, I believe this – and not the fear of the Supreme Court or a non-existent opposition – is the only thing standing in the way of new attempts at passing anti-NGO legislation.

The irony is that the Israeli Right might actually succeed where all the boycott movements failed – in making European governments reconsider their special relationship with Israel, and not just engaging in symbolic actions and statements against the settlements, as they do now. If the Israeli anti-occupation organizations really supported BDS – as they are often accused by the Right – they would be wishing the Jewish Home party and NGO Monitor the best of luck in their current efforts.

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Congress: There is no legitimate form of Palestinian resistance http://972mag.com/congress-there-is-no-legitimate-form-of-palestinian-resistance/105978/ http://972mag.com/congress-there-is-no-legitimate-form-of-palestinian-resistance/105978/#comments Sun, 26 Apr 2015 21:34:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105978 Congress uses U.S. trade policy to undercut European pressure against Israeli settlements. A new U.S. bill legitimizes Israeli settlements and delegitimizes Palestinian non-violent resistance to the occupation.

The U.S. Capitol building, Washington, D.C. (Shutterstock.com / Brandon Bourdages)

The U.S. Capitol building, Washington, D.C. (Shutterstock.com / Brandon Bourdages)

The United States Congress is about to pass a law that erases the Green Line and delegitimizes one of the most effective non-violent tools Palestinians have for fighting the 48-year-old Israeli occupation.

The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act legally authorizes the White House to negotiate and sign trade deals. An amendment in that bill now defines Washington’s principal objectives in those negotiations to include the discouragement of boycott, divestment and sanctions moves against Israel, including non-tariff barriers on Israeli goods, services or commerce.


The bill defines such boycott, divestment and sanctions actions as any actions “that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”

The key term here is, “or in Israeli-controlled territories.” That term is specifically used in Israel to refer the Israeli presence in the West Bank, including the settlements. To put it simply, Congress is saying that as far as it is concerned, there is no difference between Tel Aviv and the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Another point of immense importance is the inclusion along with BDS, “politically motivated non-tariff barriers.” Because the amendment specifically applies to trade talks with Europe, that wording should be understood as a response to increased efforts by the EU to ensure that its trade agreements and financial relationships with Israel do not cross the Green Line. That means labeling settlement products, limiting financial cooperation and lending to companies that operate in the settlements and the withdrawal of agricultural inspection certificates for Israeli goods produced in the West Bank.

Now the executive branch of the United States will be mandated “to discourage” such measures, which have become an increasingly central tenet of European foreign and economic policy vis-a-vis Israel. The measures are treated seriously because as a bloc, the EU is Israel’s single largest trading partner.

Settlement construction in Gilo, January 21, 2010. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Construction in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Gilo, January 21, 2010. (Photo: Activestills.org) All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

For over a decade the United States has consistently described Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “obstacles to peace,” “unhelpful” and “illegitimate.” In decades past, Washington joined the international consensus that settlements are illegal under international law.

The United States was single-handedly responsible for extracting commitments from late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to disavow violent resistance to the occupation, essentially forcing his hand toward a non-violent path. Ultimately, that resulted in the appointment of Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, who is fully committed to a non-violent path toward statehood and independence.

The central tenet of that path has been bilateral peace negotiations with Israel. But over the course of the last 20 years, as the peace process sputtered and eventually fell into a vegetative state, the Palestinian government has expanded its non-violent arsenal. Its most threatening tool is actually a civil society initiative: the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. (More recently it has taken other steps like joining UN bodies and the International Criminal Court.)

Short of group meditation and the power of positive thinking, there is no tactic more quintessentially non-violent than boycott. Furthermore, boycott epitomizes the free-market foundations of America’s economic and political ideology: it is not only non-violent, it is also democratic. Ideally, consumers choose with whom they wish to do business, and in doing so, encourage the adoption of their political beliefs and values.

But even more compelling, the boycott movement is largely credited with bringing down the closest known political system to the Israeli occupation: South Africa’s apartheid regime. BDS has a pretty strong track record for affecting political change.

BDS graffiti on Israeli separation wall, Bethlehem, West Bank, June 17, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Graffiti supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is seen on Israel’s separation wall, Bethlehem, West Bank, June 17, 2014. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The Israeli government knows how effective boycott, divestment and sanctions could be in forcing it to recalculate its interests vis-a-vis the 48-year-old military occupation. Israeli leaders have understood for decades that the world will no longer accept its occupation and denial of rights to an entire nation of people under its control.

The perpetuation of the peace process bought Israel a 20-year grace period from feeling the international consequences of the now-permanent occupation. But particularly with the re-election of a prime minister who has all but ruled out a two-state solution, most analysts expect the pressure to soon be ratcheted up a few notches, and that will likely come first from Europe.

Two weeks ago the Israeli High Court handed down a symbolic affirmation of efforts to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. However, the court, which was asked to rule on the constitutionality of anti-boycott legislation, largely de-fanged the law and the ability to effectively use it as a counter-measure to boycott efforts.

Now, the United States is picking up where the Israeli Supreme Court left off. Determined and intransigent as its settlement policies may be, Israel has no way of actually stopping the rising tide of economic pressure heading east along the Mediterranean. The United States, however, is the only world power still willing to waste its soft power on sheltering Israel from the inevitable storm.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

Despite its intentions, however, it is not clear exactly to what extent the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act will succeed in influencing U.S.-EU trade agreements, and eventually, EU trade policy with Israel.

What is clear is that American liberal Zionist groups attempting to lobby for a change in U.S. policy vis-a-vis Israel’s occupation are up against something far more powerful than most are willing to admit.

If, as many believe, international pressure is necessary for ending the occupation, it is almost certainly not going to come from Washington. Regardless of what Obama chooses to do — or abstain from doing — in his final two years in office, the United States’ unquestioning support of Israel’s occupation is only becoming more entrenched.

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The Long Road to Bethlehem: Part two http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-two/105860/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-two/105860/#comments Sun, 26 Apr 2015 14:22:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105860 Click here to read part one.

I was sold on the apartment. But my landlady wasn’t sold on me yet.

We went upstairs and sat in her salon. Once a porch, it had been closed in with glass windows and offered a view of the hills surrounding Bethlehem. It was one of the few vistas that wasn’t ruined by the occupation. There was no wall, no checkpoints, no military bases, no settlements.

As my landlady took her seat across from me, she handed me a small, wrapped hard candy. She apologized for not offering me coffee. I realized how much she needed to rent the first floor out.

“You aren’t the first to come see the place,” she began, adding that she’d turned the last applicant down because she suspected that he was a Jew. Under no circumstances would she rent to a Jew.

She looked at me, her gaze shifting from one of my eyes to the other, as though she was trying to read what was behind them. I understood that she was waiting for some sort of a reaction. I smiled.

