+972 Magazine http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:15:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The fraud that is the Temple Mount movement http://972mag.com/the-fraud-that-is-the-temple-mount-movement/98250/ http://972mag.com/the-fraud-that-is-the-temple-mount-movement/98250/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:15:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98250 Following the murder attempt on Yehuda Glick, the claim is being made – and getting a more sympathetic hearing than usual – that he and his colleagues have been leading a civil rights movement for Jews. Don’t believe it.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city on the first day of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) marking the end of the hajj and commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God's command, on October 4, 2014. Israel is in security lockdown for the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur, which is coinciding with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha for the first time in three decades. The concurrence of the holy days has not occurred for 33 years because the two faiths use different lunar calendars. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city on the first day of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) marking the end of the hajj and commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God’s command, on October 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Ten years ago I interviewed Likud Knesset member Moshe Feiglin in his office in the West Bank settlement Karnei Shomron. On his wall was a framed aerial photograph of the Temple Mount – but the Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock didn’t appear. In their place stood an illustrated, rebuilt Jewish Temple. I’ve heard that this photo and others like it are big sellers in Jerusalem.

Feiglin was at the Wednesday night conference in Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center where Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick was shot and critically wounded by a Palestinian. Also present was Yehuda Etzion, who was imprisoned in the early 1980s for leading a plot within the “Jewish Terror Underground” to blow up the Dome of the Rock. Feiglin wasn’t the only extreme anti-Arab Likud MK at the conference; Miri Regev and others were there too.

Yehuda Glick (Photo by Amitay Salomon / CC 3.0)

Yehuda Glick (Photo by Amitay Salomon / CC 3.0)

Following the murder attempt on Glick, the claim is being made – and getting a more sympathetic hearing than usual (here and here) – that he and his colleagues have been leading a “civil rights” movement for Jews, one whose aim is simply to gain for Jews the same right Muslims have to pray on the Temple Mount, which Muslims worship as the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif in Arabic). I heard Housing Minister Uri Ariel fuming on the radio about the injustice of the Israeli-enforced status quo on the Mount (which allows Jews to visit with police permission, but bars them from praying so as not to incite Muslim fears of a Jewish takeover, and in line with rabbinical rulings). The radio interviewer was at a loss to challenge him; no doubt Ariel convinced many listeners that he and the other Temple Mount activists are a bunch of Martin Luther Kings.

This is a great fraud. I’m sure there are some Jews who really only want to be allowed to pray on the Mount without having any intention of bothering the Muslims and their holy places, who genuinely want religious coexistence up there. But they are incidental to the movement. The Temple Mount movement is and always has been about not religious equality, but Jewish religious domination and contempt for Muslims and Islam. That’s what Feiglin’s about, that’s what Etzion is obviously all about, and anybody who thinks Miri Regev and Yariv Levin and these other nonstop Arab-bashers in the Knesset who want to let Jews pray freely on the Temple Mount are looking for peaceful coexistence, dream on.

The best known of the Temple Mount NGOs, the Temple Mount Faithful, headed by Gershon Salomon, makes no bones about its intentions. On its website, the first of the group’s “Long Term Objectives” is: 

Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque were placed on this Jewish or biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination. The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of G‑d without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed, transferred to, and rebuilt at Mecca.

Glick appears to be a somewhat different story. Despite many media reports, he is not an activist in the Temple Mount Faithful, or at any rate not mainly in the Temple Mount Faithful; he heads an organization called the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, and formerly led the Temple Mount Institute. Both of these groups express the hope of rebuilding the Temple alongside the Muslim holy sites, not in their place. But here is a brief video Glick made for the Temple Institute in which he makes what sounds like a veiled threat of what will happen to the Dome of the Rock if Muslim religious leaders do not cooperate peacefully with this project:

The decision of what will happen to that building, which today represents the Muslim religion – if the Muslim religious leadership decides to choose a path of peace, that building can remain and be part of the house of prayer for all nations, and it can be used as a center of monotheistic religions. If, unfortunately, the Muslim leadership continues the path they are leading today – [Islamic Movement leader] Ra’ed Salah and other Muslim leaders today – it will bring to a very dangerous … [here Glick pauses, searching for words, then continues in a barely audible voice] to a great threat to the world and to the peace of the world. I’m calling upon the leadership of the Muslim religion: join, cooperate with those who want peace. Join with those who believe that the Temple Mount belongs to all those who believe in God, and then the Dome of the Rock, built by Abdel Malek, will be part of the house of prayer of all nations, the holy temple.

Glick did not deserve to be shot. From all reports, he is not a man of violence at all; he could be described as the friendly face of the Temple Mount movement. But he works alongside men of the most violent possible intent. He is the window-dressing of a movement with a psychotic, apocalyptic goal, one that goes back to the Six Day War conquest of the Mount when IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, later to become Israel’s chief rabbi, implored Moshe Dayan to destroy the Dome of the Rock.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers perform traditional Friday prayers in a street in the Wadi Joz neighborhood outside Jerusalem's Old City, as Israeli policemen block their way to Al Aqsa Mosque, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Palestinian Muslim worshipers perform traditional Friday prayers in a street in the Wadi Joz neighborhood outside Jerusalem’s Old City, as Israeli policemen block their way to Al Aqsa Mosque, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Again, I’m sure there are Jews who honestly just want to be allowed to pray on the Mount, nothing more, and who see this as an issue of religious equality. I would ask them if they favor introducing the same sort of religious equality for Muslims at the Western Wall, which Muslims worship as the Buraq Wall, the site where Mohammed mounted his winged horse Buraq and ascended to heaven:

Should Muslims, accompanied by Muslim police, be allowed to conduct Muslim prayer in the Western Wall plaza?

For that matter, should the police of a Muslim country be allowed to station themselves in the Western Wall plaza as the enforcer of law and order? Should the police of a Muslim country be allowed to decide which Jews can come pray at the Western Wall and which cannot?

That would be the mirror image of the current, Israeli-enforced status quo for Muslims on the Noble Sanctuary, which Jews worship as the Temple Mount. That status quo is not a violation of Jews’ civil rights, but a violation of Muslims’ religious rights and Palestinians’ national rights. That status quo is bad enough as it is; Glick, Feiglin, Etzion, Ariel, Regev and the movement they represent would make it out-and-out catastrophic.

Related:
There are no good guys in Jerusalem
Why the status quo on the Temple Mount isn’t sustainable
Disturbing the ‘peace’ in Jerusalem’s holiest site
Judenrein or Judaized? A false choice for the Temple Mount

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There are no good guys in Jerusalem http://972mag.com/there-are-no-good-guys-in-jerusalem/98214/ http://972mag.com/there-are-no-good-guys-in-jerusalem/98214/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 18:24:48 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98214 The attempt to assassinate a prominent right-wing Jewish activist in Jerusalem has brought the city to a boiling point. Now is the time for responsible leadership. 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the Israel Police’s decision to temporarily close the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to all visitors — Jewish and Muslim — “a declaration of war” on the Palestinian people and the Islamic nation, speaking in the aftermath of an attempted political murder in the already tumulus city.

Yes, the increasing and more frequent restrictions on Muslim worshipers’ access to the Aqsa Mosque is a valid and serious grievance. Those restrictions, coupled with more frequent and more bold visits to the site by Jewish extremists have been responsible for fueling much of the anger radiating from East Jerusalem in recent months.

