+972 Magazine http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 28 Jan 2015 17:20:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 American teen beaten by Israeli police is cleared of wrongdoing http://972mag.com/american-teen-beaten-by-israeli-police-is-cleared-of-wrongdoing/101988/ http://972mag.com/american-teen-beaten-by-israeli-police-is-cleared-of-wrongdoing/101988/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 17:20:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101988 The cousin of Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s videotaped beating by Israeli police in Jerusalem led to widespread outrage. He had been arrested and accused of participating in riots.

Tariq Abu Khdeir speaks about his beating at a CAIR panel in the U.S. (Screenshot, CAIR)

Tariq Abu Khdeir speaks about his beating at a CAIR panel in the U.S. (Screenshot, CAIR)

Palestinian-American 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir, whose severe beating by Israeli police while he was in custody last summer was caught on video, has been cleared of all wrongdoing in Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday.

Following his beating, the American citizen was arrested and held under house arrest for nearly two weeks before being permitted to return home to Florida.

The incident took place after Tariq’s cousin, 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was burned alive and murdered by Jewish extremists in a Jerusalem-area forest. Protests and heavy clashes took place in East Jerusalem after Muhammad’s murder.

Tariq said he was watching the protests, three days after his cousin was killed, and trying to get away from the violence between Israeli police and protestors when he was chased by three officers, beaten and arrested.

Israeli police said the 15 year old took part in the protests, resisted arrested and was carrying a slingshot to throw stones.

The American Consulate in Jerusalem told the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Tariq has been cleared of all wrongdoing and is free to return to Israel to visit his family in occupied East Jerusalem.

Tariq Abu Khdeir’s beating was caught on video, which shows the accused officer and additional officers arresting the boy, with one policeman apparently sitting on Khdeir to handcuff him while the accused officer is seen kicking and punching him repeatedly. A third officer is also seen helping drag Abu Khdeir toward a police vehicle, during which time the accused officer again kicks the boy who appears to be unconscious.

In September, one of the police officers was criminally charged with assaulting a minor.

An internal police investigation found evidence “supporting the guilt of the police officer suspected of severe violent crimes,” according to Israel’s Justice Ministry.

The teen, Tariq Abu Khdeir, said at a press conference in Florida at the time, he thinks the other two Israeli officers should be facing charges in his beating.

“I hope everyone, every officer that took part in my beating is taken to justice,” he said.

Israel police violence has taken the lives of at least three Arab citizens in recent months, leading to significant protests throughout the country. A Bedouin men was shot to death by Israeli police during a raid earlier this month, and another Bedouin man was killed during clashes after his funeral. In November, police shot in the back a 22-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel while he was fleeing.

Matt Surrusco contributed to this report.

Related:
PHOTOS: Bedouin protest deadly police shootings in Israel
Kafr Kanna isn’t Ferguson, it’s much worse

 

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How to stop Palestinians unionizing: Security, security, security http://972mag.com/how-to-stop-palestinians-unionizing-security-security-security/101949/ http://972mag.com/how-to-stop-palestinians-unionizing-security-security-security/101949/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:59:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101949 When Palestinian workers at the Tzarfati garage in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim unionized, management made up criminal accusations against the Palestinian chairman of the workers’ committee, exploiting the hostile war-time environment at the time. Management brought in the army, the police, and sent him to military court — resulting in the revocation of his work permit.

By Niv Hachlili / ‘The Hottest Place in Hell

Hatem Abu Ziadeh (Photo courtesy of WAC-MAAN)

Hatem Abu Ziadeh (Photo courtesy of WAC-MAAN)

It’s seven o’clock on a Thursday evening and Hatem Abu Ziadeh sits behind the wheel of the taxi he drives to support his family. He’s been on the go since early morning, ferrying passengers on the winding roads between Ramallah and the surrounding villages.

Abu Ziadeh is from Jibiya, a village near Bir Zeit, and is the proud father of four sons and two daughters. For 17 years he was employed as a mechanic at the Tzarfati garage in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone. But last summer he was dismissed following a unionizing drive which he led together with the independent Trade Union Center WAC-MAAN.

Ostensibly, this is just another story, becoming increasingly common, of workers standing up and demanding their legal rights. However, unlike organizing initiatives within the “Green Line”, the fact that this case involves Palestinian workers employed in a Jewish settlement means it has unique characteristics.

A particularly worrying aspect of Abu Ziadeh’s story is not the ease with which the employer violates labor laws and the rights of Palestinian workers – such cases are commonplace. What makes this case important is the way it exposes how official state bodies grant assistance, both direct and indirect, to employers who violate employees’ basic rights.

Why are you raking up the past?

The organizing at Tzarfati began in June 2013. Some 40 Palestinians joined WAC-MAAN and a letter in their name was sent to the employer, asking that a general workers’ assembly be held. In July of that year, elections were held for the workers’ committee, and Abu Ziadeh, who had been instrumental in the unionizing efforts, was elected as chair.

“Before the organizing,” Abu Ziadeh said, “Tzarfati did whatever he felt like. He said we were employed according to Jordanian law, and that he wasn’t obliged to pay us minimum wage. People would get 3,000 shekels a month, without vacations, without pension contributions, without national insurance, nothing. Sometimes for example there would be accidents on the job which meant some workers couldn’t work for whole days, even weeks. But nobody paid them for the days they lay in hospital or at home. Only when Tzarfati understood we were organizing and that he was being watched – suddenly things changed.”

In a decision from December 2014, the regional labor court stated explicitly that from July 2013 WAC-MAAN and the committee members had been in contact with the garage management, and that “nobody can deny that during that year of talks changes were made to the wages and employment terms of the workers of the respondent [Tzarfati garage – N.H.], including updating the workers’ wages and transport payments, and settling bereavement, vacation, sickness, religious holidays and training payments. Wage slips were issued, and more.”

Employees at the Zarfati Garage in Mishur Adumim vote to strike on July 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ma’an workers union)

Employees at the Zarfati Garage in Mishur Adumim vote to strike on July 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ma’an workers union)

The court also emphasized that it was not convinced by Tzarfati’s claim that he had acted to promote his workers’ rights regardless of WAC-MAAN’s activities. The court noted that both sides agree that they had held talks during that year, and this had led to Tzarfati’s concern over applicable laws. As the court put it, “The respondent’s claim that the improvement in employment terms had no connection with the claimant’s demands [i.e., the demands of WAC-MAAN – N.H.] does not sit well with the facts.”