“Happiness is more important than money,” she continued, explaining that it was important to her to find the right person for the apartment. The house was special to her—not only because she’d grown up in it but also because it had witnessed so much of Bethlehem’s history.

The cornerstone was laid in 1808 when someone built a tiny, stand-alone room next to the well. Several other one-room houses followed, making a half-moon around the well, creating an open-air courtyard. In the early 1900s, the cluster of rooms was turned into one large home. The courtyard was closed and the second story was built. New floors were laid with the hand-painted tiles common to the Levant—a reminder of the years when trains connected Beirut and Damascus to Jerusalem and Jaffa.

But those days didn’t last. The Middle East was carved up, including Palestine. During the Nakba, my landlady’s family left Jaffa empty-handed: her father lost his business; they lost their money, home, and belongings. Christians, they fled to Bethlehem where they had roots and family. A few years later, in the early 1950s, they moved into the first floor of this house, a once-wealthy family of seven crammed into two bedrooms.

But the place emptied as her brothers left to find work abroad—the West Bank’s economy wasn’t great and it only got worse under the occupation. Thanks in large part to the remittances her brothers sent back to Palestine, her family scraped together enough money to buy the whole house. Eventually, my landlady followed in the previous owners’ footsteps, moving upstairs and renting out the space beneath her. In the beginning, many of her tenants were students who came from other Palestinian cities and villages to attend Bethlehem University. But as the occupation deepened—a process that was facilitated by the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority—the economy all but ground to a halt and Palestinian tenants were increasingly unreliable.

During the hard days of the Second Intifada, when Bethlehem was under siege, the first floor was full of stranded students who couldn’t pay rent. After that, my landlady decided only to rent to ajanib, foreigners. She began to rattle off the list of recent tenants, telling me their names, their jobs, where they’d come from, and why they’d left Palestine. Most of her renters had had cushy NGO gigs. I didn’t tell my landlady that I wasn’t collecting a foreigner’s income; that my wage was set by the PA’s scale and that I was making the same as a Palestinian professor would. Another reason to leave Jerusalem—I couldn’t afford it on a West Bank salary.

An olive tree in front of the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

An olive tree in front of the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

“I must ask you,” she said. “What is your religion?”

“I don’t see how that’s really relevant.”

“What is your religion?” she insisted.

“I’m secular,” I said.

“Because, me, I’m Catholic.”

“That’s nice.”

“And I’m from Palestine,” she continued. “Where are you from?”

“America,” I said.

“No one’s really from America—” she began.

“—except the Native Americans,” I interrupted. “You know, the Indians.”

“But, clearly, you’re not Indian,” she smiled. “So where did your people come from?”

“My people?” Since I was young, I’d always answered such questions by saying “I’m Jewish.” Clearly, I couldn’t say that now. I unwrapped the candy, put it in my mouth, and smoothed the wrapper out on my knee. I imagined the square before me as a map; I mentally traced the circuitous route my Sephardic and Ashkenazi ancestors made.

I realized she was waiting for an answer. But all the countries my people had passed through seemed loaded. As I went through the list in my head, I became more and more convinced that naming any of them would reveal my Jewish background.

“My people—oh, you know, they’re from here and there. Everywhere, really. I’m very mixed.”

She glanced at the wrapper on my knee. I crumpled it up, used my fingers to push it into the palm of my hand.

“Part of my family came from Italy,” I said. “Guarnieri.” Though I was usually annoyed by it, in that moment I was glad for this remnant of my first marriage—an Italian last name. Different from the one my Italian ancestors on my mother’s side had carried, but Italian nonetheless.

“Now I have a question for you,” I said. “My husband will be spending part of the week with me. Is that okay?”

Some Palestinian landlords forbid female renters from having men over—it was best to check in advance. My partner and I had also decided to say that we were married as few people date openly in Palestine.

“Is he really your husband?” my landlady asked. “Or your boyfriend?”

“Well, we’re planning to get married,” I answered, mentally adding to the end of the sentence: if his family will approve.

“So he’s your boyfriend.”

“Yes,” I said, in Arabic.

“How many boyfriends do you have?”

Both the feminist and the old-fashioned lady who live uncomfortably together inside of me balked at the question. But I knew that I had to answer it. “Just one,” I said.

“Some of these foreign women have a different man coming over every day,” my landlady said, shaking her head. “I can’t have that here. The neighbors will talk. But if it’s just one boyfriend—and your relationship is serious—ahlan wa sahlan.”

Welcome. I’d passed the interview. The place was mine if I wanted it and provided I would stay for at least a year. Could I promise her that? How long had I been here? What was my visa situation?

I told my landlady that I’d just signed a two-year contract at the university and that I wasn’t too concerned about the bureaucratic issues.

“The Jews don’t like foreigners, you know. Four, five years and no more visa,” she wiped one palm with the other. “You’re done.”

I nodded.

“How long have you been in Palestine?”

“Over six years,” I answered, wishing I were a better liar, rushing to add that I’d been working as a journalist.

That seemed to satisfy her curiosity. But, in the months that followed, she would put things together. And later, during the 2014 war—after we’d lived in the same house for almost a year, after a visitor mistook us for mother and daughter, remarking on our similar features and frame and coloring, and after we’d felt our shared home shake when rockets hit the earth—my landlady would come into my apartment and ask: “You’re Jewish?”


My daily commute from Bethlehem to Abu Dis meant that I had to pass through a checkpoint referred to as “the container.” Deep in the West Bank, it is one of many internal checkpoints that divide one Palestinian area from another, contradicting the Israeli argument that the checkpoints are about security. They’re about crowd control and the container offers a prime example: it stands in the middle of the only road that links Ramallah to Bethlehem, or the center of the West Bank to the south. If the army closes the container—and it does on rare occasions, like during Israel’s 2012 attack on Gaza—it effectively cuts the West Bank into two, separating the south from the central West Bank.

Checkpoints also make the occupation more efficient. A relatively small number of soldiers can control a large population when that population is being slowed down, funneled through checkpoints, and surrounded momentarily by guns. Because once you’re through, you don’t forget about what’s behind you.

Israeli soldiers man an ‘internal checkpoint’ separating Palestinian cities, West Bank. (Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers man an ‘internal checkpoint’ separating Palestinian cities, West Bank. (Activestills.org)

You carry the images with you: the guns, the sight of the olive green uniforms, the sound of tires bouncing over spikes. They’re like the kind of spikes you find in a parking garage that you wouldn’t pay any mind to as you rolled over them but here, you feel them—ca-duk, ca-duk—the sharp sound of metal on metal, like a gun being cocked, like a lock being turned around you. From your seat you imagine their sharp metal teeth behind you and underneath you, and you know that there is no throwing the car into reverse and going back to that open stretch of road. You’re locked inside the checkpoint now and you’re surrounded.

