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Why is Matti Friedman so mad at Breaking the Silence?

A former AP reporter who crusades against the international media’s alleged anti-Israel bias takes aim at the Israeli NGO of veteran soldiers in an article that is long on … well, length. But short on substance. 

By Mairav Zonszein and Lisa Goldman

Earlier this month, the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence released a report about the army’s 50-day incursion into Gaza last summer. Titled “This is How We Fought in Gaza 2014,” it is comprised of more than 60 oral testimonies collected from soldiers and officers. The overriding theme of the eyewitness accounts is that soldiers going into Gaza were given unprecedentedly loose rules of engagement. Many of the soldiers say those orders contradicted the rules and code of ethics they were taught in training, which mandate doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians or their property.

In Israel, the response to the soldiers’ testimonies has ranged from indifference to ambivalence to outright slander. The higher political and military echelons didn’t even acknowledge the report, while the Hebrew media was largely ambivalent. For example, even Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel writes (Hebrew) that despite the organization’s agenda, which he defines vaguely as “leftist,” its claims should not be ignored.

The slander has come from people who, rather than respond to the report itself, try to delegitimize Breaking the Silence by discrediting the soldiers who gave testimonies and questioning their integrity and motives.

A journalist turned attack dog

Matti Friedman, a Canadian-Israeli who was once a reporter for the AP bureau in Jerusalem, now falls on the slandering side of the spectrum. Friedman recently launched his own one-man crusade against what he seems to think is an international conspiracy to churn out gratuitously critical reporting on Israel. He has written several long articles to this effect, and been invited to speak on the topic at events hosted by Jewish organizations in England and the United States.

Friedman’s analysis of the Breaking the Silence report, published in Mosaic Magazine on Thursday, can be boiled down to three main points:

1.    The BtS report is propaganda, not journalism;

2.    The testimonies not only fail to show loose rules of engagement, but in fact support the army’s claim that it did everything possible to avoid civilian injuries;

3.    BtS is dishonest about its political agenda, which Friedman suggests is nefarious.

None of these claims is supported...

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IDF maps village of Susya as forced displacement looms

The IDF’s Civil Administration prepares for the evacuation of the West Bank village in the wake of a High Court decision to uphold the rejection a zoning plan.

A Civil Administration inspector accompanied by soldiers arrived Sunday morning in Susya to take photos and measurements of village structures, further stoking fears among its Palestinian residents that they will be expelled from their homes at any moment.

Nasser Nawajeh, a resident, longtime activist and volunteer with B’Tselem, took the following photo of the official, who goes by the name Carlos.

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Tuesday gave the army a green light to demolish the Palestinian village and forcibly transfer its residents out of Area C of the West Bank. The court refused to issue an injunction that would freeze any demolitions in the south Hebron Hills village before the village’s case is even heard and ruled on by the highest court of the land.

 Justice Noam Solberg rejected the injunction requested by the residents of Khirbet Susya, who are represented by Rabbis for Human Rights. The case is a petition against the IDF’s Civil Administration’s decision to reject a master plan submitted by the village, and against the Israeli army’s plans to demolish the village and forcibly relocate its residents out of Area C. The Israeli army can now destroy the village at any moment, even though the case has yet to be heard by the High Court; a date for hearing has not even been set.

The Israeli army has issued repeated demolition orders in the village on the basis of illegal construction and zoning. The only reason Palestinians in the south Hebron Hills build illegally, however, is because Israeli authorities have never granted them building permits or any planning rights. The Israeli army rejects 90 percent of Palestinian planning requests in Area C, and most villages in the area face almost identical restrictions and demolition threats. Settlements for Jewish Israelis, however, continuously pop up in the area, including an adjacent settlement that also named itself Susya.

The 340 residents of Khirbet Susya have for years been fighting in court for the right to stay on their land. Susya is located in the south Hebron Hills, in Area C of the West Bank, which according to the Oslo Accords is under full Israeli control. Its residents were first expelled from their lands in 1986 after the Jewish settlement of Susya was established and an archaeological...