To be given minimum wage with a legal wage slip after years of employment was indeed an achievement for the workers, but regarding other fundamental issues the garage refused to seek a solution.

Tzarfati claims it is now doing everything according to the law,” said WAC-MAAN’s National Director Assaf Adiv, “but as soon as the pay of non-skilled workers was raised to minimum wage, a third of the workers who had organized, including skilled workers, still received the same minimum wage. Then another question arose regarding the wage that should be paid according to the collective agreement signed by the Israel Garage Association, of which Tzarfati claims it is a member. The Association has an agreement which determines wage scale, levels of professionalism, wage increases, and seniority. All the things Tzarfati didn’t deal with.”

However, the main point of contention concerns past debts. A large number of the workers have been employed at the garage for a long time, some more than 20 years, but minimum wage and other benefits determined by law have been paid only since 2013, without reference to past years in which they were not paid. Such behavior appears in an even more serious light considering that Tzarfati was one of the respondents in the 2007 High Court case (the “Givat-Zeev” case). This ruling determined that Israeli labor law is applicable to Palestinians employed in settlements, and that they are entitled to minimum wage and peripheral benefits in keeping with Israeli labor law. Despite this, between 2007 and 2013, the garage ignored the court ruling and continued to avoid paying minimum wage and other benefits.

No enforcement

This raises another more worrying question, with far-reaching implications, concerning the tens of thousands of Palestinians employed by Israelis in terrible and sometimes dangerous conditions, as Idan Landau described in a report for “Hamakom” on the Nitzanei Shalom industrial zone. Why did the authorities not intervene to enforce the law and deal with violations? This is not just an issue that concerns the Regulation and Enforcement Administration of the Economics Ministry, but also falls within the responsibility of the Population and Immigration Authority.

In theory, inspectors from the Regulation and Enforcement Administration are supposed to ensure that workers received their rights. In addition, because the employment of Palestinians is subject to registration and work permits, the Payments Division of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority is responsible for “regulating the employment of Palestinian workers including collecting and paying wages and peripheral benefits.” However, nothing was done for the workers, who for many years had put in six days a week for some 3,000 shekels per month without protection in case of on-the-job accidents or illness.

Even today, years after the High Court ruling, the Justice Ministry is struggling to “diminish the disparities in the field of labor law between workers from the Judea and Samaria region [the West Bank] and workers in Israel, in the framework of security legislation.”

The Economics Ministry explained in response that “The High Court Givat-Zeev case [the 2007 ruling] created a cause of action for a Palestinian worker to submit claims against his Israeli employer. However, it did not grant enforcement authority; it did not rule in favor of the sweeping application of aspects of labor law which are criminal or grant enforcement authority – not even the authority to impose monetary sanctions… The disparity this creates is indeed a distortion. This distortion is one of the reasons why the government and army are making increased efforts to apply all labor law to these areas, through security legislation applicable to Judea and Samaria. This work [legislation] is prepared and almost completed, but the upcoming elections have delayed it. Its completion and the signing of an order will be done, it seems, when the new government has been formed.”

What the official bodies are actually saying is that no decision on this issue has been made by the government. Even if a decision will be taken, it is not clear how it will change the current situation in which there is ostensibly minimal protection for workers (in the form of the minimum wage) but in practice there is no enforcement.

There’s a war? Fire him

Meanwhile, negotiations between the workers and the Zarfati garage proceeded at snail’s pace. About once every two months the sides met, and the workers, together with WAC-MAAN representatives, tried to reach an understanding on wage issues and past debts.

Then last July, Operation Protective Edge began and Zarfati decided the time had come to dismiss Abu Ziadeh and step up the pressure on the workers.

On July 21, Abu Ziadeh – who during 17 years of working at the garage had never had any claims leveled against him, whether security-related or work-related – was summoned for pre-dismissal hearings. In the letter he received, the reason given for the hearing was “changes to the firm’s employment set-up and your unsuitability to the firm’s needs.” WAC-MAAN quickly submitted an appeal at the labor court against the dismissal of the workers’ committee chair.

Abu Ziadeh displays his summons. (Courtesy of WAC-MAAN)

Abu Ziadeh displays his summons. (Courtesy of WAC-MAAN)

In the court hearing held a week later (on July 27), the garage owner, Morris Tzarfati, made completely new claims against Abu Ziadeh which were quite marvelously in keeping with the public mood during the days of war. Tzarfati told the court that the dismissal decision was taken because Abu Ziadeh had “participated in political demonstrations, he is an extreme leftwing activist who called for the end of the Israeli occupation, threatened other workers” and even “sabotaged a military vehicle which was being repaired at the garage” some two weeks earlier.

Since Tzarfati’s claims were not supported by any documentation and were not referred to in the letter summoning him to the dismissal hearing, but were raised out of the blue in court, the judge granted Tzarfati 72 hours to come up with evidence for his claims, and ruled that if no such evidence were forthcoming the garage would have to hold a hearing as required by law. The appeal submitted to the High Court claimed that “Contrary to what they said during the court proceedings, the Tzarfati managers did not contact the security services,” and noted that it was only a day after the court hearing that the garage manager submitted a complaint with the Maaleh Adumim police against Abu Ziadeh, which included the accusations that they had raised at court.

The complaint to the police led to a snowballing bureaucratic process. Three days later Abu Ziadeh came to the Maaleh Adumim police station, at their request, to be questioned. He told the investigator that he had worked for 17 years at the garage and had never had any complaints leveled against him, and that these accusations had been fabricated by the garage management. At the end of the questioning, he was told to deposit 1000 shekels as guarantee; he was summoned to a hearing at the Ofer military court, near Ramallah, in April 2015, and his work permit was confiscated.

This compelled WAC-MAAN to wage a struggle on two fronts – one in the labor court with assistance from lawyers with expertise in such cases, and another with the police and the Civil Administration, with assistance from other lawyers, in order to fend off the accusations and enable Abu Ziadeh to retrieve his work permit.