You carry the images with you: the night you were in a service taxi and you saw a human being hogtied and blindfolded on the shoulder of a road, surrounded by soldiers, his car idling empty nearby, the driver’s door still open. The sounds of gasps rippling through the service taxi.

The checkpoint was so off-limits to Israelis that there wasn’t even a sign saying it was off-limits.

Even once you’ve passed, you feel like you’re always surrounded by guns and gasps. The sights and sounds might come back to you at any time, for no good reason. You could be having lunch with a colleague, you could be helping a student with the rough draft of her essay, you could even be laughing, and suddenly you hear the ca-duk, ca-duk of tires rolling over the spikes, you hear the gasps. You see arms stretched behind a back, hands bound, a blindfold.

No need to send more soldiers to the West Bank when they live deep in everyone’s subconscious.


I came to find internal checkpoints much more frightening than the one I’d passed when I lived in Jerusalem for another simple reason: in the West Bank, anything could happen. Anywhere. At any time. Especially at the checkpoints.

I knew this intellectually before I moved to Bethlehem. But I didn’t understand it fully—with my insides, in my heart and in my gut—until one hot afternoon at the tail end of summer.

I was headed to Ramallah to attend a former student’s wedding. I shouldn’t have been going. I’d been sick for over a week with a horrible stomach flu. I couldn’t keep anything in my system and had survived the past 10 days on little more than chicken broth, pita, and water. Eating sent my digestive system into spasms, causing excruciating pain. Drinking wasn’t much better.

I shouldn’t have been going, but this was no ordinary student. She was one of my smartest, most hardworking, and most moral. She was at once opinionated and open-minded. She was also unswerving in her faith, not in a dogmatic way but in a spiritual sense. Her total trust in God gave her the serenity and self-confidence of the enlightened.

Even though she was only 19 years old, I looked to this former student as a role model. When she hand-delivered an invitation to her wedding, I was so touched and honored to be invited that tears came to my eyes. I’d told her I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

She’d emailed in the days before the wedding to strategize about how to get her conservative family to allow my partner, Mohammad, to accompany me. It wasn’t acceptable to bring a boyfriend to the wedding. There was no dating in the West Bank. And she couldn’t tell them that we were married. She would have to say that we were engaged.

Is that okay? She wrote.

Mohammad and I decided it was.

I’m so happy you’ll be a part of my special day! She responded.

Sick or not, I intended to honor my word.

Already exhausted and dehydrated, I’d deliberately dehydrated myself a little more for the service ride to Ramallah. Otherwise, I ran the risk of having a bout of diarrhea on the way. I figured I’d catch up on my fluids once I got to the wedding, where there would also be a bathroom.

You carry the images with you — the night you saw a human being hogtied and blindfolded on the shoulder of the road.

It wasn’t appropriate to ride public transportation in an evening gown and high heels so I put my dress and shoes in a shopping bag and placed it by the front door. Despite my condition and the searing heat—the last gasp of summer—I dressed for the West Bank. Donning long sleeves and jeans, I headed to the bus station.

My head was already throbbing by the time the service taxi rounded the last curve above Wadi Nar and approached the container. Even though the soldiers usually waved the services through or ignored them altogether, I was nervous. If they checked IDs, I could be arrested. The container was so off-limits to Israelis—that is, Israelis other than the soldiers that manned the checkpoint—that there wasn’t even a sign saying that it was off-limits.

An arrest would threaten the life I’d built in the territories. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to make it to the wedding if I was detained.

A Palestinian service taxi passes through an Israeli army checkpoint in the West Bank. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian service taxi passes through an Israeli army checkpoint in the West Bank. (Activestills.org)

But the soldiers didn’t even look when we entered the checkpoint. We rolled through the container. As the service taxi bounced over the second set of spikes, ca-duk, ca-duk, I relaxed—enough to realize that I’d left the bag with my dress and shoes by the front door.

I couldn’t go to the wedding dressed in jeans. But going back to Bethlehem meant that I would be late. And I was sick. I wasn’t sure my body could handle the additional time on the road. Meanwhile, the service taxi was moving, taking me further and further away from Bethlehem and my dress.

Unsure of what to do, I texted Mohammad who confirmed what I already knew—I had to go back for my clothes.

I cursed aloud then explained in Arabic, “I forgot something, my dress, at home. I have to go back to Bethlehem.”

The driver stuck his arm out the window and flagged down a van headed our way. It wasn’t a standard service taxi. It wasn’t yellow, with the registration and the driver’s information posted inside the vehicle but, rather, an old, unmarked white van, a gypsy cab. These are common in the territories, where there aren’t enough service taxis to provide for everyone’s transportation needs. The unregistered, uninsured vans are also a symptom of the West Bank’s depressed economy. The unemployment rate hovers around 20 percent; van drivers are trying to eke out a living.

Palestinian workers enter an unlicensed service taxi in the West Bank. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian workers enter an unlicensed service taxi in the West Bank. (Activestills.org)

I was in luck—the van was indeed headed to Bethlehem. I got out of the service taxi, the driver telling me “ma salaama,” go in peace, and boarded the van. It roared through the village with the windows down, music blasting. I was the only woman in the van and the men, who all seemed to know each other, made shouted conversation over the noise.

As we neared the container, the men stopped talking and the driver turned the music down. The van slowed. We were all silent, as though we were holding our breath. The tires rumbled over the first set of spikes. Ca-duk, ca-duk.

We were inside the checkpoint again, the same one I’d gone through just a few minutes earlier. But now we were being pulled over. How can this be? I wondered. I was just here and the soldiers weren’t checking anyone.

It was arbitrary. And that’s one of the most fearsome, unsettling aspects of the occupation—the arbitrariness of everything.

When the van stopped, a soldier opened the door and sized everyone up.

“Min wen?” From where? He asked the driver in Arabic.

“Abu Dis.”

“A wen?” To where?


The soldier asked, in Arabic, for IDs. I didn’t bother taking mine out—every other time soldiers had asked for IDs at the container, they’d only wanted the men’s. Sometimes they said “shebab” (young men) only; most of the time they didn’t bother to specify as it was understood that they weren’t concerned about the women. Sexism usually worked to my advantage at the checkpoints.

The man nearest the door collected the IDs from the other passengers and handed them over. The soldier flipped one open and then put it in the bottom of the pile. Again.

He was halfway through the stack when he said, in Hebrew, “You, too.”

“Me?” I asked, in English. I wasn’t playing dumb American—I didn’t know if the soldier was, indeed, talking to me. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the IDs.

“Ken,” yes, he said. Again, without looking up.

As I opened the front pocket of my black leather backpack, I noticed that my hands were shaking. Worried that this would make the soldier suspicious, I willed them still as I pulled my passport out and handed the document over.