Palestinians perform Friday Prayer at the neighbourhood of Ras Al-Amud in East Jerusalem due to Israeli Government's entrance restriction to the al-Aqsa Mosque for the Palestinians under the age of 40, October 24, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians perform Friday Prayer at the neighbourhood of Ras Al-Amud in East Jerusalem due to Israeli Government’s entrance restriction to the al-Aqsa Mosque for the Palestinians under the age of 40, October 24, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Nevertheless, describing Thursday’s closure — which was made purely to prevent clashes from escalating at a dangerous junction — as a declaration of war on all Palestinians and Muslims, is to provoke, not calm. Abbas should not be blamed for his frustration with Israel in almost every aspect of the relationship, but this is a time that calls for responsible leadership.

Abrogating responsibility, ignoring causation

Likewise, the Israeli leadership’s attempts to abrogate responsibility for the sources of anger and violence in Jerusalem, along with its campaign blaming it all on incitement by the Palestinians, makes one question how much they want to prevent another violent explosion.

To his credit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “we” must “lower the flames. “No side should take the law into its own hands.” In the same breath, however, he blamed the current situation on the incitement of “radical Islamic elements and by Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen who said that Jews must be prevented from going up to the Temple Mount by any means possible.”

Palestinian youth hold a Palestinian flag outside the Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth hold a Palestinian flag outside the Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Netanyahu made no mention of a draft law that would change the delicate status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. The draft law, which would likely enjoy little support in the Knesset, has been used as a rallying cry for Palestinians and Muslims in the region who see it as yet another step toward the ultimate fear: that Israel, or Jewish Israeli extremists, plans to take over the compound in order to demolish the Aqsa Mosque and build a Third Temple.

Read more: Disturbing the ‘peace’ in Jerusalem’s holiest site

Such fears were not assuaged in recent months as one of a number of extremist Jewish groups raised $100,000 to draft architectural plans for such an endeavor. It would be wise to remember the Jewish Underground plot to blow up the mosque 30 years ago — the Palestinians remember it — for which the plotters were pardoned by then-Israeli President Chaim Herzog in 1990.

Although the Israeli prime minister has indeed made a number of reassurances that Israel “is committed to maintaining the status quo exactly as it’s been for many decades,” he has not come out and rebuked those elements on the Israeli side who are — very vocally — advocating for exactly the opposite. He has not addressed the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Arab world with conciliatory and calming assurances that such forces are marginal or are being marginalized.

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Instead, he places the blame entirely on the Palestinians. Once again, he has an opportunity to act as a responsible and conciliatory leader in a dangerous moment. Instead, he dismisses all criticism and passes the buck by treating Palestinian grievances as invalid at best or nonexistent at worst, and blaming the current situation entirely on the Palestinians.

The extremists

And then there are the extremists. Yehuda Glick is one of them. He and others of his ideological stream want to see the Aqsa Mosque demolished to make way for a third Jewish temple. They have moved from the radical fringes closer to the mainstream in recent years and enjoy support and representation from inside the government.

Glick ally and radical Knesset member from Prime Minister Likud’s ruling party Thursday morning attempted to defy the police closure of the Temple Mount and said, “Temple Mount should be opened today exclusively to Jews.”

As Betty Herschman wrote in +972 earlier this year:

In the past year alone, hundreds of national religious Jewish pilgrims have ascended the Mount, including groups of rabbis, women, members of Knesset and uniformed soldiers. While the various Temple organizations may have differing goals and varying impacts, a common denominator of religious and nationalist messianism distinguishes the movement as a whole. Religion has becomes a tool for realizing extreme national goals at a site that is a focal point of political and religious tension.

And of course, the events on the Temple Mount do not take place in a vacuum. In the sometimes deceivingly simple Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a number of micro-conflicts are in no way disconnected from other conflicts and the larger question on Palestinian and Israeli self-determination. Yonathan Mizrachi wrote in these pages yesterday, before Glick’s shooting:

Some argue that the tension in East Jerusalem is tied to the question of sovereignty over the Temple Mount: that is, tension on the Mount leads to unrest in the streets, not vice versa.

When one takes into account the status of the Temple Mount in Judaism, the military and political power of Israel in the region, and the unwillingness of many Israelis recognize the importance of the site in Islam in general and to the Palestinians in particular, it becomes evident that Israel’s tightening grip on the Temple Mount is a result of the wider political reality.

None of that, of course, can justify political assassinations, or attempted ones, like we saw in Jerusalem Wednesday night when another extremist, this time from Palestinian side, tried to kill Mr. Glick.

Read more: Why the Temple Mount status quo isn’t sustainable

We will never know exactly why Muataz Ibrahim Hijazi allegedly tried to murder Yehuda Glick. He was shot dead by Israeli special police forces in a shootout at his home early Thursday morning. It is probably safe to assume that Glick’s stature as a symbol of radical Jewish threats to the Aqsa Mosque had something to do with it, but we will never know.

What is clear — and terrifying — however, is that a single person acting on his own can catapult Israel and Palestine, already in such a dangerous place, into flames that threaten so many.

And then there is the elephant in the room: the occupation, which many people love to forget includes East Jerusalem. When an entire population is neglected by the government and municipality who claim authority over them, when their right to live in their hometown and holy city is permanently under threat, when now-regular construction plans threaten to cut them off from the rest of what may or may not one day become a Palestinian state, when extremist Jewish elements with the support of the state are attempting to wrest control of already contested neighborhoods — then one of the most contested cities on earth is destined to remain a powder keg for the foreseeable future.

Without an end to the occupation, without responsible leaders and without good guys, that is a sad and scary prospect — that is our reality.

Related:
Why the status quo on the Temple Mount isn’t sustainable
PHOTOS: Protests in Jerusalem over Aqsa Mosque closures
IDF makes the Dome of the Rock vanish from photo, and lies about it

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Netanyahu’s status quo strategy: Thwarting a Palestinian state http://972mag.com/netanyahus-status-quo-strategy-thwarting-a-palestinian-state/98190/ http://972mag.com/netanyahus-status-quo-strategy-thwarting-a-palestinian-state/98190/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:38:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98190 The Americans got it wrong. By seemingly doing nothing but trying to preserve his seat in power, the Israeli prime minister is in fact advancing a process that makes a Palestinian state an impossibility.

By David Zonsheine

In his Atlantic article on the growing crisis between Jerusalem and Washington, Jeffrey Goldberg quoted American officials slamming Netanyahu, one now-famously called him “chickenshit.” The substance of the criticism was that he lacks the “guts” to strike Iran and is only interested in “protecting himself from political defeat.”

Beyond the damage Netanyahu and his government are causing Israel in the international community – hurting ties crucial for a small country with limited resources in a complicated region – I disagree with the American diagnosis. In Netanyahu’s case, preserving his rule without any apparent progress towards a clear goal is part and parcel of his plan to deepen the deeply-ingrained process of preventing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and splintering the Palestinian people. Even if Netanyahu did not start these steps, he is propelling them with pristine efficiency.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

Every day that Netanyahu tries to maintain his seat is another day of settlement construction in the West Bank, another day of Palestinian displacement, of destroying Palestinian assets and other grave human rights violations; another day in which Netanyahu’s strategic goals are being achieved.

Unlike the objective of peace and ending occupation, Netanyahu’s objectives don’t have a big fan base in the international arena. He knows this all too well, and this is why he cunningly operates to maintain the status quo. Ostensibly this means doing nothing; in practice it means rapidly changing facts on the ground in the West Bank.

His declaration of support for the two-state solution at Bar Ilan University and the negotiations led by Kerry were conducted in parallel to government actions on the ground – constituting an integral part of his strategy.

Netanyahu surely must have taken the Americans’ criticism as a complement. They thought they were insulting him but in fact they were praising him. They revealed that they do not understand Netanyahu’s strategy – mistaking his effective methods for fear and lack of political vision. They also positioned him perfectly in his battle for right-wing voters. He is simultaneously standing tall in front of the Administration while winking to his benefactors and allies in the Republican Party ahead of Senate elections. At the same time, he is not “giving in” to Bennett, who perfectly fills the role of the settler youth who makes the prime minister appear like the experienced, rational centrist.