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Palestinian village of Susya faces imminent demolition

Since the Israeli army evicted residents of Susya from their village in order to establish an archeological site in its place, the Israeli military has refused to issue the Palestinians any building permits. Now, the High Court has given the army a green light to demolish the village and forcefully transfer its residents.

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Tuesday gave the army a green light to demolish the Palestinian village of Susya and forcibly transfer its residents out of Area C of the West Bank. The court refused to issue an injunction that would freeze any demolitions in the south Heron Hills village before the village’s case is even heard and ruled on by the highest court of the land.

Justice Noam Solberg rejected the injunction requested by the residents of Khirbet Susya, who are represented by Rabbis for Human Rights. The case is a petition against the IDF’s Civil Administration’s decision to reject a master plan submitted by the village, and against the Israeli army’s plans to demolish the village and forcibly relocate its residents out of Area C. The Israeli army can now destroy the village at any moment, even though the case has yet to be heard by the High Court; a date for hearing has not even be set.

The Israeli army has issued repeated demolition orders in the village on the basis of illegal construction and zoning. The only reason Palestinians in the south Hebron Hills build illegally, however, is because Israeli authorities have never granted them building permits or any planning rights. The Israeli army rejects 90 percent of Palestinian planning requests in Area C, and most villages in the area face almost identical restrictions and demolition threats. Settlements for Jewish Israelis, however, continuously pop up in the area, including an adjacent settlement that also named itself Susya.

The 340 residents of Khirbet Susya have for years been fighting in court for the right to stay on their land. Susya is located in the south Hebron Hills, in Area C of the West Bank, which according to the Oslo Accords is under full Israeli control. Its residents were first expelled from their lands in 1986 after the Jewish settlement of Susya was established and an archaeological site built on its former location. The Palestinian villagers then moved the village to their adjacent agricultural lands and have been fighting to subsist there ever...

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Israelis' surrogate mothers in Nepal are no laughing matter

The precarious situation of surrogate mothers in Nepal carrying babies for Israelis, as well as the ethical questions surrounding surrogacy in the developing world, should be treated with the utmost seriousness. But what does Israel’s interior minister do? He laughs at them. 

Saturday’s horrific earthquake in Nepal has dominated the news here in Israel, not only because Nepal is a popular travel destination and around 2,000 Israeli backpackers were airlifted out of the area in recent days, but primarily because of the 100 or so surrogate mothers carrying babies for Israeli gay couples and single parents.

Only heterosexual couples can legally turn to surrogacy in Israel, so homosexual couples look to other countries – and generally look eastward to India and now Nepal, since it is much cheaper than the West.

Israel announced Sunday it had decided to airlift 26 newborn babies born to surrogate mothers (they all arrived by Tuesday), but it is not so clear what will happen to the women there who are still pregnant with surrogate babies, living in the aftermath of the quake.

According to a report in TIME, there are around 100 Indian women in Nepal who are surrogates for Israelis. The Justice Ministry decided to authorize the airlift of only a handful of these women, those past their 35th week of pregnancy. It is unclear how many are expected to arrive, but some reports say four women. The Interior Ministry spokesperson was asked for details and comment, but responded that “the matter is still being worked out so no information is being provided at this time.”

The story has turned the spotlight in the Israeli media on the need to improve the legal ability for surrogacy in Israel and the ethics of seeking surrogacy abroad, since most if not all the surrogate women are poor and acting out of desperation. (An informative article on the matter in Haaretz by Aeyal Gross can be found here).

It raises difficult questions about what it means for an underprivileged woman to rent out her womb. The images of babies being flown into Israel with their relieved dads, while the women who carried and birthed them are left behind, have been especially cruel.

This sad and sensitive situation was exacerbated by Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, who gave an interview on the matter on Channel 10′s evening news show, “London and Kirschenbaum,” on Monday. I subtitled a short...