He flipped to the page with my name and photo.

I prayed he wouldn’t look any further than that.

He didn’t. He closed the passport and returned it to me. I relaxed, thinking that I’d passed the test and that, when the soldier finished looking at the other IDs, he’d hand them back and we’d be on our way. Instead, he held the stack.

“Close your windows,” he said. He shut the door and walked away, towards the booth and the shade, where several other soldiers stood.

The driver rolled up his window and the passengers shut theirs, as well. I did, too. The sun beat down on the van. The air thickened around us, smothering me. I retched, my stomach clutching at nothing and bringing up nothing. The throbbing in my head intensified. I needed water, air, shade.

Years before, in Florida, I’d once had a heat stroke when I’d exercised too much during the wrong time of day and I was certain I would have one now if we didn’t move soon or at least roll down the windows. I realized that, if I did have a heat stroke, the soldiers were unlikely to call an ambulance. If they did, it would take a long time to get to the checkpoint and then to a hospital. And, in the meantime, I would still be in the heat.

The thought came to me: I could die here, in this van. I laughed aloud. The stupidity of it all—to be going anywhere in this state, with this flu, that I’d intentionally dehydrated myself even more, that I’d forgotten my dress, that I was in the middle of the West Bank at a checkpoint manned by soldiers of a country that didn’t exist 100 years ago. What a ridiculous way to go, I thought.

I laughed until I gagged and then I retched until there was bile in the back of my throat. I swallowed it back down. From the closed window, I could see a water cooler and plastic cups on the soldiers’ shaded benches. I got out of the van and asked, in English, if I could have some water.

“You can have a little if you have a cup,” the soldier said, in Hebrew.

“Of course I don’t have a cup,” I argued, switching to his language. “Please. I’m sick and I’m going to be very sick if I don’t drink something.”

“Find a cup,” he insisted.

“It’s not possible.” I stood there. Even if they wouldn’t give me water, at least out here I had air and could cool off a bit.

“Get into the van,” the soldier ordered me.


He jerked his rifle towards the van. “Go!”

I went. I climbed in, closed the door. I sat and asked my companions, in Arabic, if anyone had a cup. No one did.

“I need to drink something. I’m sick and it’s very hot and my head hurts and I think I will die.” The sentence was overly dramatic because my vocabulary was limited—I didn’t know how to say “dehydrated” or “heat stroke” in Arabic. Still, the driver turned around and looked at me. How did I appear? Pale or flushed? Was my face sunken? The bags under my eyes black?

Whatever the driver saw, it was enough to make him get out of the van and argue with the soldier until he managed to secure me a cup of water. He got back into the service and handed it to me. I choked back tears as I thanked him and thanked him and thanked him. I sipped the cup of water slowly for fear that I would vomit if I drank too fast.

Forty-five excruciating minutes passed. A soldier approached the van. He opened the door and tossed the men’s IDs in. He didn’t say a word. None of us said a word. The driver started the engine and, as the van began to roll and we bounced over the next set of spikes, we all opened the windows.

And just like that, we were moving again, and I was gulping the air.


When we arrived in Bethlehem, I tried to pay the driver. He refused to take my money. He called me an “angel” and explained that he and the other men were certain that things would have been worse at the container if I hadn’t been with them. As though making us sit inside a closed van in the heat for an hour hadn’t been enough. As though exhausting us and stealing our time hadn’t been enough.

I tried to run home but couldn’t—my head hurt worse with every step. I moved as fast as I could while trying to keep my head as still as possible. I went inside, got sick in the bathroom, grabbed the bag, and headed back to the bus station where I boarded another Ramallah-bound service.

I looked for some sort of sign or evidence that we’d been there, that something horrible had just happened to us.

The container again. The soldiers didn’t even look at the service. I knew it was irrational, but I stared out the window at the spot where the van had just sat for nearly an hour, baking in the heat. I looked for some sort of sign or evidence that we’d been there, that we’d been held for no reason, that something horrible and inhumane had just happened to us.

But there was nothing. It was like we’d never been there. I realized that the people who had come through the container after we’d left would have no idea that we’d been forced, on a soldier’s whim, to sit in a van with the windows rolled up. All of the checkpoints, I realized, were littered with the invisible remnants of others’ stories.

Several months later, a Palestinian from Hebron—Anas al-Atrash—would be shot and killed at the container. In the days that followed, when I would go through the checkpoint, I would look for some sort of trace of the incident, a mark upon the land, some sort of change, a sign that the earth had absorbed a human being’s blood, that the occupation had taken another life. Right here.

But there was nothing. Just soldiers waving service taxis through, ignoring them altogether or stopping drivers and searching cars. Business as usual. Ca-duk, ca-duk.


Ramallah at last. I couldn’t feel my legs as I propelled myself toward Mohammad’s office, walking as fast I could without running. I felt weak, my body diminished, my head heavy and bobbing with each step. I gripped the shopping bag and focused on the way the paper felt in my hand and the crinkling sound it made when I moved my fingers. I didn’t hear the traffic or the vendors or the conversations on the street.

We were late to the wedding. I spent much of the reception in the bathroom, sick. But when it was time for all of the guests to put their gifts of gold jewelry on the bride and to pose with her and the groom for a picture, I pulled it together.

I didn’t have gold with me but, rather, cash. At every wedding I’d attended in Israel, there’d been envelopes and a box. I searched for one now and was surprised that couldn’t find it at this posh reception in one of Ramallah’s nicest hotels. I realized how out of place I was here in the West Bank. Sure, I might have Palestinian friends and a Palestinian boyfriend and a job at a Palestinian university. I might speak a little Arabic and soldiers might occasionally mistake me for an Arab at a checkpoint. But I would never be Palestinian and I would never really belong here.

We mounted the stairs to the small stage the bride and groom sat on. I leaned in toward the bride, handed her the rumbled wad of cash, and apologized for being so late. “I forgot my dress. And then there was a problem at the checkpoint,” I said.

She nodded.

I put my arm around her and whispered my love and congratulations. Mohammad stood next to the groom. We all smiled for the photographer.

As Mohammad and I got off the stage and took our seats at one of the round tables, I imagined what that photo would look like. I thought of how strange it would look next to an image of the van at the container, how strange that I could be suffocating and retching at a checkpoint one moment and then smiling at a wedding just hours later.

My life felt at once raw and real and removed from reality. My head swam as I tried to make sense of it all. I shouldn’t have touched Mohammad in public, but I took his hand and squeezed it to remind myself that this—us—was the biggest reason I was in the West Bank. And that our love couldn’t survive with a wall between us.

But could it survive like this?