The appeal submitted by Atty. Moran Savurai, who is representing WAC-MAAN in this case, noted that “it is important to emphasize that apart from the accusation of sabotage of a military vehicle, about which a complaint was filed with the police, with no evidence at all, regarding the other accusations about political activity in support of Palestine and waving a Palestinian flag – which, by the way, are not violations of the law – no evidence has been submitted during either of the employer’s declarations at court or during the court summary.”

In parallel to the labor court case, in September 2014, Atty. Michal Pomerantz (from the Smadar Ben Natan law offices) submitted a request to the High Court to return Abu Ziadeh’s work permit. In the appeal, Pomerantz describes in detail her correspondence with the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, the head of the Maaleh Adumim police station, and representatives of the Civil Administration between July and September 2014, in an attempt to try every possibility to get back the work permit and avoid the need to turn to the court – but all in vain.

On November 30, four months after Abu Ziadeh’s permit was confiscated and he lost his livelihood, the State Attorney’s office sent a laconic reply: “Following up on our conversation of 27 Nov. 2014, I wish to inform you that according to what the respondents have told me, the reason for the temporary suspension of the claimant [Hatem Abu Ziadeh] from entering Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria for work purposes has been removed.” In other words, from now on, there is no reason why the employer should not get a work permit for Abu Ziadeh.

Ten days later, a notice from the police was received, saying the file against Abu Ziadeh had been closed since no evidence had been found to try him. The appeal to the High Court had thus compelled the authorities to come up with answers, but Pomerantz explains that the time taken by the authorities to determine the untruth of the claims was problematic: “Even in this there is a deterrent message to workers: that even if the security issue is removed, they may find themselves unemployed for months. In other words, this too is a significant threat against the workers.”

Morris Tzarfati refused to talk to us or answer our questions, saying only, “I don’t want to address this issue in the media. It is being dealt with at court. I prefer to do so there.”

Mobilize the ordnance officer

In addition to the submission of the complaint, police officers from Maaleh Adumim came to the garage in August, brought the workers into the manager’s room, and interrogated them as to whether “someone from the workers’ committee had threatened them.”

The appeal to the High Court noted the dubious legality of this form of questioning, since workers could be expected to be wary of contradicting what their employer has said when they are being questioned at their place of employment. Pomerantz also notes that “WAC-MAAN submitted a complaint to the police and received no reply. There is something problematic here that creates an illegitimate situation of police intervention.”

And as if all this were not enough, last December the garage submitted two letters to the labor court, signed by Maj. Eli Elmakias, head of the external garages department in the Ordnance Corps. One letter was from August and the other, Tzarfati claimed, from December (the date on the second letter was illegible – N.H.). The letters concerned Abu Ziadeh’s employment and said, “Based on information we have, we ask that the Tzarfati garage does not permit the above worker to handle military vehicles… We are against permitting the worker to come into any contact with military vehicles being repaired at the garage, for fear of [his] causing damage to the vehicles… the worker was previously kept away…”

Pomerantz explains that “it is impossible to know if the ordnance officer who signed the letters knows that the police file has been closed. In a previous mail from July 2014 he wrote that he opposes the employment of the worker as long as there is a file open against him. Now the question must be asked, on what basis does he write what he writes, when it’s clear he cannot harm a person’s livelihood without factual evidence? Already a month ago we contacted the State Attorney and still haven’t received a reply, and a week ago we contacted the State Comptroller and the Defense Ministry.”

Almost six months have passed since Hatem Abu Ziadeh lost his work permit and with it his livelihood of 17 years, but he does not sound bitter.

Tzarfati thinks it won because I’m a taxi driver now,” he says. “But we have already won, the workers joined WAC-MAAN, and we will soon be granted the other rights we should have.” Even regarding his own situation he remains optimistic: “I believe I’ll get the permit back and go back to work.”

No response has been received as yet from the IDF or Israel Police.

Translated from Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger. This article first appeared here on the website ‘The Hottest Place in Hell. Read the original Hebrew here.

Related:
Risking jobs, Palestinian workers in West Bank settlement unionize
How do you stop Palestinians unionizing? Cancel their entry permits

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Israeli soldiers killed in Hezbollah retaliation attack http://972mag.com/israeli-soldiers-killed-in-hezbollah-retaliation-attack/101976/ http://972mag.com/israeli-soldiers-killed-in-hezbollah-retaliation-attack/101976/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:25:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101976 Two Israeli soldiers are killed in a cross-border attack on an Israeli patrol road with anti-tank missiles. A Spanish soldier serving with UNIFIL is reportedly killed by Israeli retaliatory shelling. Israeli politicians call for harsh response. Israel killed a Hezbollah commander a week earlier.

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern border. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern border. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in a cross-border attack on the Lebanese border Wednesday morning, for Hezbollah quickly took responsibility. A Spanish soldier serving with UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, was killed in Israeli retaliatory shelling.

The border attack comes a week after Israel assassinated a Hezbollah commander and an Iranian general in the Quneitra area of the Golan Heights in Syria. In the past 24 hours, two rockets hit the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights and the IDF responded by striking Syrian military positions.

Read also: Air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost?

Late Wednesday Wednesday Israeli army vehicles traveling on a patrol road along the Lebanese border fence near Shebaa Farms and the village of Ghajar, which is half in Israel and half in Lebanon, were hit by Kornet anti-tank missiles.

Photos and video obtained by Israeli media showed two vehicles along the border fence completely engulfed in flames.

 

A statement by Hezbollah taking credit for the attack said it had been perpetrated by its “Quneitra Martyrs unit,” a reference to last week’s Israeli attack in Syria.

In response to the attack, the Israeli military attacked southern Lebanon with artillery and air strikes, killing a Spanish UNIFIL soldier. An IDF Spokesperson said that the army’s response was not over.

A senior IDF source told Ynet that the Spanish UNIFIL soldier was hit “by one of the mortars we fired. We were immediately in contact with the UN, we regret the incident and will examine it. We will draw conclusions, we have no intention of harming UN forces.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 following a similar cross-border attack against a patrol jeep in which two soldiers’ bodies were captured by the Lebanese militant group.

File photo of an Israeli soldier directing a tank. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of an Israeli soldier directing a tank. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hezbollah has been active in the Syrian civil war and many analysts have indicated that the group is hesitant to enter into a new war with Israel due to being overstretched in Syria.