A trip to the West Bank and a perusal of reports by human rights organizations, like the recent B’Tselem report on the Burqah village, can attest to these processes. While Netanyahu’s rhetoric focuses on Iran, ISIS, the war in Gaza and the high cost of living, the West Bank continues to undergo significant changes and the Palestinian people continued to be divided and conquered.

Netanyahu is the victor in Goldberg’s Atlantic story. And he continues to be the leading candidate for Israeli prime minister, precisely because of his ability to sell his de facto strategy of change as a status quo strategy.

David Zonsheine is the chairman of B’Tselem.  

Related:
‘Chickengate:’ In the confrontation between Bibi and Obama, Palestinians are only a sideshow
How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle

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‘Chickengate:’ In the confrontation between Bibi and Obama, Palestinians are only a sideshow http://972mag.com/chickengate-in-the-confrontation-between-bibi-and-obama-palestinians-are-only-a-sideshow/98178/ http://972mag.com/chickengate-in-the-confrontation-between-bibi-and-obama-palestinians-are-only-a-sideshow/98178/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 22:39:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98178 The rift between Washington and Jerusalem has to do with the changing American interests in the Middle East and internal Israeli politics, not with an end to the occupation. 

In a story in The Atlantic Tuesday, Jewish-American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg cited a White House official calling Netanyahu “chickenshit,” blaming him for lack of political vision or guts. Relations between Jerusalem and Washington have reached the lowest point he can remember, Goldberg wrote. This was the top story in the Israeli media this morning. Even the pro-Netanyahu, free tabloid Israel Hayom quoted Goldberg.

In his response, Netanyahu maintained the confrontational tone, saying in the Knesset on Wednesday that he was attacked “for defending the State of Israel,” no less (thus hinting that the American administration is doing the opposite). Later, an official statement from the White House rejected the terms used by Goldberg’s sources, which was to be expected. So, what should one make of this?

1. The messenger is important: Goldberg was as pro-Bibi a journalist as one could find among Jewish Democrats. On major policy issues, Goldberg has consistently taken Jerusalem’s side: in 2010, he authored a piece that predicted Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities; he criticized the administration for its public confrontations with Netanyahu and blamed PA President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to recognize Israel “as a Jewish state,” thus aiding the collapse of the Kerry Initiative. Even in his recent piece, Goldberg agrees that the time is not right for the creation of a Palestinian state — which is just what Netanyahu says. So I think Goldberg would be the last person to exaggerate the rift between the Obama Administration and the government in Jerusalem.

In fact, much of Goldberg’s unique professional position has to do with the “special relationship” between the two governments. A piece in a DC magazine once called him a mashgiah, a Hebrew term that, in this context, relates to Goldberg as the gatekeeper for what is legitimate in the Israeli-American political conversation. If Goldberg is (quoting someone) calling Bibi a “chickenshit,” then everyone can call Bibi a chickenshit.

2. This is not about a Palestinian state or an end to the occupation. The administration deserted this cause along with the Kerry mission, and it is now trying to cut its losses. I think the American goal is to contain the Israeli-Palestinian problem, not only because the chances of a breakthrough are slim compared to the political cost, but mainly due to the turmoil in the rest of the Middle East, and the danger that will emerge on new fronts. Things are complicated as they are and Netanyahu is making them much more complicated with his projects in the West Bank and the changes to the status quo in Jerusalem. Jordan’s King Abdullah raised the alarm, and since everybody is currently concerned about the stability of Abdullah’s regime, you can bet that the White House heard his warnings.

Make no mistake, the Obama administration will confront Netanyahu on its immediate interests but I do not see it making serious moves aimed at ending the occupation any time soon. In fact, one might suspect that the United States would like to avoid any change now. I imagine some people in Washington think that a weak Palestinian state will just be another front to defend against the forces of jihad — and who needs that right now?

3. Netanyahu is reconnecting with his base. Bibi leads the weakest coalition he has ever had, completely dependent on each one of his coalition partners. This is the reason Netanyahu has gone back to his political base in recent weeks — the settlers, the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox. The latter are receiving political favors from Bibi recently despite not even being in the coalition. Netanyahu is already thinking about the next government.

It has been said many times that with Netanyahu, these kinds of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. He may lose some votes in the center when he exchanges insults with Washington, but he is gaining on the right. Bibi is working to maintain the same coalition that brought him to power in 1996 — national-religious, ultra-Orthodox, Revisionists (the old Likud elite) and Jews of lower socio-economic background. These groups are far from an absolute majority in Israeli society, but they are enough to give Netanyahu slim victories: 50.5 percent vs. 49.5 percent against Peres in the direct elections of 1996; 65:55 in Knesset seats in 2009, and 61:59 in 2013. Never a landslide, but always enough.

The thing about Netanyahu’s coalitions is that they are made of forces less prone to outside pressure than the secular, upper-middle class that votes against him. With some of them — the settlers, for example — confrontations even work in Netanyahu’s favor. In the absence of a strong challenger from the Left, Bibi is betting that he can rally his base to another narrow win. He may be right.

4. Netanyahu’s opponents are also using the showdown with Washington to their advantage. Finance Minister Yair Lapid refused today to discuss funding projects in the West Bank, stating that he doesn’t remember a government decision to destroy relations with Washington. Lapid might also be sensing imminent elections, although he would like to avoid them, given his disappointing showing in all the recent polls.

In this sense, it is interesting to note that Lapid could theoretically form a government without going to elections. In a recent post, political pundit Raviv Druker speculated about Avigdor Liberman, Tzipi Livni, Labor and Meretz joining Lapid, and together with the tiny Kadima (two seats), forming the necessary bloc of 61 Knesset members that could send Netanyahu home. This is not a very likely scenario, but I think that Netanyahu must be giving it some thought, leading him to shore up his own bloc with the Right.

But any alternative coalition will be as unstable as the current one, and I don’t see any Israeli leader making the necessary steps that could end the occupation. The political interests of an American and Israeli government collided this week, but the Palestinians are just a sideshow here; their right to freedom and dignity is yet to be recognized by any of the actors in this political drama.

Related:
How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
A rights-based discourse is the best way to fight dispossession

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Small gods with big sticks at the unemployment office http://972mag.com/small-gods-with-big-sticks-at-the-unemployment-office/98173/ http://972mag.com/small-gods-with-big-sticks-at-the-unemployment-office/98173/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 17:01:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98173 How is it that a civil servant’s whim, impression or impulse can shatter an entire family’s lives? Some people, pushed and pushed into the corner, can’t take it anymore.

By Yudit Ilany

Illustrative photo of an impoverished family (Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo. (Shutterstock.com)

When the Israeli Employment Service (the unemployment office) registers somebody as “uncooperative,” all social security payments are automatically suspended for two months. This procedure is commonly known as “refusal.” Refusal snowballs single-parent families straight into an avalanche of poverty and distress, from which there is no salvation but death.

September the 22nd was a tough day, during which many women from Jaffa encountered refusals.

The 28th of each month is something of a minor festivity for many Jaffa families. If you have no real need to, it’s better not to visit your local post office on the 28th; it’s the day the National Insurance Institute (social security) transfers money into citizens’ postal accounts. The postal bank has no credit cards or ATMs, so people stand in line waiting quietly for their turn:

In a few minutes I’ll finally have some money in my pocket.

Today I’ll do the ‘Big Shopping’.

A day for paying off debts.