Later my former student wrote to me: So, are you sure that you and Mohammad will get married? Because many men asked my family about you after the wedding…

[Top photo: A view of olive trees and a stone home near Bethlehem. By: Mariait/Shutterstock.com]

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Israelis have turned away from compassion http://972mag.com/israelis-have-turned-away-from-compassion/105911/ http://972mag.com/israelis-have-turned-away-from-compassion/105911/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 16:46:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105911 From asylum seekers to Palestinians to Holocaust survivors, the lack of compassion is appallingly evident in the way Israeli society treats the disadvantaged.

By Natasha Roth

An Israeli settler shouts at an African refugee during an anti-refugee demonstration in south Tel Aviv, December 31, 2012. (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli settler shouts at an African refugee during an anti-refugee demonstration in south Tel Aviv, December 31, 2012. (photo: Activestills)

In 1904, H.G. Wells published a short story entitled “The Country of the Blind.” It tells of a mountaineer whose failed attempt to climb a summit in Ecuador leads him to slide down into a valley cut off from the rest the world. The inhabitants of the valley are descendants of settlers who fled the Spanish conquests and found themselves stuck there after an earthquake. They managed to build a functioning society, despite the fact that the community was afflicted early on by a disease that caused all babies to be born blind.


In time, the inhabitants of the valley adjusted to life without sight, and when the mountaineer arrives hundreds of years later, they have no concept of what vision is, or that there is even such a thing as a fifth sense. The mountaineer’s attempts to explain sight to the villagers is futile; they believe it is simply his imagination. Eventually, the mountaineer resigns himself to the community’s way of life.

Well’s story forms a useful allegory when considering the kind of society we have built in Israel. Except, of course, that the critical faculty that has been bred out of us is compassion, rather than sight. In a recent piece for Haaretz, Professor Eva Illouz wrote of “the demise of Israeli compassion.” Drawing on her experiences of the death of her father in an Israeli hospital, Illouz illustrates what has led to the relentless militarization of Israeli society. “The permanent colonizing of the land that required making the army central to society, is what shaped the politics of the gaze, who we see and how we see,” Illouz explains.

In turn, Israeli militarism makes us unable to “see” others — that is, unable to recognize them as human, and all that being human entails: vulnerability, sensibility and complexity.

Illouz further states that with militarization comes “the habit of domination” — the hardening of a collective attitude in which exerting power over the weaker elements of society becomes the norm. It unpicks our ability to see others as equal to us and, consequently, as deserving of equal treatment.

And indeed, in every direction one looks in Israel, the lack of compassion is appallingly evident in the way the disadvantaged are treated. Palestinians are alternately locked up in their own homes, and have their houses pulled down around them. Palestinian children languish in Israeli military prisons. Poor families are evicted and their houses demolished to make way for luxurious apartment blocks. Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty. Asylum seekers who have fled genocide, torture and persecution are detained indefinitely and/or deported to their deaths (even news of those deaths is greeted with glee). Families living below the breadline are eroded by a faceless, nightmarish excuse for a welfare system where apathy, not accountability, dictates the terms. And, as Illouz and others have experienced, even the sick fail to inspire compassion in those whose job is to care for them.

Residents walk through the remains of their homes in the unrecognized village Dahmash, Israel, April 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Residents walk through the remains of their homes in the unrecognized Palestinian village Dahmash, central Israel, April 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This is the behavior of a government and society with hardened hearts and unseeing eyes. It is a blindness that has, as in Wells’ story, struck Israeli society from day one. Even Ari Shavit, in his otherwise problematic book ‘My Promised Land,” manages to identify its starting point, when he admits that his great-grandfather — one of the early colonizers of the land — “does not see because he is motivated by the need not to see.” From this beginning, compassion has increasingly withered with each successive generation. We have now, as Illouz puts it, arrived at “a society that overall has become used to not blinking when destroying life.”

* * *

There is a closing section to Wells’ “The Country of the Blind.” Having fallen in love with a girl in the valley, the mountaineer is told he must have his eyes removed if he wants to marry her, as the village doctor believes they are affecting his brain. He consents, but decides to escape on the morning of the operation.

Following the election results, commentators asked whether Israel had already made its choice. Israeli society voted away from both democracy and compassion. The choice we face is less clear than that of the mountaineer; nonetheless, there is a definite fork in the road. Do we choose compassion, to “see” others? Or do we choose to remain blind, groping our way further into the darkness because we refuse to believe there is another way?

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.

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How Jewish and Palestinian cultural artifacts became Israeli property http://972mag.com/how-jewish-and-palestinian-cultural-artifacts-became-israeli-property/105902/ http://972mag.com/how-jewish-and-palestinian-cultural-artifacts-became-israeli-property/105902/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 14:28:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105902 A new book looks at the ways in which ancient religious manuscripts belonging to Yemenite Jews, as well as thousands of books owned by Palestinians and Holocaust survivors became part of Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem.

By Gish Amit (Translated by Shaked Spier)

The reading room in Israel's National Library in Jerusalem. (photo: Assaf Pinchuk/CC BY 3.0)

The reading room in Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem. (photo: Assaf Pinchuk/CC BY 3.0)

The book “Ex Libris: History of Robbery, Preservation, and Appropriation in the National Library in Jerusalem,” addresses three affairs that took place within the walls of the Israeli National Library in Jerusalem: the robbery of Yemenite Jews’ manuscripts, which migrated to Israel during the 1940’s and 50’s; the collection of many thousands of book owned by Palestinians, which became part of the library’s collection; and the political struggles surrounding the redistribution of books belonging to Holocaust victims after World War II.


I argue that these three events are deeply intertwined in the way they reveal the manner by which Zionism has separated between people and their culture and heritage as part of the formation of national identity. The book’s epilogue, which is published here, aspires to think about the relationship between literature and socio-political violence. By doing so, it paints a new portrait of the National Library: not a site of secluded history, which is permanently decided and determined, but rather a continuous present tangled up with its own past — a space of injustice that also enables processes such as reparation, recognition and forgiveness.

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Mary Douglas wrote that objects are always encoded signs of social meanings. As a site of power creation and identity formation, the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem isn’t a place of knowledge, which is chosen in a naïve manner and free from hidden agenda, but rather a plac, in which knowledge is created, organized and sorted along the lines of ethnic, class, and national categories; a space that transforms objects into an inseparable part of a social reality that provides them with value according to its standards and needs. The three affairs described in the book “Ex Libris” couldn’t have happened unless Zionism had portrayed itself as the voice of the secret wishes of individuals and their communities, under the ethos of denial of (Jewish) exile; unless individuals had been transformed into objects serving a nation in its constituting phase, a nation that has left its mark on individuals and communities while claiming to speak in their name and redeem their culture, while at the same time giving objects human, national, and social value.