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Uganda denies agreement with Israel on asylum seekers

The Ugandan government officially denies claims it has signed an agreement with Israel, whereby it would absorb forcefully deported Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. The Israeli government has resisted calls to divulge the details of the agreements it had allegedly signed with ‘third countries.’

Government officials in Uganda deny there is any agreement with Israel on the deportation of asylum seekers into the country, according to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, citing Ugandan daily New Vision. In the report, published Tuesday, Uganda’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs James Mugume is quoted as saying: “Neither the minister [of internal affairs] nor myself has any idea about it. We do not have any arrangement for receiving refugees from Israel.”

Nearly a month ago the Israeli government announced its intention to begin forcefully deporting Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to “third countries” - which are assumed to be Rwanda and Uganda, although Israeli authorities have yet to reveal any information. Refugee organizations have continuously voiced concern that these third countries do not guarantee the safety of asylum seekers and have called on Israel to be divulge the details of these obscure agreements.

Last week, at least three Eritrean asylum seekers who lived in Israel and were deported to a third country were executed by Islamic State militants in Libya. And on Tuesday, Ali Rasta, another Eritrean asylum seeker who had been an inmate in Israel’s Holot detention center, was reportedly murdered in Khartoum. According to asylum seeker activist and Holot inmate Mutasim Ali, he was forced to leave Israel for a third country, and then ended up in Sudan.

“The Ugandan government’s sweeping denial is disconcerting, and it illustrates the gap between Israel’s promises and the reality on the ground,” the Hotline for Migrants and Refugees said in a statement. The organization said it has testimonies of asylum seekers who were forced to leave Israel for Uganda and then realized they had no legal status there – contrary to what Israel had informed them.

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Zoological terrorism? Israelis up in arms over 'Palestine Gazelle'

A Facebook post livid at the fact that the Palestine Gazelle at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is being listed as such has been making some waves on Israeli social media today. The status was posted by Israeli right-wing protofascist Yoav Eliassi, who goes by “The Shadow” (and was involved in violence against leftists protesting the Gaza war last summer in Tel Aviv).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Every day is Holocaust Day in Israel

Netanyahu talks about Iran every single day. Today was the one day he shouldn’t have. 

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. But if someone had landed here from another planet, they wouldn’t necessarily catch on. They might find it hard to  commemorate the Jewish lives taken in Europe during World War II, and instead be preoccupied with Iran’s nuclear program.

On Thursday night, as businesses closed throughout the country, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Standing on the podium, among the few survivors that are still alive, he took the opportunity to talk about Iran, and why the deal being formulated with world powers to curb its nuclear program is a bad one:

Never mind that this is an inaccurate and unconvincing comparison. Never mind that everyone on this planet already knows Netanyahu’s position on Iran and the agreement regarding its nuclear program. Never mind that Iran’s support for terrorist groups is bad enough without the need to compare it to Nazism. Netanyahu’s politicization of the Holocaust in an insult to all its victims and those affected by it. As if the genocide of Jews wasn’t a singular and horrible enough historical event that deserves its own place.

At the same event, President Rivlin subtly but explicitly countered Netanyahu’s fear mongering approach, trying to dissociate the Holocaust from the State of Israel and any of the state’s current politics.

Of all days, today should have been the one day in the entire year that Netanyahu took a break from his crusade against the Iran deal, and allowed the Holocaust its rightful place in the state’s collective memory.

As my colleague Orly Noy joked on her Facebook page, “Netanyahu managed to introduce a new holiday into the Israeli calendar: Memorial Day for Iran and Fallen Heroes.”

With Netanyahu, we don’t need Holocaust Day, because thanks to him every day here is Holocaust Day.