A day to pay utility bills.

A day for finally buying schoolbooks for the kids.

A day to paying the rent.

A day on which I can finally buy something nice for the kids — a treat, or perhaps a chicken for dinner.

It’s also a day of dilemmas:

Should I repair the washing machine or perhaps buy the shoes my son has been dreaming about for months, or maybe visit the dentist?

That toothache has been driving me nuts for several days now. Or perhaps I should postpone going to the dentist for yet another month. With a little Tylenol I can handle that annoying pain for a few more days after all.

And it is a day of buying diapers, baby formula and medicine.

A day also to pay back the small loan I took from my neighbor, or God forbid, from the black market goons who have been pestering me for some days now.

Money runs out quickly and once more I start running a debt at the local grocer and at Rafi’s, the small produce guy with the big heart. I should remember to set some money aside for the family’s monthly bus passes.

Last month, because of the Jewish and the Muslim holidays, social security payments were transferred earlier, on the 22nd; a day of happiness and festivity, but not for all.

A, a mother of four young children, among them a sweet little two-year-old boy, was referred by the government Employment Service to an office cleaning contractor who “was happy to employ her”, or so he said. “He’s looking for many workers for an office cleaning job in the early morning hours — before office hours. Work starts at 6 a.m.” And if there are enough workers from Jaffa, the contractor promised he would organize transportation. There is only one small problem, the youngest son’s kindergarten starts at 7 a.m. and the older children, who are in first and second grades, are too young to take responsibility for their little brother. A has to accompany them each morning to school, which starts at 8 a.m. Nor can the older children deal with the youngest son’s diapers by themselves.

“Well, if that is the case I cannot give you a job”, the contractor told A.

She went back to the Employment Service where she was registered as “uncooperative”. Why? Because the civil servant got that impression. As a result, A didn’t receive her social security payment on the 22nd, nor will she receive it this month. A single-parent family with four small children has to survive two months without any income at all. Two months without a penny for food, medicine, diapers, public transport, rent. A. has since modified her usual walking route through the neighborhood in order not to pass by the grocery and the produce store: she has no means to pay her monthly bills. And she’s running a new debt at competing businesses, a little further from home.

M., is in her fifties and not healthy. Her son, a drug addict, was recently released from prison. He receives social security payments during his first month outside  but doesn’t give a penny to his mum; all of the money goes to his dealer. M was also referred to a cleaning contractor who immediately noticed her painful gait (serious back and knee problems). M has difficulty lifting anything heavy and the contractor turned her down. He prefers his employees to be younger, faster and stronger.

When M’s turn at the postal bank came on September 22, she was also told, “there is no money in your account, they didn’t transfer anything. Better go and check it out”.

M has also been registered as “uncooperative” and her social security payments cancelled for two whole months. Dental treatment can wait but the landlord is not willing to wait for the rent. Paying off monthly payment to the debtors court? Not this month. Topping up her pre-paid phone account? Not now. The holidays? Not a chance. Perhaps she’ll receive a food parcel from a charity. And at the end of the day the greengrocer sells mediocre fruit for a low price and occasionally even hands out leftover third-rate vegetables for free. Perhaps today is her lucky day!

Two months of not paying the rent creates a debt to her landlord. M won’t be able to pay when her social security is renewed in two months either. But right now she doesn’t even have money to take the bus to the Employment Service. Even if she finds a job, she will not have the money to travel to it, so renewal is not at all certain.

M. has to renew her rent subsidy and to do so she must submit her income data for the last six months. During four of the past six months she received social security payments, but for two months there is no income at all. The Housing Ministry calls this, “exploiting a lack of earning potential,” which is a fancy way of saying: “you could have gotten money, but you didn’t, so apparently you have enough income from unknown sources,” and, along the same cruel logic, “we will therefore no longer pay your rent subsidy.”

Even among those living in dire poverty, a penny leads to another penny. The municipality also views it in a similar manner: if you do not receive social security you are not entitled to a discount on your municipal taxes. Yes, this is all very rational according to a certain type of logic, the logic of the hegemony.

And M? She doesn’t really understand it. She cries. Quietly. She feels ashamed.

The water is shut off, the electricity is still running. This is how you get the laundry machine to work with no running water, Jaffa, September 2014. (Photo by Yudit Ilany)

The water is shut off, the electricity is still running. This is how you get the laundry machine to work with no running water, Jaffa, September 2014. (Photo by Yudit Ilany)

N. is in a similar situation. She has also been refused. “Hell, they’ll seize my bank account again,” she says, laughing. “At least they can’t seize my social security payment.”

But then she remembers, she has no social security payment.

“Oh well, they can seize my debts. It’s a good thing I have a solar water heater. At least it isn’t yet cold during the nights and my daughter received lots of clothes from her cousin.”

N is an optimist who tries to find something positive in each situation. Yet after a few moments she adds, “I have run out of tears.”

On September 22 I heard about 10 “refusals” (ucooperative statuses at the employment office) — an awful day. You can be registered as “uncooperative” when your Employment Service clerk gets the impression you are not serious enough in your effort to find a job. There is no due process. You can appeal to the officer in charge, a higher-level civil servant, but I have yet to hear about a single successful appeal. It is also possible to take your case to the labor court, but an appeal can take many months — often more than a year.

Employment Service employees have enormous power: there is no due process, the civil servants are all powerful and do not have to prove a thing. It’s sufficient for them to “have the impression you are not sufficiently cooperative.” The civil servants serve both as judges and police officer at the same time. They truly are small gods with big sticks. Gods full of mercy? Not at the employment bureau!

Should I tell you about D., a clean drug addict (four years already!) and mother of a lovely three-year-old girl? D went back into prostitution in order to buy food and pay the rent.

Or maybe I should tell you about N., a divorced mother with six children, years on the waiting list to receive public housing. N simply broke down a few months ago and jumped to her death. She couldn’t take it any longer.

So, what are the implications of a civil servant’s “impression that I am not sufficiently cooperative,” of the automatic complete withdrawal of two months of social security payments? The true implication is a deep dark hole, a debt so large that a family living in poverty will not be able to recuperate from — a life-long sentence of more and more debt.

Do the employment bureau’s civil servants understand what they cause? Many of the discounts families living in poverty receive are automatically cancelled when they stop receiving social security payments. Thus, when they have no money at all, life becomes even more expensive.

Living on social security is merely surviving. Cancelling all income is disastrous.

So I have a question: why and how have the Employment Service civil servants been given such enormous power? When I go to court there are procedures, carefully worded written messages; I must prove beyond all shadow of a doubt; there is due process; I can prepare my defense with the assistance of an attorney. In a court of justice I can defend myself, and the judge may take my social and personal problems into account when sentencing.

But at the employment office? None of all that. Nothing, gurnicht, nada, fich! Go solve your own problems, pick your brain, go figure it out! And sometimes, you really cannot take it any more, and it all ends there, on the bloody tarmac below the window of the fifth-floor flat you and the kids would have been evicted from anyway.

Yudit Ilany is a photographer and activist living in Jaffa. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

Related:
Gentrification leaves one Jaffa family caged in their own home
Fight Israeli poverty, not poverty statistics
Jerusalem by the numbers: Poverty, segregation and discrimination

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Why the status quo on the Temple Mount isn’t sustainable http://972mag.com/why-the-status-quo-on-the-temple-mount-isnt-sustainable/98162/ http://972mag.com/why-the-status-quo-on-the-temple-mount-isnt-sustainable/98162/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:20:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98162 Israel’s tightening grip on the Temple Mount — and reactions to it — cannot be disconnected from the wider political reality. Tensions on the Temple Mount lead to unrest in the streets of East Jerusalem, many argue, not the other way around.