These affairs are a testimony to the modern Jewish settlement in Palestine/Israel, along with the Hebrew culture that developed alongside it, are first and foremost a chapter in modern European history. In all three affairs, intellectuals and bureaucrats whom acted out of a commitment — complex as it was — to the Zionist project had taken the right of representation from those who could not speak up or were denied of representation in history. These three affairs were articulated and described in terms of rescue and salvation, and those who took part in them truly believed in the nobility of their cause. In all three affairs the National Library has acted as a shelter to histories, which were deliberately forgotten.

The colonial imagination played a central role in these affairs: the collection of Palestinian and Yemenite-Jewish manuscripts and books was based on an Orientalist perspective that holds that only he can speak (from a paternalistic position) in the name of the indigenous communities that he studies; he was influenced by a long history of colonial bureaucracy that used census, ethnographic research, cartography and the deciphering of indigenous culture to sort individuals; and he is led by the view according to which the European colonies will help the natives achieve a “civilized way of life.” However, the “Diaspora Treasures” project grew out of orientalism (among other things) as a centuries-old European — partly anti-Semitic discourse — as well as the wish of the intellectuals in Jerusalem to extricate themselves from being the object of orientalism. In order to finally be European, they had to leave Europe.

Yemenite Jews walking to a ‘reception camp’ near Aden, 1949. (Photo by Kluger Zoltan/Israel National Archive)

Yemenite Jews walking to a ‘reception camp’ near Aden, 1949. (Photo by Kluger Zoltan/Israel National Archive)

Nevertheless, the National Library isn’t a place of sealed history, but rather of a continuous present that is tangled up in its own past: vast research works in the past two decades have deconstructed the archive’s innocent image as the carrier of the past and its memory, uncovering its role in the creation of legislation and social order — in the regulation of the political relationship between memory and forgetfulness. According to Jacques Derrida, the word archive comes from the Greek word Arkhe, which combines two principles: a natural or historical one — physical, historical or ontological — as well as the principle of law; there were people and gods who ruled, there was authority, social orders were practiced by which order was set.

Procedures of collection, politics of storage, and policies of cataloging became the alpha and omega of anthropologists, historians, and sociologists, which — as Michel de Certeau invited them to do — searched for new locales in historical research, while redefining both the kind of knowledge that has created the archive as well as their own position in relation to it. The archive, the argument goes, isn’t documenting historical experience but first and foremost its absence, while constantly reminding us that the thing we have lost was never in our possession to begin with. It isn’t a source of concluded knowledge or the objective messenger of history, but rather it is subjective and divided; a place that documents injustice and enables us to investigate it; a place in which authority, knowledge, and domination are the other side of that collection of documents and certificates that paves the way to forgotten histories and can, one day, convict their owners.

Like the symptom — a formation of the unknown, a compromise between two opposite desires and “a truth taking form” — the material structure of the archive reveals what the tongue doesn’t always explicitly articulate. Therefore, it also bears the potential to pave the way for processes of coping, recognition, and reparation.

What relevance has, for example, the fact that the gathering of cultural and spiritual objects from Europe was accurately documented — that culminated in an archive within the National Library’s archive — while documents and certificates that relate to the other two affairs were (deliberately, it seems) arbitrarily scattered, and, in the case of the Yemenite Jews, even disappeared? What significance does it have that only the Palestinian books can be found in the library’s storerooms (since they were marked and grouped together), while the books and manuscripts of European, and to a certain extent Yemenite Jews, were dispersed among the holdings of the the Library’s without a trace?

Read: Yemenite Children Affair — Families of the kidnapped speak out

I believe that procedures of documentation, indexing, and storing enable us to investigate the events while at the same time ponder not only the similarities, but also the differences between the three affairs. They reveal foundations of embarrassment and doubt; they keep the actions, hopes, believes, embarrassments and decisions of the individuals that built and formed the archive under lock and key. They may tell us more thea the documents themselves can, while at the same time undermining the archive’s image as the absolute expression of sovereign power. Furthermore, these procedures indicate the quality and quasi-futuristic nature of the past, its open and undecided nature, and offer a new comprehension of the library as a vulnerable fragile space that carries the memory of disaster, that preserves the traces of disaster and its remains. It is not a site of secluded history, which is permanently decided and determined, but rather a site that subverts the concept of past and gives the past lively, unsealed dimensions; a space that isn’t a past, but rather, in Derrida’s words: “an answer, promise, and responsibility toward the future.”

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The “Diaspora Treasures” project was based, first and foremost, on a deep personal commitment. For the Hebrew University’s employees, the efforts to deposit the books and manuscripts in the hands of the National Library in Jerusalem were inseparable from the Jewish struggle for collective recognition as the sole proprietors of the cultural possessions that were robbed by the Nazis in the absence of a Jewish nation-state. Therefore, they served as the crucial means for the rescue of Jewish culture after the Holocaust. Hayyim Nahman Bialik’s words, as he articulated the Hebrew University’s task in face of National Socialism in 1934, echo in their actions:

“[…] And for such times we have one way here: to concentrate our lives, to rescue the surviving remnant, to rescue those who escape destruction, give them another chance to connect the Jewish brain, the Jewish experience, the Jewish instinct, and the Jewish feeling to concrete creations […] The Hebrew University should accept this role. That is, it has to set an example of the idea of the concentration and gathering in its field, but also to serve as a mentor for the entire nation […] Of all the ups and downs of our lives, now we can hear the voice of history that tells us: gather now! And woe unto those, who will not listen to this voice and will seek salvation in a new diaspora! […]”

The “Diaspora Treasures” project was an act of rescue and an antidote to the Nazi’s efforts to bring Jewish culture in Europe to extinction. However, the collection of the books in Jerusalem contains contradicting, dialectic elements: it was a testimony to the existence and prosperity of Jewish culture in diaspora, while at the same time a monument for its destruction; it was a counterweight to the Zionist movement’s tendency to deny the diasporic Jewish past, while at the same time constituted a part of the Zionist demand for exclusive ownership over the Jewish past; it was meant to remind us of victims who were violently separated from their culture, while at the same time taking part in the nationalization of the Holocaust by the State of Israel.

The other two affairs discussed in “Ex Libris” — the collection of entire Palestinian libraries during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the collection of the cultural and spiritual assets belonging to Yeminite Jews) were described by their perpetrators in terms of grace and salvation. The former was done under the assumption that the collection of cultural assets in circumstances of war and chaos will save them from loss; the latter followed the doctrine that viewed the return of Yemenite Jews to their homeland as both a physical and spiritual salvation — a salvation that threatened their cultural and spiritual assets with extinction, and therefore required they be placed in the hands of national institutions. In both cases, the concepts of rescue and salvation were not without entirely baseless, since the collection of cultural assets apparently prevented their loss and allowed a broad audience to access to them.