Israel is less than two months away from general elections. Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah not to test Israel following the attack. Netanyahu pointed to the recent war in Gaza as warning of what could come.

Netanyahu’s main challenger in the elections, Labor’s Isaac Herzog responded to the attack supporting a harsh response, saying: “If somebody in Hezbollah thinks that they can threaten and divide us during elections is badly mistaken — in the fight against terror there is no coalition and no opposition.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a “harsh and disproportionate” response to the attack.

Related:
Israeli air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost?
Retired Israeli general suggests Syria attack timed for election effect

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Bombing homes in Gaza: ‘It was supposed to be their shelter’ http://972mag.com/bombing-homes-in-gaza-it-was-supposed-to-be-their-shelter/101965/ http://972mag.com/bombing-homes-in-gaza-it-was-supposed-to-be-their-shelter/101965/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:44:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101965 Human rights group B’Tselem exposes — and protests to the Israeli government — home demolitions, Gaza style.

Palestinian school girls walk across a destroyed part of Shujayea neighborhood, Gaza city, November 4th, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinian school girls walk across a destroyed part of Shujayea neighborhood, Gaza city, November 4th, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

They fled when the flyers fell from the sky, Israeli military orders dropped like confetti on the masses. Evacuate, they said, or else. Seek shelter now.

One week of sorties, and Ibrahim made the call: We leave now — my wife and I, our seven children, our children’s children.

But the Abu Shuqah family never found shelter. The closest they came was a cardboard factory — somewhere between Bureij and Nusseirat, two refugee camps along Gaza’s coastal flats.

“We stayed in the storeroom about two weeks,” Ibrahim recalled. “There were mattresses, water, gas, and electricity there. Things were good.”

Things were “good” — until the shelling began.

Read ‘Gaza’, +972′s story of the year for 2014

To internalize that familiar refrain about Gaza — that nowhere there is safe — consider the life-or-death moves of a father and his kin. That, in one sense, is the key takeaway of “Black Flag,” the latest in a slew of reports — this one by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem — about “Operation Protective Edge” and its lethal prosecution.

B’Tselem’s report, released today, explores “the legal and moral implications” of one particularly efficient Israeli tactic during this summer’s assault: targeting residential buildings. The group estimates that just over a quarter of Palestinian fatalities during the “fighting” owe to this tactic, which claimed 606 lives — 70 percent of them “either under 18, over 60, or women.”

B’Tselem investigated 70 such incidents, including the operation’s first. “On the first day of the fighting,” the report recounts, “the military attacked the Kaware’ family home. The house collapsed. Nine people, including five children aged 7 to 14, were killed.”

B’Tselem adds:

“Even if the Israeli cabinet thought this policy would bring an end to attacks on Israeli communities, it should not have implemented it because of its foreseeable, horrifying consequences as well as because of the black flag of illegality flying over it.”

Of course, B’Tselem’s report coincides with the recent Palestinian decision to sign the Rome Statute, a precondition for leveling war crimes charges against Israeli leaders at the International Criminal Court. B’Tselem, though, stops short of naming Israel’s actions “crimes” under international humanitarian law, or IHL. It concludes instead that, “at least in some cases, the military’s actions ran contrary to IHL provisions and, in other cases, there is grave concern that they did so.”

Read also: ‘IDF ‘double tap’ bombings hit first responders in Gaza’

At the same time, the report pulls no punches when describing Palestinian fighters’ actions, stating clearly B’Tselem’s blanket contention that “Hamas and other organizations operating in the Gaza Strip do not abide by IHL.”

That kind of across-the-board statement would seem to ignore a crucial fact about Operation Protective Edge — that it was, in fact, a war of one army. But B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad, in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released with today’s report, made clear that placing “responsibility for harm to civilians” solely on Hamas was a red herring.

“This interpretation is designed to block, a priori, any allegation against Israel,” wrote El-Ad. “This interpretation is unreasonable, unlawful, and renders meaningless the principle that violations committed by one party do not release the other party from its obligations toward the civilian population and civilian objects.”

Relatives walk amidst the rubble of the home of Zaki Wahdan in the city of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza City, November 10, 2014. Eight members of the Wahdan family, mostly women and children were killed. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Relatives walk amidst the rubble of the home of Zaki Wahdan in the city of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza City, November 10, 2014. Eight members of the Wahdan family, mostly women and children were killed. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

B’Tselem cites the military’s claim that residential buildings were legitimate military targets because they housed “terror infrastructure” — either in the form of materiel or operatives who purportedly hid them. But throughout the Israeli assault, “no official claimed that there was any connection between a house that was targeted and any specific military activity there,” recounts B’Tselem.

On a related point, B’Tselem takes issue with Israeli decision-makers’ definition of “proportionality.” The principle, according to the report’s authors, is that so-called “collateral damage” cannot be justified “when harm to civilians as a result of an attack is projected to be excessive in relation to its anticipated military advantage….”

As I read it, that’s legalese for a pretty simple point: If killing nine members of the Kaware’ family does nothing to shift the balance of military power, you can’t do it — at least not under international humanitarian law. And what combination of presumed military armaments — or battlefield knowledge — could so fill a Gaza home that it would constitute a threat to Israel’s US-backed military?

Even if that weren’t a rhetorical question, even if Israeli commanders actually believed that killing hundreds of women, children, and elderly was simply a means to a legitimate military end, they still had an obligation to at least try to avoid casualties, to warn civilians that deadly violence was afoot.

So did they? Let’s look at what happened when the ten members of the Abu Shuqah family heeded Israel’s warning. A week into Israel’s bombing campaign, we know, they left their home in the Bureij refugee camp and made it to the cardboard factory — this after a short waylay at Ibrahim’s brother-in-law’s house. (It was a two-hour waylay, in fact — just long enough for a bomb to fall nearby, prompting the family to keep moving.)

After two weeks in which things were “good” — with mattresses, gas, electricity, and water — the factory storeroom was hit by shrapnel. Again, the Abu Shuqah family made haste, this time to a relative’s house in the Nusseirat refugee camp (where the United Nations estimates that 90 percent of the available water is “unfit for human consumption”).

It was there that, on July 31, 2014 at 8:30 PM, Ibrahim Abu Shuqah’s wife, two of his daughters, and a granddaughter were killed in an Israeli airstrike that, in an instant and without warning, claimed the lives of 13 people, hunkered in a home in a refugee camp by the sea.