By Yonathan Mizrachi

A sign warns of the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque sat Najah National University in Nablus, West Bank, September 26, 2013. The signs were hung by students in protest of visits by Jewish nationalists to Al-Aqsa Mosque and suspected Israeli intentions to divide the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

A sign at Najah National University  in Nablus warns of the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque, Nablus, September 26, 2013. The signs were hung by students in protest of visits by Jewish nationalists to Al-Aqsa Mosque and suspected Israeli intentions to divide the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

With the escalating violence and tensions in Jerusalem in recent months, the Temple Mount has become a major item on the social and political agenda. Aspirations of apparent extremists to change the status quo on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif are raising concern among many Israelis, the Arab world, and the international community — which seeks to maintain the status quo there; that is, to maintain the autonomy of the Muslim Waqf in managing the complex, while allowing Jews to visit the Mount on certain occasions.

Some argue that the tension in East Jerusalem is tied to the question of sovereignty over the Temple Mount: that is, tension on the Mount leads to unrest in the streets, not vice versa.

If we examine the history of the Temple Mount over the past 2,000 years, we see that its rulers have changed many times, and each sovereign altered the situation on the ground. In the first century CE, the Jewish temple was destroyed, but already in the second century CE, the Romans had built a pagan temple in its place.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire in the fourth century, the Temple Mount became a waste area — seemingly out of disrespect for its status, yet the Christians’ need to turn the mount into a place outside of the boundaries of the city attests to their desire to redefine it.

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Arab conquest restored the mount’s religious centrality, and from the end of the seventh century, structures of prayer and commemoration were built there. The most recognized are the Aqsa Mosque and the memorial building that later became a mosque — the Dome of the Rock. In addition to these, the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif contains collonades, madrasas (Islamic seminaries) and domes, and other structures that make it what it is today – the sacred precinct of Islam.

But even during Muslim rule, the picture on the mount was not uniform, and changes took place according to the political situation. The Umayyad leaders (seventh century) strengthened the sanctity of the place, while the rulers of the House of Abbas (eighth century) reduced its value.

Read more: Disturbing the ‘peace’ in Jerusalem’s holiest site

Crusaders in the 12th century turned the Aqsa Mosque into a church and identified it as one of the holy sites of Christianity. Immediately after Jerusalem reverted to Muslim rule during Mamluk reign in the 13th century, the mount underwent rapid development and religious structures were once again built to reinforce its importance in Islam. Even in the years when the mount was under British control (the Mandate period), changes were made to the status quo.

Palestinian youth hold a Palestinian flag outside the Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth hold a Palestinian flag outside the Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

When Israel decided to manage the political conflict rather than resolve it, and to strengthen its control over East Jerusalem, it likewise sought to manage the situation on the Temple Mount. Management does not mean freezing the situation. Yet when the faithful Israeli public sees that Israel is deepening its hold on East Jerusalem, it will likewise require a change in the status quo in the holy place.

The yearning of millions of Jews for the Temple cannot be solved by managing the conflict or maintaining the status quo, but only by a political solution to the conflict as a whole. Otherwise, Israel will change the situation on the Temple Mount, as it continues to change the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

When one takes into account the status of the Temple Mount in Judaism, the military and political power of Israel in the region, and the unwillingness of many Israelis recognize the importance of the site in Islam in general and to the Palestinians in particular, it becomes evident that Israel’s tightening grip on the Temple Mount is a result of the wider political reality.

The author is an archaeologist in Emek Shaveh, an organization that deals with the role of archeology in the political conflict.

Related:
Disturbing the ‘peace’ in Jerusalem’s holiest site
In Silwan, the settlers are winning – big time
PHOTOS: Protests in Jerusalem over Aqsa Mosque closures

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Photographed punching an Arab woman? Sue the photographer http://972mag.com/photographed-punching-an-arab-woman-sue-the-photographer/98152/ http://972mag.com/photographed-punching-an-arab-woman-sue-the-photographer/98152/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:30:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98152 A freelance photographer who documented three young Jewish women attacking an Arab woman in Jerusalem is being sued for defamation after Israel’s most popular television news channel published her photos. Now she is asking for the public’s help to fund her legal defense.

By Oren Persico / ‘The 7th Eye

The incident in Jerusalem, as photographed by Dorit Jordan-Dotan. (Screenshot from the fundraising campaign.)

The incident in Jerusalem, as photographed by Dorit Jordan-Dotan. (Screenshot from the fundraising campaign.)

Dorit Jordan-Dotan, who last year photographed a group of Jewish women attacking an Arab woman in Jerusalem, launched a campaign last week to fund her legal defense; the Jewish women whom she documented in the scuffle are suing her for NIS 300,000 (roughly $80,000) in damages. Under the banner, “Political lawsuit against freedom of expression,” Jordan-Dotan is asking for the public’s help — through an Israeli website similar to Kickstarter — in funding her legal defense. At the time of writing, she had raised over two-thirds of the requested amount (NIS 30,000).

In February 2013, Jordan-Dotan, an independent documentary photographer, saw a scuffle break out at the Kiryat Moshe light rail station in Jerusalem. She picked up her camera and documented what she saw. According to the three plaintiffs, Shafra Richter, Ruth Meshulami and Chen Alfas, who are being represented by Attorney Doron Nir-Zvi, Jordan-Dotan caused them great harm by distributing the photos in which they can be seen striking the Arab woman, “without putting forth the photographs from when the incident began, from which it would be possible to see that the plaintiffs were defending themselves against the same Arab woman.” According to them, Jordan-Dotan “provided the deceptive photographs to media outlets that distorted reality, whereas the light rail security cameras show that it was actually the Arab woman who started the skirmish.”

Another claim of theirs touches on the fact that Jordan-Dotan did not blur the young Jewish women’s faces, despite the fact that they were minors at the time of the incident, and she therefore committed a criminal offense and violated their privacy. The plaintiffs also claim that in an interview to Channel 2 News, Jordan-Dotan said that the Arab woman was the victim of an attack, which they claim, is contrary to reality. Channel 2 News is also being sued by the three women.

On behalf of his clients, Attorney Nir-Zvi demanded in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that each of his three clients be compensated NIS 100,000 (roughly $26,000). Additionally, he asked that Jordan-Dotan and Channel 2 News be ordered to “destroy all of the publications and photographs relating to the plaintiffs that exist on the Internet.”

From the archives: Press freedom in Israel

Through her attorney, Yadin Elam, Jordan-Dotan filed her response to the suit last week. According to her, she documented the violent incident that she saw and passed along the documentation to media outlets in good faith. She added that she did not witness the start of the scuffle and did not document that part of the confrontation. She passed along all of the photos in her possession to media outlets, she emphasized, without any selection or filtering on her part. According to Jordan-Dotan, she did not know and could not have known what the plaintiffs’ ages were, and the moment that she was made aware that they were minors at the time of the incident, she removed those photos in which their faces could be seen.

According to Jordan-Dotan, the lawsuit was filed against her is a frivolous suit designed “to send a clear, tough and threatening message to anyone who in the future may find themselves in the defendant’s shoes — who sees such an incident and dares to give their photos, testimony and impressions to a journalist.”

“After the photos were published in the media, the defendant suffered mudslinging and slander attacks, including threats and insults via email and Faceook as well as responses in newspapers,” Jordan-Dotan says. Attorney Itamar Ben-Geir, who was representing the plaintiffs at the time, even raised the possibility that Jordan-Dotan herself was part of a conspiracy with the Arab woman who was attacked. In light of that claim of defamation, Jordan-Dotan is demanding counter-damages of NIS 100,000 (roughly $26,000) from the plaintiffs.