"Palestinian-owned books at Israel's National Library, marked 'AP' for 'abandoned property. (Screenshot from 'The Great Book Robbery')

“Palestinian-owned books at Israel’s National Library, marked ‘AP’ for ‘abandoned property. (Screenshot from ‘The Great Book Robbery’)

Nevertheless in both cases the practices of collection and appropriation were based on Eurocentric and orientalist views — both Palestinians and Yemenite Jews were viewed as unable to fully grasp the value and significance of their own cultural assets. Another important difference between the “Diaspora Treasures” project and the collection of Palestinian and Yemenite Jews’ cultural assets is the presence, even if banished and denied,of the assets’ rightful owners. The fact that for over 60 years no effort was made to return the Palestinian books to their rightful owners or legal successors; the continuous denial of the injustices perpetrated against Yemenite Jews; the refusal to become accustomed to individuals’ right to posses the cultural assets that they themselves created and owned; and the fact that in both cases the books were not remnants of the past, but rather part of the contemporary life — all these, in their refusal to confront what happened, turn these two affairs into acts of injustice.

The three affairs were also part of a continuous process of constructing and adopting an imaginary identity — one that is bound to contradictory processes of the internalization and rejection of Christian orientalist discourse. As other scholars have noted, Jews were almost always present when Westerners spoke of “the East” and reacted to the anti-Semitic orientalism in three major ways: rejecting themselves as being the objects of orientalism; idealization and romanticization of the Orient and of themselves as its representatives; as well as the image of traditional and ultra-Orthodox Jews as “oriental” in contrast to their own self-representation as “Western.”

Each of the affairs was meant to establish the identity of Jerusalem intellectuals as Western, while helping them escape the embarrassment they experienced as a result of the images of the European Christianity and Orientalism. The embarrassment, however, refused to fade away. The longing for Europe has both made clear and reinforced the distance from Europe, while turning Westernization is a self-defeating, Sisyphean task. In other words, all three affairs not only grew out of the proximity between Zionism, the West and Western Colonialism, but also out of the passion to lend the Hebrew University a Western image, thus presenting its leaders as part of the European Enlightenment project.

The roots and motives behind the events do not lie in a stable, Western identity, but rather in its absence and the efforts to establish such an identity. They are not the outcome, but rather the cause and reason, and they are tied to the manner in which the white powers construct the meaning of “blackness,” which then creates the meaning behind whiteness. They are an inseparable part of the “white material” that colonial nationalism should continue to grapple with, in the hopeless attempt to wash its hands clean.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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To return, we must feel what our grandparents went through http://972mag.com/in-order-to-return-we-must-feel-what-our-grandparents-went-through/105891/ http://972mag.com/in-order-to-return-we-must-feel-what-our-grandparents-went-through/105891/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 13:49:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105891 So what if we didn’t liberate Palestine on our rain-soaked March of Return? Each and every one of us got a little taste of what life was like for our forefathers in 1948.

By Samah Salaime

There is no doubt that this year’s “March of Return” was the most difficult, physically and mentally, of these past years. The inclement weather forecasts did not deter thousands from coming to Hadatha, a small village located on the road between Kfar Tavor and Tiberias.

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in March of Return,in the lands of the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, April 23, 2015.

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the ‘March of Return’, on the land belonging to the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, April 23, 2015. (photo: Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

We decided to leave early, after last year’s march in Lubya, when we were stuck in traffic for three hours right outside the entrance. This time the bus that drove 55 women and children (and one man) made it two hours before the march began. Some of us came equipped with warm clothes, others not so much. Sometimes there was rain, sometimes there wasn’t. A strong wind wind blew through everything that moved in the wheat fields at the top of the hill.


When we arrived, the women asked to pick almonds on the way from the almond grove that “belongs” to the Jewish moshav of Sarona. But we decided to restrain our authentic, natural Arab urges to pick.

One girl, who became excited after seeing a manmade irrigation pool and was sure of her geographical knowledge, told the bus that we had arrived at the Sea of Galilee, causing the children to rejoice. I calmed them down and told them that the Sea of Galilee is actually on the lefthand side and quite far away, and that the irrigation pools are probably full of rainwater. And just like that, the children’s wet dream of a trip to the Sea of Galilee disappeared.

We continued to climb toward the meeting point. We spent the journey singing “Mawtini” (“My Homeland”) and other patriotic Palestinian songs. At a certain point the children got tired of singing depressing songs and answering pop quiz questions on destroyed villages, and decided to lead the entertainment program. My son Adam embarrassed me by telling a dirty joke into the microphone — everyone, of course, laughed at me. One of the women called out from the back: “With all of your protests and work, look at what your son is learning at the bi-lingual bi-national school of yours. And yet you still pay them.” Of course, the kids from Lyd (Lod in Hebrew) came back full force with their own dirty jokes. Thank God everybody is receiving the same screwed up education here.

When we reached the top, we ate all the food in our bags and began buying all the food that was offered at the different stands. Some of the children stood in line for face-painting: a Palestinian flag on one side, and a key of return on the other. A young girl asked for a butterfly — her mother said no, “Only a Palestinian flag.” As per usual I intervened in others’ affairs and suggested I draw a butterfly in the colors of the flag.

Read more: Thousands return to destroyed Palestinian villages in Israel

The wind picked up as the march began, the sky darkened and holding the flags in place became a challenging mission. The enormous Palestinian flag, which we received from the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee in Bil’in, was barely held by dozens of people. We began to walk toward the starting point of the march when it began to pour.

With chants of encouragement, we continued to march despite the rain. Children his under the giant flag and the mud made our shoes heavy. Our chants were mixed with jokes about how the rain ruined our hair, or how we would look on Facebook. I decided to go the route of emotional manipulation and told the complainers: “Think about what our grandparents went through when they were uprooted from their villages, they marched entire days without food or water and with children on their arms. This is our opportunity to feel what it was like in 1948, and we are complaining about our hair and some rain. How can we return without feeling what the refugees went through?”

A Palestinian family marches in the heavy rain as thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the 'March of Return,' on the land belonging to the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, April 23, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian family marches in the heavy rain as thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the ‘March of Return,’ on the land belonging to the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, April 23, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

My emotional blackmail worked for a short while, until another heavy downpour forced us to pack up our things and run for shelter. Some went back to the buses, while others ran to the tents of the bazaar, where books and photographs were being sold. Most people, myself included, were stuck outside until the rain ended. Frazzled, freezing and wet, we made it to the main stage.

The big topic of discussion between members of the crowd was around whether “to go home and give in to nature, since it chases us Palestinians even on the one day of the year when we feel we have an identity, a flag and a struggle, or should we remain and never give up our right to return and our right to the land.” A teenage girl wrapped in a flag begged her father to go home: “We aren’t giving up on the land. It is just very cold here, and there is no shopping or crafts bazaar this year.” “We aren’t going until it’s over,” her father responded, “go buy yourself some mankusha (pita bread with za’atar) near the oven. It is warmer there.”