It was supposed to be their shelter.

Next door, ‘Abir al-‘Assar, who was nine months pregnant, her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and her brother-in-law’s six-year-old daughter all perished, too.

None of the surviving family members of this bombing-among-many knows why their loved ones had to die — or what military advantage Israel derived.

Read detailed accounts of similar cases documented by B’Tselem.

Read also:
UN aid agency to Gazans: Sorry, but there’s no money
Report details IDF ‘double tap’ bombings that hit first responders in Gaza
War on Gaza: A promise Israeli politicians can keep

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Farewell to David Landau, who would have hated this headline http://972mag.com/farewell-to-david-landau-who-would-have-hated-this-headline/101953/ http://972mag.com/farewell-to-david-landau-who-would-have-hated-this-headline/101953/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 12:03:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101953 David Landau (Photo: Ami Kaufman)

David Landau, at my wedding, 2004 (Photo: Ami Kaufman)

September 11, 2001. I get off the bus from northern Tel Aviv that takes me to 21 Shocken St., where the Haaretz building is located. As I enter the doors I’m greeted by a colleague from the Hebrew news desk, who says “Wow, you’re going to have quite a shift.” I was night editor of the English edition of Haaretz at the time.

Intrigued, I ask “Why?”

“You didn’t see? A plane just hit one of the World Trade Center towers.”

I ran to my office, saw other staff members staring in awe at the television screens, and turned on my TV. I got there just in time to watch the second plane hit.

I started to tremble, and immediately picked up the phone to David Landau, editor in chief. “Did you see what’s going on?!”

“Yeah.”

“So, when are you coming in?”

“I’m not.”

“Seriously, when are you coming?”

“You’ll be fine. Call me if you need anything, I’ll help from here.”

“Are you crazy?!?!”

We were both right. He was crazy, and I was fine. I put out a good paper, and got it sent on time.

David Landau, who passed away yesterday due to an illness, was my first mentor in journalism. He was my boss, my teacher, my friend. He was this to many people, so influential a person to the lives and careers of dozens, if not hundreds.

Already, much has been said about him since he passed. To fully grasp what a special man he was, I sincerely recommend reading the beautiful obituary written by Anshel Pfeffer here, and the very moving farewells from his two colleagues Gideon Levy here, and Chemi Shalev here. They have portrayed much more beautifully than I ever could the complexity of David, his life story and amazing accomplishments, his few minuses and hundreds of pluses.

As many do, I also remember my first encounter with David. It was my interview for an internship at the Haaretz English edition he had just founded about six months earlier. I’ll never forget his first words to me as I entered his office:

“Well, that’s a horrible shirt to wear to an interview.”

In retrospect, it was. For some odd reason I was wearing a bright orange short sleeve button down shirt.

This wasn’t to be the last time David critiqued my attire. On my wedding night, after shaking my hand I asked him if he liked my suit. “No, you look like a bar mitzvah boy.” He was right again, actually. It was a flashy blue disco-style suit. In all the farewells to David you’ll see mentions of his odd (or non-existent) tact, but I’ll bet you’ll never see this compliment: the man had style.

David managed to put his fashion taste aside and decided to hire me as an intern, where I made NIS 80, around $20 (a shift!). But I got my foot in the door of one of the most respectable broadsheets in the world.

He began to teach me. As my confidence grew, the Hebrew edition picked me up for a few years as a copyeditor on the news and foreign news desks. But David brought me back to the English edition later to be his night editor, and that’s where the real Journalism 101 began.

After every paper I sent, we would sit the next day and do a post mortem. And boy, were they lethal. Much has been said about his rumbling and intimidating voice, and it was those post mortems where I got the brunt of it. Sometimes I would get it by phone early in the morning, because he simply couldn’t wait to scream at me at the office.

But as time went by we grew very fond of each other. Fond enough that I felt I could scream back at him. We used to have screaming matches on the phone during the shifts, all in good fun. I think he might have enjoyed the fact that I had a short fuse like him and gave him a taste of his own medicine every once in a while.

I remember one staff meeting, where I was enraged that I had been doing the Saturday evening shifts non-stop, because the only other night editor was religious and kept the Sabbath. David said there was nothing to do about it, and in front of everyone I yelled “You fucking dossim!” (a somewhat derogatory term for orthodox Jews). Everyone’s jaws dropped to the floor, except for David’s, who just grinned at me, black kippa and all. I grinned back. We were on the same page; he totally got my screwed-up humor.

And how can anyone forget those newsroom antics of his. How can anyone forget him, as you’re sitting for hours on the wording of a headline for the front page in front of a Mac and he would shove you over and grunt “Let me do this!” And this man, one of the most amazing journalists I’ve met, the first Israeli to interview Sadat, would hunch over the keyboard with his enormous hands and type with only his index fingers at the speed of a snail! One could only wonder how he managed to write so many books.

One day, when I wanted to put a large headline across all eight columns of the front page, he yelled at me: “Do not, ever ever, put a headline across the whole page! You save those eight columns for when a war breaks out! Do you understand?”

As I read the farewells on Facebook, it was such a pleasure to read my former colleagues reminisce and tell some of the classic David stories.

There was the well-known, daily and almost hourly roar, “Send the fucking page!!!”

Some other gems: “Is there a bunch of fucking monkeys working on this site?”

“Who translated that article?” I did. “Into what language?”

“This page looks like my dog’s breakfast!

“Fucking useless? Who wrote this shit? What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

And more, and more. One colleague reminded us of how David used to boast that he was the first and hopefully the last night editor in the Haaretz Hebrew edition to ever publish the same story twice on the front page. It was an Akiva Eldar piece, one above the fold, and the same exact one below the fold.

Another reminded how anxious he would get every Thursday afternoon, as he would have to write the Friday Haaretz editorial. He’d be there, sitting in the dark, door closed, with only his little desk lamp on and type away in Hebrew with his huge index fingers.

Needless to say, some people didn’t always get David. And I can understand that, it took me a while, too. But once I did, I was hooked. Both me and my wife to be, Karen, who also worked under David and also developed a strong relationship with him, decided on our wedding day to honor him (and us) with one of the seven blessings. Whenever we needed a reference letter from him during our careers, he would always oblige, but add “how many more times am I going to have to tell lies about you people?”