“It is incumbent upon the plaintiffs to take up their claims about the publication with the publishers, and not with the defendant,” Jordan-Dotan added.

Photographer Dorit Jordan-Dotan being interviewed on Channel 2 News about the incident she documented, February 26, 2013. (Screenshot)

Photographer Dorit Jordan-Dotan being interviewed on Channel 2 News about the incident she documented, February 26, 2013. (Screenshot)

Channel 2 News claims, through its attorneys Yishgav Nakdimon and Dakela Biran, that the reports which it published about the incident were “truthful reports based on photographic evidence of the incident — that took place in a public space — and about the police investigation that was opened into it.” Channel 2 added that in doing so it was — legally — carrying out “its journalistic and public duty to publish materials of public interest.”

Channel 2 goes on to argue that, “the photos that were published in the news reports speak for themselves and prove that the young Jewish women photographed in them, attacked the Arab woman and struck her with their hands.”

“The reason that the attack began is of no importance,” Channel 2 News argued. “And even if the physical attack shown in the pictures was provoked somehow by the Arab woman, that does not lessen the severity of the young women’s violent response, which is shown in the photos.”

Channel 2 News also claims that there is nothing in its report that could defame the plaintiffs. In addition, the company’s counsel emphasized, its employees did not know that the photographed women were minors at the time of publication.

In its response to the suit, Channel 2 News points out that it removed from its website — “Mako” — the interview with Jordan-Dotan as well as another report on the incident, without admitting to any of the claims against it. In addition, the company wrote, it blurred the faces of the Jewish women in other articles that remain on its website. However, the Channel 2 interview with Jordan-Dotan from immediately after the incident remains available on the website of Channel 2 concessionaire “Reshet,” which also publishes material from Channel 2 News.

This article was first published in Hebrew by The 7th Eye media watchdog website. It is reproduced here with permission from the author.

Related:
A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel
Palestinian beaten by Jews in J’lem: ‘Attacks against us happen every day’
Press freedom in Israel: Democracy in the age of self-censorship

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A life of forced labor: Why Israel’s Eritrean refugees fled home http://972mag.com/a-life-of-forced-labor-why-israels-eritrean-refugees-fled-home/98144/ http://972mag.com/a-life-of-forced-labor-why-israels-eritrean-refugees-fled-home/98144/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 18:52:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98144 Is Eritrea’s brutal dictatorship on the verge of collapse?

By Elizabeth Tsurkov

Israel is home to about 35,000 Eritrean asylum-seekers. While the Israeli government claims that they are work migrants, so as not to violate its own laws, Israel does not forcibly deport Eritreans back to their country of origin. As long as Eritrea is ruled by the current regime, the millions of Eritreans living outside of their homeland cannot return, but is it possible that the regime in Eritrea will soon collapse?

Recent reports from Eritrea and refugees who recently fled the east-African country indicate that the regime is struggling to maintain its control over the population. The regime relies on repression, its most extreme fashion being open-ended national service, to scare the population into submission. At the same time, revenues from mining, nearly free slave labor and taxes Eritreans abroad are forced to pay, allow the regime to sustain itself economically. In recent years, however, these pillars of the regime’s stability have begun to crack.

Read +972′s full coverage of refugees in Israel

National service in Eritrea starts in the 11th grade and ends when the person is no longer capable of performing his service, usually around the age of 50. Eritreans who fought in the country’s war of independence from Ethiopia (which ended in 1991), for example, are still mobilized. The 400,000-strong military and national service force makes up about 10 percent of the population. The servicemen and women are rarely involved in military-related activity, as Eritrea hasn’t fought a war since 2001. Instead, according the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, the servicemen and women carry out “manual labor on agricultural farms or construction sites… A large number of draftees… work in civilian administration, infrastructure projects, education and construction.”

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a think-tank, adds: “national service is used as a source of free, forced labor for ‘parastatal’ farms or companies directly in the hands of individual generals.” Since most of the duties performed by Eritrean draftees has nothing to do with military service and the service is open-ended, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has labeled the national service in Eritrea as forced labor, which is prohibited under numerous ILO conventions that Eritrea has ratified.

Soviet tank abandoned by Ethiopian forces retreating from northern Eritrea in 1991. (Photo by David Stanley/CC)

Soviet tank abandoned by Ethiopian forces retreating from northern Eritrea in 1991. (Photo by David Stanley/CC)

During national service, religious practice or the possession of religious books is forbidden, even if the religion is one of the four recognized religious denominations in Eritrea. Anyone raising questions about the service or its conditions are detained, sometimes underground and at other times in metal containers placed under the scorching sun, and tortured. Anyone caught attempting to flee or evade service is detained and tortured, sometimes to death. The UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea adds: “Alleged or actual failure to execute tasks during national service is severely punished… national service conscripts live in constant fear; the threat of severe penalties, sometimes of life-threatening nature, being part of their daily life.”

Due to the endless nature of the national service and the perpetual fear of being subjected to abuse, thousands defect from national service every month. According to UN statistics, about 4,000 Eritreans fled their homeland every month in the first six months of 2014, doubling the number of people fleeing the country compared to 2013. According to Eritrean-Swedish activist Meron Estefanos, since September 2014, the average number of Eritreans arriving in Ethiopia daily has reached 200, meaning, each month about 6,000 people flee to Ethiopia alone (while many others flee to Sudan).

Many of the refugees are unaccompanied minors who flee forced drafts. This process has started to deplete entire villages. Eritreans are fleeing despite the regime’s draconian policies to stymie the exodus – a policy of shoot-to-kill at the border, detention and torture of those caught attempting escape, and even of Eritreans suspected of “plotting to leave the country.” The conditions in detention are life-threatening and the detainees are not provided with enough food. Relatives of people who successfully escape the country are forced to pay a high fine (50,000 nakfa) or face detention themselves. In addition, Eritreans deported to their country of origin after illegally leaving it “face torture, detention and disappearance in Eritrea,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.

Eritrean refugees living in Israel take part in a protest outside the Eritrean embassy in the city of Ramat Gan, February 1. 2013. The protesters were calling for the ousting of the dictatorship regime in Eritrea, and the release of all political prisoners. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills.org)

Eritrean refugees living in Israel take part in a protest outside the Eritrean embassy in the city of Ramat Gan, February 1. 2013. The protesters were calling for the ousting of the dictatorship regime in Eritrea, and the release of all political prisoners. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills.org)

Due to the shortage in slave labor, the military police goes on routine forced-conscription round-ups (“giffas” in Tigrinya), during which anyone who appears healthy enough to serve is forcibly taken, including children under the age of 18. Those who resist being taken are at times executed on the spot. The regime resorts to these round-ups because many Eritreans simply don’t show up for the obligatory service and must be physically compelled to perform it. According to activists in Eritrea, only 50 of the 400 who Eritreans who were recently granted a short leave to see their families returned to service. According to Meron Estefanos, the regime recently began calling up men over 50 for military training, due to the manpower shortage. Very few men showed up, forcing the regime to issue a second call.

The salaries of national servicemen is about $10 per month, precluding servicemen and women from supporting their families throughout their service. As a result, families of servicemen struggle to survive, while the cost of basic staples of food, gasoline and rent keeps rising. The impoverished regime, at the same time, cannot provide its citizen with even the basic services of water and electricity, which are recurrently cut for several hours every day. As one Eritrean described it to The Guardian: “Essentials like water, electricity or petrol have disappeared” and even middle-class families struggle to find food. As a result, “many Eritreans rely on informal work to feed their families.” Soldiers at border crossings, for example, demand up to $1,000 to smuggle people safely out of the country.