The weather calmed down a bit. Hundreds of dry people made their way to the stage, and the festival began with a minute-long silence honoring the victims of the 1948 war, as well those who are dying in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. And then our un-official national anthem:

“My homeland, my homeland
Glory and beauty, sublimity and splendor
Are in your hills, are in your hills”

This year, the festival included an induction ceremony in which we swore never to give up on either the right of return, or justice for the Palestinian people. The idea was probably intended for all those who are thinking about conceding on the issue of the refugees. The ceremony was especially poignant for me during these days when a real solution for the Palestinian refugees in Syria is more necessary than ever.

Yarmouk residents gathered to await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Yarmouk residents gathered to await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

The cultural programming of singing, dabka and speeches continued as I searched for the women who were supposed to go back with us on the bus. The mission was completed after an hour, apart from one woman with whom we lost touch. Like many others I had no phone reception or internet connection as I searched for her. The only man on the bus also joined my mission, and we called her name on the microphone. Still, we couldn’t find her. The searches lasted for two hours, and the bus driver became angry, as did I. Everything was being packed up as I kept searching for the lost woman.

I was reminded of my grandmother who lost her two daughters after they went with their grandfather and disappeared for four months during the Nakba. The story of the lost aunts is well-known in my family. Ever since the Nakba, they don’t eat figs or prickly pears, since that is all their grandfather fed them during those months in the mountains. The aunts were found in serious condition, but still alive. The woman from Lyd was also found: I retuned to the bus only to find out that she took a trip through the peach orchard with a group of people who took a shortcut to the buses.

But the march couldn’t end without a big drama at the gas station close to Hadatha. We stopped in Kafr Kama, when all of a sudden my women’s coordinator fainted. We were lucky that there were two young men in line who identified as “life savers” and another woman who called her father, who is a doctor (“He’s a diabetes expert,” she declared proudly) who guided her over the phone on how to treat the diabetic woman who fainted. I failed in my life-saving mission and began panicking. The bit where I began searching and yelling that I can’t find a sugar-detector in my bag (there is no such thing) turned into a running joke on the bus ride home.

I sat in the front seat next to the driver, with my energy levels nearing zero and my optimism below the red line, and listened to the women try to summarize the difficult experience. The more optimistic ones said that we went through a lot today, which only teaches us how difficult it was in 1948, which will teach our children a lot. There were other women who said that after today, they will never take part in marches and protests.

A Palestinian woman takes part in the March of Return, Galilee, April 23, 2015. (Akron Drawshi/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian woman takes part in the March of Return, Galilee, April 23, 2015. (Akron Drawshi/Activestills.org)

That’s when a 12-year-old daughter of one of the women came up to me and said: “Isn’t it true that you said this trip was in order to liberate Palestine?” “Yes,” I responded with a weary smile. “Nothing happened! We didn’t liberate Palestine, nothing changed!” she shouted. Her painful honesty nearly brought me to tears, but I remained silent. And then the driver, who hadn’t spoken for 10 hours, surprised me and told the girl: “Does adding a drop of water to the sea do anything?”

“No!” she responded.

“But you know that it’s there, right? That’s what it’s like. A drop and then another drop. Every year we learn and do more. The drops accumulate and then you’ll see the difference.”

I’m not sure the girl understood the metaphor, but I appreciated the driver’s awareness. I decided to take advantage of the moment, in which he felt that he belonged to his people, and ask for a large discount on the cost of the buses. It was my only success the entire day.

Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. She is a blogger for our Hebrew-language sister-site, Local Call, where this article was first published. Read it in Hebrew here.

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WATCH: Israeli officer attacks, throws stones at photojournalists http://972mag.com/watch-israeli-officer-attacks-throws-stones-at-photojournalists/105869/ http://972mag.com/watch-israeli-officer-attacks-throws-stones-at-photojournalists/105869/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 16:21:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105869 Video shows Israeli photojournalist and AFP photographer being attacked by Israeli soldiers at the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. One Palestinian protester is reportedly shot with live fire.

Text by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man
Video by Miki Kratsman/Activestills.org

Israeli soldiers threw stones at and attacked Israeli and Palestinian photojournalists during a protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on Friday, during which the army used live fire against protesters. One Palestinian was reportedly shot in the head.

Palestinians in Nabi Saleh hold weekly protests every Friday against the occupation and to demand access to the village’s spring, which was taken over by Israeli settlers.

In a video of the event, a soldier can be seen throwing a stone at Israeli photojournalist Haim Schwarczenberg and a Palestinian photographer who works for AFP as they attempt to comply with soldiers’ orders to leave the area. In 2011, Schwarczenberg photographed the close-range shooting of Mustafa Tamimi with a tear gas projectile fired from a military jeep in Nabi Saleh. Tamimi later died of his injuries.

As he walks away, an officer runs after him and pushes Schwarczenberg to the ground. When he gets up and moves further away from them, the officer throws another stone at Schwarczenberg and the AFP photographer.

Schwarczenberg told +972’s and its Hebrew site, Local Call, that he was standing on a hill photographing Palestinian stone throwers when his colleague, Abbas, told him to get close to the ground because soldiers were shooting live bullets at the stone throwers.

“One of the soldiers suddenly appeared from behind us and shouted, ‘get out of here before I shoot you’,” Schwarczenberg said. “Abbas and I got up to go but then the soldier shouted, ‘lay down!’, and pointed his weapon in our direction [at the stone thrower behind us].” The stone thrower escaped.

“At that point [the soldier] began pushing me and Abbas, another soldier joined him and threw a stone at us that didn’t hit me,” he continued. “Right after that he threw me and my cameras to the ground.”

A few minutes later the soldiers shot a Palestinian man in the head, Schwarczenberg said.

A medic treats a Palestinian man who was apparently shot in the head by IDF soldiers, Nabi Saleh, April 24, 2015. (Miki Kratsman/Activestills.org)

A medic treats a Palestinian man who was apparently shot in the head by IDF soldiers, Nabi Saleh, April 24, 2015. (Miki Kratsman/Activestills.org)

+972 contacted the IDF Spokesperson to get a response to the video and offered to send the army a copy of the video for review. The Spokesperson issued the following statement.

During “an illegal and violent riot that was held by some 70 Palestinians and the media,” the army used crowd dispersal means, the military spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that soldiers on the scene repeatedly told photographers who were in between the soldiers and stone throwers to distance themselves, and that when the photographers didn’t respond, that soldiers resorted to “reasonable force.”

“The IDF does everything in its power to ensure freedom of the press in [the West Bank] but will not allow violations of the law or for the press to harm IDF forces,” the spokesperson concluded.

In a subsequent statement, the spokesperson added that “the incident is being looked into.”

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