David continued to mentor me when he was appointed editor in chief of Haaretz, and brought me back to be his night editor in the Hebrew edition as well. Those years at the desk with him were the most exciting and demanding in my days at Haaretz, covering the Gaza disengagement, Ariel Sharon’s stroke, and more.

Even after I left Haaretz, David continued to affect my career. I don’t think it would be far-fetched to say that there would be no +972 Magazine without him. One of the main reasons we founded the site was to fill in the gap that the English Haaretz and Jerusalem Post could not fill when it came to telling the full story of what is happening on the ground in Israel/Palestine.

And although I know very well +972’s politics are far from David’s, I think he would be proud of what my colleagues I are doing on a daily basis: good, solid journalism with a (large) pinch of our ideology. Even though I haven’t made one shekel from the five years this site has been around, it is the journalism I am most proud of – and I think David would be proud of that too.

It’s David who stuck me with the journalism bug, back then when I wore that orange shirt in his office. Since then I’ve left journalism a few times, in search of a better salary in this difficult land, but I always come back. I always leave one foot in the field. I’ll always be a journalist at heart.

And there’s only one person to blame for that. One of the smartest, warmest, funniest, caring people I know.

It’s your fault, David.

I love you, and miss you loads.

Baruch Dayan Emet.

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‘Zionist Camp’ takes a lead in polls, but Bibi has upper hand http://972mag.com/zionist-camp-takes-a-lead-in-polls-but-bibi-has-upper-hand/101927/ http://972mag.com/zionist-camp-takes-a-lead-in-polls-but-bibi-has-upper-hand/101927/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 14:48:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101927 The top two parties are neck-and-neck and the number of political king-makers is growing. With a number of potential wild-cards ahead, it’s anyone’s election.

Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog announce a joint slate for the upcoming elections, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog announce a joint slate for the upcoming elections, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

If elections were to take place today, the next prime minister of Israel could come from either of two directions: the Labor Party’s Issac Herzog or incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of Likud.

The latest polls show that both men would have a decent chance of forming a coalition, although Netanyahu would probably have an advantage.

The centrist parties — the Herzog-Livni Zionist Camp, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, newcomer Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu — and Meretz, the sole remaining Zionist leftist party, would have a combined 45 out of 120 Knesset seats, as predicted by poll aggregator Project 61.

The Right, consisting of Netanyahu’s Likud, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home and Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu, also combine for 45 seats in the latest polls.

The latest aggregate poll results published by Project 61 on January 26, 2015. facebook.com/Project.61.IL

The latest aggregate poll results published by Project 61 on January 26, 2015. facebook.com/Project.61.IL

In such a situation, ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and the Sephardic Shas party would likely return to their traditional role of political king-makers. However, if the ultra-Orthodox parties must choose between the Right or a left-leaning government that includes Yair Lapid — who after the previous elections refused to sit in any government that included UTJ or Shas — they will probably throw their weight behind Netanyahu.

The centrist parties, Yesh Atid and Kulanu, could also throw their weight behind Netanyahu for the right price — promises to advance their social agendas.

The combined list of Arab parties could also affect who is given a chance to form a coalition by throwing their support behind Labor and Livni, but they cannot be expected to actually join a government headed by a list that calls itself “the Zionist Camp.”

All of that said, it is far too early to begin making election predictions. There are nearly two months remaining before Israelis head to the polls and the number of potential wild cards are growing by the day.

Read also: Election analysis: A shared Bibi-Herzog government?

The threat of armed conflict is higher than it has been since the end of the Gaza war this summer, and violence in East Jerusalem is bubbling once again.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled visit to the United States and speech at Congress could either boost or hurt him in the polls, depending on how it is perceived in the United States and what blowback it generates in Israel. So far, there has been a chorus of criticism over Netanyahu’s visit and its amplifying effect on his continuing bad blood with the White House.

Few parties have laid out any platforms that set them apart from the other parties (which Mairav Zonszein discusses in more detail here) and the debate thus far has been dominated with mud-slinging contests centering on the Zionist credentials of a nearly indistinguishable pack of centrist parties and politicians.

So while the “Zionist Camp” has progressive and significant growth in the polls, it is far from the finish line. And even if it the center-left comes out with more seats than Netanyahu, there is no guarantee it will be able to form a government.

Related:
Why Mizrahim don’t vote for the Left
The ‘anti-Zionist’ camp goes mainstream in Israeli elections
WATCH: Shas’ election ad is a challenge to both Right, Left

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Devoid of issues, elections devolve into clash of personalities http://972mag.com/devoid-of-issues-elections-devolve-into-clash-of-personalities/101906/ http://972mag.com/devoid-of-issues-elections-devolve-into-clash-of-personalities/101906/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 14:47:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101906 Instead of discussing increasing violence against civilians, border skirmishes and the assassination of an Iranian general, Israeli politicians are busy putting out tasteless and tactless campaign videos attacking each other with name-calling.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: Activestills.org)

It’s not just the occupation and Israel’s violation of basic rights that are missing from this election season, but any reference at all to the daily violence that has become such a routine feature in the country.

In the last 10 days alone, two Israeli citizens from the Bedouin city of Rahat were killed by police, 77 Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank – many of them children –  were made homeless due to Israeli home demolitions, a nine-year old Palestinian from East Jerusalem was arrested by undercover Israeli police, and 12 Israelis were stabbed on a public bus in central Tel Aviv.

And this doesn’t even include the latest news from Tuesday, when two rockets fired from Syria exploded in the Golan Heights, nine days after an Israeli helicopter strike on the Syrian city of Quneitra killed five, including a Hezbollah commander and an Iranian general.

That is a lot of violence, and these are just the more prominent incidents of recent days.

You wouldn’t know that any of this was happening by watching Israel’s election campaign, now in full swing. Most of the Jewish, Zionist parties vying for Knesset seats have not mentioned these incidents at all, and for those that have, it hasn’t become part of their campaign in any way. Sure, words like “security” and “strength” are thrown around, but they are entirely devoid of content. Everyone wants security; the question is how it can be achieved. The only mention of some of the recent violence came from Israeli Arab politicians, who said that the situation in Rahat was another determining factor in the push to create a joint list of Arab parties.