Read +972′s full coverage of refugees in Israel

The militarism and discipline that characterized the years of the war of independence against Ethiopia are no longer necessary, but the regime is attempting to keep them alive to preserve its rule. After independence, Eritrea’s revolutionary leader-turned-dictator, Isaias Afawerki, instituted mandatory national service, “the official aim was to inculcate the younger generation with the spirit of the liberation struggle, but the impact was to cow society,” writes the International Crisis Group. The indefinite military service, institutionalized under the Wefri Warsai Yika’alo development campaign, “serves the dual purpose of eliminating dissent and reinforcing the army, which has become increasingly necessary for maintaining power,” writes the ICG. “The result is overwhelming militarization of an already authoritarian regime… Therefore, the military plays a leading role in coercing and intimidating the population.” To justify not demobilizing an army that makes up 10 percent of the population while there is no war, “Isaias played on the general animosity between states in the region to promote the idea that Eritrea is surrounded by enemies,” according to the ICG.

But this ideology of paranoia and militarization is losing adherents – thousands of Eritreans abandon their service every month, tired of slaving away for years while being subjected to constant abuse. Ethiopia, the major ‘enemy’ justifying the general mobilization, is home to about 100,000 Eritrean refugees. No wonder then that when the Ethiopian military made incursions into Eritrean territory in 2012, it was met with little resistance. That same year, the information minister, once deemed ultra-loyal to Afawerki, defected and fled the country. In January 2013, a group of soldiers voiced their opposition to the regime by taking over “Forto,” the building of the Eritrean Information Ministry. The soldiers forced the station’s director to read a statement on air calling for the release of political detainees and for the implementation of the 1997 constitution. The crisis ended with the soldiers retreating to their barracks. Following the incident, the regime carried out several rounds of arrests of political and military figures. In 2013, rumors circulated in Eritrea that numerous generals and lower-ranking officers were dismissed or neutralized, as Afawerki attempts to prevent any challenges to his rule. As the Eritrean military grows weaker and is seen as unreliable by Afawerki, he began relying on a 20,000-strong force of Ethiopian guerrillas (TPDM) who are based in Eritrea to police the population, which is resentful of the foreign force.

Eritrean activists outside of the country launched the “Freedom Friday” movement two years ago. The activists would randomly call Eritrean landline numbers and urge people to stay at home that day to quietly voice their opposition this way. Since then, the underground movement in Eritrea has grown, with activists now pasting posters on walls in Eritrea, calling for protests against the regime. The public discourse in Eritrea is also apparently changing, with citizens openly criticizing the regime in public spaces.


(Video: Eritreans read anti-regime posters pasted on walls in Asmara, the capital, 2013.)

Repression of an entire population requires dedication, resources and people willing to take part in the repression. All these elements are wavering. As the Russian dissident Andrei Amalrik who predicted the fall of the USSR back in 1969 wrote: “The regime is simply growing old and can no longer suppress everyone and everything with the same strength and vigor as before… We can visualize all this in the following allegory: A man is standing in a tense posture, his hands raised above his head. Another, in an equally strained pose, holds a Tommy gun to the first man’s stomach. Naturally, they cannot stand like this for very long. The second man will get tired and loosen his grip on the gun.”

Related:
Eritrean asylum seekers: Caught between jail and death
Asylum seekers: Israeli support for Eritrea prevents us from going home
WATCH: Eritrean refugee’s shocking personal testimony

Elizabeth Tsurkov works at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israeli human rights NGO, and can be followed on Twitter.

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To my Ashkenazi girlfriend, and the one who is yet to come http://972mag.com/to-my-ashkenazi-girlfriend-and-the-one-who-is-yet-to-come/98125/ http://972mag.com/to-my-ashkenazi-girlfriend-and-the-one-who-is-yet-to-come/98125/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 17:02:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98125 It’s fairly common these days to hear people in Israel claim that there can’t be racism because everyone is marrying everyone else, regardless of ethnicity. Except that’s not really true.

By Adi Sadaka

Part 1: A certain kind of truth

When I began studying film five years ago, one of the first movies they showed us was David Ofek’s “Bayit” (Home), from 1994.

The movie, which was Ofek’s final project, tells the story of an Iraqi family in Israel during the Gulf War of 1991. David (who plays himself) arrives at his parent’s home with his Ashkenazi girlfriend. Together they live through the gas masks, the ethnic differences, the air raid sirens and the debilitating heat.

We also get to meet Ofek’s parents, as well as his grandmother. And while the film is fictional, Ofek’s grandmother also plays herself, causing us to believe that there is a semblance of truth in the film. The film touches upon the difficulty of romantic relationships between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim in those days, and especially the sacrifices made in order to survive in those kinds of relationships.

It’s fairly common these days to hear people claim that there can’t be racism because everyone is marrying everyone else, regardless of ethnicity. But how true is this? And at what price?

Part 2: Quiet Ashkenazi music

I loved her. I truly did. She made my life hell, but something about her just caught me.

We met by chance, actually. And the truth is that I didn’t think it would go the way it did. But it did go there, and soon enough we were in a fraught and complicated relationship.

And I loved her. Despite the fact that she was always thinking about herself or the fact that she kept on discounting me, over and over again, I loved her. And even when I began discounting myself so that I could be with her, I loved her. And I think that she loved me too. At least that’s what she said.

Everything was always out on the table for her. Because she had nothing to hide. She, of course, could be proud of what she was – Polish and lovely. And me? I always put my head down when she spoke about the Holocaust. I felt like I didn’t have the right to say a word. And this had consequences for the rest of our relationship. She was proud and I kept my head down.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, she was broken and couldn’t stop crying. She constantly thought about how to make her father happy, and the radio in her car played quiet Ashkenazi music, and I would be both her shoulder to cry on and her punching bag.

And I loved her, so I remained silent.

A week later both of us finally had a day off for Independence Day. I suggested we go for a walk. She looked at me and said: “Forget it, I have no patience for all the arsim and frekhot.” And I was silent. Because she loved me. And because I can’t say that she’s a racist – she is going out with a Mizrahi, after all. But I knew exactly what she meant when she said arsim and frekhot. I had seen the way she acted in front of Mizrahim.

She always acted differently around us.

She always spoke slower, with simpler words. As if we were idiots that couldn’t understand what she wants if she uses her sophisticated, white words. And I loved her, so I believed it was thoughtful of her, that she’s trying to speak to everyone as equals.

But inside I knew – she’s racist. And I knew that, at some point, she won’t be able to handle my Mizrhainess and get rid of me.

And in the end, that’s what really happened.

Part 3: Mizrahi music at full volume

Much time has passed since then.

Every so often I hear from her, or think about her and something still tugs at my heartstrings.

And then, once again, right before the new Jewish year, she sent me a text message.

“I’m worried about you.”

I asked her why.

“You shared an Omer Adam song on Facebook…”

“And why does this bother you?” I asked.

“Because you’re better than that,” she answered.

“Better than what?”

“Better than all those Mizrahim,” she answered.

My heart broke upon reading that final text message. I realized that she really didn’t understand me. That she doesn’t really love me. That she only wants to change me into something comfortable for her.

I responded: “I am definitely better than having this conversation.”

Pat Parker, a lesbian, African American poet wrote the following words in her poem “For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend”:

The first thing you do is to forget that I’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that I’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven — don’t tell
me his life story. They made us take music
appreciation too.

A still from Dotan Moreno's film "Shuk."

A still from Dotan Moreno’s film “Shuk.”

Part 4: To the next woman who comes along

I do not know you yet. But I know you are there. And I know that you will accept me as I am, with all the little traditions of my Egyptian side and all the craziness of my Syrian side. And I know that you will lovingly eat my mother’s black-eyed peas, and you’ll get excited with me when I find another Syrian song that melts my heart.

I know that you’re there, so without even knowing yet who you are, I dedicate the following songs to you:

This article was first published in Hebrew on Café Gibraltar.

Related:
The struggle for Mizrahi recognition isn’t limited to Israel
‘But you’re not really Mizrahi’: Rewriting an erased identity
Can a Mizrahi girl fit into Israel’s national story?

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Israel increases pressure on nonviolent struggle’s flagship village http://972mag.com/israel-increases-pressure-on-nonviolent-struggles-flagship-village/98084/ http://972mag.com/israel-increases-pressure-on-nonviolent-struggles-flagship-village/98084/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 13:52:20 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98084 Whether as a result of the violence in Jerusalem or just because there’s a new commander in town, the Israeli army is once again increasing its oppressive measures in the West Bank village of Bil’in.

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil'in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil’in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

By Roy Wagner

There’s nothing new under the sun in Bil’in.

If you take a look at the Wikipedia page on Bil’in, you’ll see that the last updates about the village’s struggle against the separation wall refer to 2012. B’Tselem’s page on Bil’in was last updated almost two years ago. One could easily be led to believe that the struggle is over. But Bil’in continues to demonstrate.

Perhaps updating Wikipedia and B’Tselem’s website isn’t necessary. The situation in Bil’in remains as it was. Veteran protesters even experience flashbacks to 2008, when the demonstrations took place near the old route of the wall. This is the same route that stole nearly half of the village’s agricultural land, and which the High Court later ordered be dismantled and moved west. This was before the new route was built and introduced in 2011 — the same one that steals only one third of the village’s land.

Demonstrator overlooking wall and settlement in Bil'in (Haggai Matar)

Demonstrator overlooking wall and settlement in Bil’in (Haggai Matar)

Over the last several weeks, however, Israeli soldiers have been waiting for the protesters on the old route, near the monument for the late Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was shot and killed at close range by a high-velocity tear gas grenade. As far as I can tell from the videos and testimonies, Abu-Rahme was likely murdered intentionally. (The IDF closed its investigation into the killing without indictment.) From high positions the soldiers fire barrages at the protesters who try to make their way along the “Freedom Road.” Afterward, the soldiers descend toward the built-up areas of the village and fill people’s homes with tear gas.

Soldiers recently set on fire a building that stands between the old route and the new one. The army issued a demolition order for a playground that was built there. During the last protest a man who said he was a village resident told me that 20 of his olive trees, which are located on the other side of the wall, were set ablaze. Arresting protesters and assaulting them while in custody, practices that have become rarer in recent years in Bil’in, are once again becoming common practice.

Adeeb Abu Rahme, one of the residents of Bil'in who appears in 5 Broken Cameras, confronts the IDF during a protest in 2007 (Activestills)

Adeeb Abu Rahme, one of the residents of Bil’in who appears in 5 Broken Cameras, confronts the IDF during a protest in 2007 (Activestills)

According to photojournalist Haitam al-Hatib, soldiers raided the village last Saturday, confiscating agricultural tools. The soldiers retreated in the end, but not before they threatened to demolish another house. Abdullah Abu Rahme, one of the leaders of the nonviolent struggle in the village, who was recognized as a “human rights defender” by the European Union and a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, was once again convicted in military court for resisting the occupation (“obstructing the work of a soldier”) and is likely heading back to prison.

Struggling, not just protesting

The goal of the demonstrators has not changed since 2005. They are not “protesting.” They are not “expressing an opinion.” They are not taking part in the “game of democracy,” whose rules don’t even apply to the occupied territories in the first place, and where every protest is considered illegal. The goal of the protesters is to tear down the wall and cross to the other side in order to reach their lands (upon which sit military positions and the Modi’in Illit settlement).

Although the wall — which supposedly save lives — is full of gaps (proof: tens of thousands of permit-less Palestinian workers cross it regularly), it is still continuous enough to separate Bil’in’s residents from their lands. Week after week, the protesters are left on the east side of the wall, yet they are persistent about their demands.

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil'in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil’in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

The chances that the stolen lands will return to their rightful owners through some kind of legal or political arrangement is near zero. Bil’in’s residents understand this fact. The demand to cross over to the lands on the other side of the fence is one that embodies the demand to end the occupation and the apartheid regime on both sides of the wall. The response to the protests remains the same, whether it includes chanting or rock throwing, whether the demonstrators are able to approach the wall or remain far from it, whether the army uses tear gas and stun grenades, rubber coated bullets or live fire. Life-threatening violence by well-armed and armored soldiers against unarmed protesters.

Every once in a while, someone in the IDF will come to the conclusion that its time to put an end to these demonstrations. They invent “new” tactics, “new” weapons, “new threats.” But after more than 10 years of protests, there is really nothing new. The protesters know all the scenarios. Regardless, the demonstrations continue and as far as I can see, they’ll keep on going for many years to come. As they do in Ni’ilin, Ma’asara, Kufr Qadum, Nabi Saleh and other villages.

I do not know whether the escalation in Bil’in today, which is happening more than 10 years after the first demonstration in 2005, has to do with Operation Protective Edge, or with the growing resistance in East Jerusalem, or with the caprices of the local command. I also do not know how long the escalation will last. Perhaps in a week or two the military will relax. Maybe another protester will be killed.

The right to incite

The European-Israeli fantasy of a Palestinian Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., who will lead the popular struggle toward a political overhaul, continues to stagnate. This fantasy forgets that there is no Gandhi without Ambedkar (who fought against the British using arms), and there is no King without Malcolm X. And in any case, this isn’t India or America and the political violence of this place has its own characteristics, which adopts the cruel patterns of French colonialism in Algeria, at the expense of the less brutal tactics of British rule in India or white rule in the U.S.

Every week a few dozen Israelis and internationals come to Bil’in and join another few dozen Palestinians for a protest. Every once in a while there is a larger demonstration.

I will not pretend that additional Israelis coming to the protests will tip the scales. The Israeli public, which is unable to effectively pressure the government to change its health, housing and welfare policies, will probably not be the one to end the occupation. Those who fail to protect the rights of poor and vulnerable Israeli citizens living inside Israel will probably not be able to save the residents of Bil’in. The weekly protests will continue with us or without us.

A Palestinian youth places a flag on the Israeli wall during a protest marking nine years of struggle against the wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, February 28, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth places a flag on the Israeli wall during a protest marking nine years of struggle against the wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, February 28, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

But in a place where someone like the peace-loving Abdullah Abu-Rahmah is convicted for “incitement,” perhaps, at the very least, it is fitting to incite others to fight against the occupation. To continue and resist in Bil’in and in other places. To continue and resist on both sides of the wall that bisects Bil’in. To continue and resist in order to maintain an infrastructure of resistance, so that one day, when the political conditions change, when something here changes, it will also change in Bil’in. A place where, at least for now, there is nothing new under the sun.

The IDF Spokesperson issued a response regarding the protest in Bil’in two weeks ago, stating that:

During the illegal and violent riot in Bil’in, west of Ramallah, which included 30 Palestinian rioters who threw stones and acted violently toward our forces, our forces responded with riot-control measures, while approaching the direction of the village, in order to prevent the confrontation from reaching the area near the security fence. The rest of the claims are baseless, the IDF will continue to enforce order and will not allow harm to the security of the region.

Roy Wagner is an Israeli activist who has been attending the demonstrations in Bil’in for the past five years. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
IDF court convicts Palestinian non-violent organizer
PHOTOS: What the press missed in Bil’in tear gas flower garden
Bil’in revisited: The small changes in life under occupation

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