Instead of discussing the violence and offering concrete proposals for coping with it, Israeli politicians are busy putting out shoddy, tasteless and tactless campaign videos, like the one below released yesterday by the Labor party. The content of the video is based solely on the fact that Isaac Herzog’s nickname, “Buji,” sounds like the word boogie from the 1977 popular song, “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.” That’s the only reason it was made. In the video, Herzog is called a “mega-nerd” devoid of “muscles,” but is also described as the right man at the right time who can stop this “madness.”

The incumbent Likud party is busy slandering the Labor-Livni slate as “left-wing” (a derogatory term in Israeli politics) in their campaign materials, and Netanyahu is busy scheduling talks outside of the country. The Likud has made its slogan “it’s us or them,” in response to the Zionist Camp’s “It’s us or him” slogan released several days ago.

The two highest polling parties (as well as others) are making this election a battle of personalities, rather than a battle over the issues. Maybe that’s because there isn’t much of a difference between them anyway. Likud and Labor/Livni are all claiming to be the “real Zionists,” which is just a euphemism for, as Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man poignantly put it, “blind patriotism, support for the right-wing politics that have perpetuated the occupation, and the supremacy of Jewish identity over a civic, more inclusive and egalitarian Israeli identity.”

Just barely six months ago, most of Israel was under daily threat by missiles. This fact is entirely absent from the current election cycle. So is, of course, the daily suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – but I’m leaving them out for now since they don’t have a say in elections at all.

Israeli children’s summer break was marred by rockets fired from the Gaza, and now their winter looks to be ruined by rockets fired from  Syria. (The Hermon ski slopes in the occupied Golan Heights were shut down today immediately following the rocket fire). No politician is directly addressing these matters. In such an atmosphere, I can only experience the election campaign as insulting, offensive and enraging.

Related:
Why Mizrahim don’t vote for the Left
The ‘anti-Zionist’ camp goes mainstream in Israeli elections
WATCH: Shas’ election ad is a challenge to both Right, Left

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UN aid agency to Gazans: Sorry, but there’s no money http://972mag.com/un-aid-agency-to-gazans-sorry-but-theres-no-money/101917/ http://972mag.com/un-aid-agency-to-gazans-sorry-but-theres-no-money/101917/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:02:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101917 Only $135 million of pledged donor money has been delivered to Gaza, hundreds of millions short of what’s needed, the UN agency says. As a result, it is suspending its aid programs for those most affected by the war.

By Yael Marom

Palestinians stand in front of the entrance of Remal Elementary UNRWA School which is used as a temporary shelter by Palestinians living in the Norther part of the Gaza Strip, Gaza City on July 13, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinians stand in front of the entrance of Remal Elementary UNRWA School which is used as a temporary shelter by Palestinians living in the Norther part of the Gaza Strip, Gaza City on July 13, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

UNRWA, the UN relief agency charged with providing aid to Palestinian refugees, announced Tuesday that it is suspending its financial aid program to the thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge last summer. The program was intended to assist them in repairing houses, as well as renting apartments for those who have remained homeless since the assault.

According to a statement by UNRWA, more than 96,000 homes belonging to refugees were damaged or destroyed during Protective Edge, and the cost to repair them is estimated at $720 million. Until now, UNRWA claims that it only received $135 million of the pledges for the program.

Read also: Report details IDF ‘double tap’ bombings in Gaza war

At a summit held last October in Cairo, donor states pledged over $5.4 billion for reconstruction in the Strip. The head of UNRWA in Gaza, Robert Turner, said that only a small portion of that money made it to Gaza, and called the decision to suspend the program troubling and unacceptable.

“If we cannot continue the program, it will have grave consequences for affected communities in Gaza,” Turner said in a statement. “People are desperate and the international community cannot even provide the bare minimum – for example a repaired home in winter – let alone a lifting of the blockade, access to markets or freedom of movement. We’ve said before that quiet will not last, and now the quiet is at risk.”

Palestinians walk through the Shujayea neighborhood of Gaza City, nearly three months since a cease fire ended Operation Protective Edge, November 16, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinians walk through the Shujayea neighborhood of Gaza City, nearly three months since a cease fire ended Operation Protective Edge, November 16, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

According to statistics published by the United Nations, over 100,000 homes in Gaza were damaged during Operation Protective Edge (nearly 20,000 homes were entirely destroyed, while 80,000 were damaged). Tens of thousands of people in Gaza, including children, live and sleep in plastic shelters and tents that cannot protect them against rain or cold. Those without homes live among the ruins of their former houses, facing the threat of rain which can easily collapse or flood their shelters.

For Israelis it seems that the relative quiet of the past few months has been maintained. But for the residents of Gaza, the situation is entirely different. The Israeli army continues to fire on Palestinian fishermen and anyone who approaches the Israel-Gaza border; children continue to be killed by unexploded ordinances; workers continue to strike; and the siege by both Israel and Egypt continues unabated. This Monday Israel forbade a Palestinian minister from leaving the Strip to attend a conference in the West Bank.

Read also: 2014 Story of the Year: Gaza

After a request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week, Egypt opened the Rafah Crossing for three days, prompting thousands of Palestinians to try and leave Gaza. However, the Egyptian authorities only allowed students, medical patients and those with foreign passports to leave.

While Israelis are gearing up for elections, Gaza is entirely absent from any public discussion in Israel. Perhaps its absence from the election debate is due to a consensus among candidates — ranging from the center-left to the far-right — that the “Gaza problem” will only continue, and cannot be solved by another war, and another war, and another war. Meanwhile, the government will maintain the siege, and Israelis will continue to wonder: why are those Gazans so mean to us?

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

Related:
War on Gaza: A promise Israeli politicians can keep
PHOTOS: In Gaza, rebuilding is still over the horizon

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IDF commander dismisses Unit 8200 refuseniks http://972mag.com/idf-commander-dismisses-unit-8200-refuseniks/101863/ http://972mag.com/idf-commander-dismisses-unit-8200-refuseniks/101863/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:33:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101863 ‘These operations, and not our letter, are what make military service political.’ The 43 reservist soldiers who refused to serve in the IDF respond to their dismissal. 

Israeli soldiers surround the West Bank city of Hebron, seen on June 15, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers surround the West Bank city of Hebron, seen on June 15, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The commander of the IDF’s highly prestigious 8200 intelligence unit dismissed all 43 reservist soldiers who previously declared their refusal to serve in a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu last September. The letter, which caused a great deal of controversy, cited Israel’s military rule over the Palestinian people in the occupied territories as a policy of choice, rather than of self-defense, which violates basic human rights.

In a letter addressed to the reservists, the commander wrote that their choice to refuse was “a mistake.” “You crossed a fine line that distinguishes between politics and military service, a separation line that allows us in the unit to continue providing quality intelligence for all the IDF’s needs and various security organization and the Israeli government,” Walla! quoted the letter as saying.

The reservists published a statement Monday afternoon responding to their dismissal:

We discovered that we were dismissed from our unit a few hours ago after reading about it in the news. None of us have received any notice from the unit or IDF. Unfortunately, the unit is choosing to cope with the claims we have raised by throwing us out of the unit, as if the harsh reality will disappear together with us. The testimonies that were published are not rumors, but our testimonies, first hand testimonies about our actions that were part of the routine of our service, from soldiers who served and believed in the unit…

The commander of the unit and the IDF Spokesperson do not deny that the needs of the military regime’s intelligence in the territories include gathering information about innocents without any restrictions, as well as blackmailing uninvolved individuals on the basis of medical information and their sexual tendencies. Indeed, as the unit commander says, there is a fine line that distinguishes between politics and the military: but these operations, and not our letter, are what make military service political.

At the time of its publishing, Prime Minister Netanyahu called the refusal latter “baseless slander,” while opposition leader, Labor Party chairman and now head of the “Zionist Camp” Isaac Herzog – himself a former 8200 unit soldier – condemned the move as a “call for subordination.”

8200 is considered an elite unit within the intelligence corps of the army, responsible for both internal and foreign signals intelligence-gathering, alongside the Mossad and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. Many of its members are known for their Arabic language skills, which are used to monitor life and media in the Arab and Palestinian world. Perhaps its strongest reputation is as Israel’s high-tech incubator, developing the cutting edge technology related to communications, focused on hacking, and encrypting, decoding and transmitting information.

Related:
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
How can you tell that Israeli refuseniks are scaring the system?
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation

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How the joint Arab slate challenges Israel’s discriminatory politics http://972mag.com/how-the-joint-arab-slate-challenges-israels-discriminatory-politics/101841/ http://972mag.com/how-the-joint-arab-slate-challenges-israels-discriminatory-politics/101841/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:53:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101841 For the first time, the Knesset could have a sizable political bloc that is ’100 percent for equality, 100 percent against occupation.’ The joint Arab slate should use this to not only challenge the right-wing’s discriminatory agenda, but to expose the center-left’s distorted idea of democracy. 

By Amjad Iraqi

Last week, the four main political parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel announced their agreement to run as a joint slate in the upcoming elections. Although there is popular support for the decision, Palestinian citizens are uncertain of what the slate can achieve. Personal conflicts, ideological differences and other disputes will make it difficult for the parties to stay together after the elections. Moreover, its members will still be attacked in the Knesset by right-wing parties such as Likud and Jewish Home, and will likely be ignored by the center-left “Zionist Camp” led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

‘Zionist Camp’ leader Tzipi Livni, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

But despite the justified pessimism, a unique opportunity has emerged with the creation of the joint Arab slate. For the first time, the Knesset could have a sizeable political bloc that is “100 percent for equality, 100 percent against occupation.” The four Arab parties have always represented these views, but never as a single body with the potential to control nearly a dozen seats.

This development is significant since it not only challenges the right-wing’s discriminatory agenda, but also exposes the center-left’s distorted idea of democracy in Israel. Many in the international community believe that the “Zionist Camp” will diverge from the racist policies of the right-wing – both in relation to Palestinian citizens of Israel and to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this is hardly the case. The discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens, along with the occupation of the Palestinian territories, did not begin when the right-wing came to power. It is a systemic reality born out of Israel’s “Jewish state” mission since 1948, which grants Jews privileges and rights not afforded to non-Jews, while seeking to force indigenous Palestinians to accept their inferior, second-class status.

The center-left has been both an architect and accomplice to this system, including as coalition partners to Netanyahu’s governments in 2009-2012 and 2013-2015. The difference is that while the right-wing wants to make Jewish supremacy more explicit, the center-left conceals it in order to maintain Israel’s democratic image. This is why the center-left will publicly oppose “blatantly racist” legislation proposed by the right-wing, yet endorse subtler laws and government policies that essentially achieve the same objective. The center-left’s idea of democracy thus not only denies the Palestinians’ historical and collective rights in the land, but also contradicts the basic principle of civic equality for its citizens.

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against the Prawer-Begin Plan, BeerSheva, May 12, 2013 (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against the Prawer-Begin Plan, BeerSheva, May 12, 2013 (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

In view of this, the joint Arab slate represents the only multi-party bloc that is unequivocally committed to full equality, the end of the occupation and a just peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These are expressions of the landmark Future Vision Documents (including the Democratic Constitution), which were authored and endorsed by Palestinian citizen politicians, intellectuals, community representatives and civil society members. The slate’s candidates further attest to the bloc’s democratic vision and diverse representation, which includes Arabs and Jews, men and women, Marxists and nationalists, religious and secular, and others.

The joint slate is certainly not without its faults and shortcomings, and it will need to clarify and address many issues in order to play a crucial political role. These include meeting internal communal needs, such as greater representation of Arab women and youth, and external considerations, such as cooperation with parties like Meretz or even the center-left if it were to head the government. The slate would also need to mobilize an increasingly disenchanted Palestinian public to vote, and ensure that their collective interests as a national group are represented upon entering the Knesset.

But the Arab parties can still count their major achievement in the formation of a high-profile coordinated front to challenge the dominant political discourse in Israel, which makes a person’s rights conditional upon their ethno-national identity. If the Israeli electorate fails to recognize the inherently undemocratic and racist nature of that system, then at least it will be clear for the international community to see, and make the joint slate’s work all the more crucial.

Amjad Iraqi is a Projects & Advocacy Coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views in this article are the author’s own and do not represent Adalah.

More on the united Arab slate:
Arab parties announce joint slate for upcoming election
The Arab parties united? Great, now it’s time to get to work
+972 poll: Joint Arab list would raise voter participation

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