Related:
We can no longer deny the Holocaust of Libya’s Jews
Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel: Something’s missing
How Israel can stop a nuclear arms race in the Middle East

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Israel to indefinitely imprison asylum seekers who refuse deportation

In a move unprecedented in Western countries, Israel’s outgoing interior minister announces plan to compel asylum seekers to leave the country. Israel’s High Court has repeatedly struck down laws that authorized the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea will face deportation to third countries or face unlimited imprisonment in Israel under a new Interior Ministry policy set to be implemented in the coming days. Israel will provide asylum seekers 30 days notice, at the end of which, if one refuses to leave, they will face indefinite detention, according to a statement released by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority on Tuesday.

The two countries are said to be Rwanda and Uganda, though Israel has not divulged the information. Up until now, Israel has exerted pressure on asylum seekers to leave by holding them in the Holot detention facility and offering them cash to leave, either back to their home country or a third country. But it always required their written consent. The new policy would be entirely coercive: either they leave, or face indefinite imprisonment.

Six NGOs, among them the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, slammed the move as illegal, dangerous and yet expected.

“The initiative of the Ministry of Interior exposes what we’ve all known [...] – there is no such thing as ‘voluntary departure.’ The decision of the minister of interior and attorney general removes the disguises the State employed before and makes it clear that Israel will work to deport asylum seekers in any way possible, including illegal ones,” the organizations said in a statement.

According to a report in Haaretz on Tuesday, there is no precedent in the Western world for this type of deportation of asylum seekers to third countries. Israel is a signatory of the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention, which forbids compelling asylum seekers to leave a country with the threat of imprisonment.

Outgoing Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said the move will “encourage infiltrators to leave the borders of the state of Israel in an honorable and safe way.” Human rights groups, however, say Rwanda and Uganda are not safe countries for asylum seekers leaving Israel, and that they have no legal status or protection once arriving, ultimately resulting in them leaving for yet another country.

It was not clear if the new measure would be implemented before...

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WATCH: Masked settlers throw stones at Israeli activists

Incident comes one week after six-year-old girl was wounded by stone-throwing in the exact same location.

Settlers from the illegal outpost Havat Maon in the southern West Bank hurled rocks at a group of Israeli activists on Saturday, just one week after a six-year old Palestinian girl was attacked and wounded in her head in the exact same place.

Three settlers, who appear to be quite young, used slingshots to hurl stones at the group of activists. No one was hurt in the incident.

In the video, you can hear Guy, a documentarian of the occupation and veteran activist from Ta’ayush, a Jewish-Palestinian activist group that hold weekly nonviolent activists in the occupied West Bank, calling the police to come quickly. They arrived within 10 minutes, he told +972, but didn’t make a genuine effort to find the assailants.

“This is especially troubling because of how often it has been occurring, over and over. The girl who was hurt here just last week — her father was stabbed here exactly four years ago. There have been dozens of violent incidents like this, all from Havat Maon,” says Guy. This time, he added, the police appear to be taking a more active role in investigating the incident, likely due to media coverage.

The Mount Hebron Regional Council told Israeli news site Walla! that they do not know the identity of the settlers and are against violence, but added that “Ta’ayush anarchists come every week with Palestinians to the area to stir provocations,” that they are “funded by foreign governments” and “intentionally edit videos to make the residents [settlers] look bad in the foreign press.”

Ta’ayush activists has been documenting violence from the Havat Maon outpost for over a decade.

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Israelis elected a non-democracy

Obama must understand that these elections were more than just a referendum on Netanyahu — they were a referendum on Israel’s character, and Israelis did not vote for democratic ideals.

Many on the center-left in Israel are still trying to wrap their head around Netanyahu’s victory. They simply cannot grasp that most Israelis really want another right-wing government led by Netanyahu. In Tel Aviv and Haifa, the only two of Israel’s 10 largest cities where the Zionist Union got more votes than the Likud, some people seem to be rationalizing the victory with the anti-Arab, fear-mongering campaign Bibi led in the final days of the campaign.

The argument is that people were so perturbed by his apocalyptic warnings that lefties and Arabs would take over the Knesset that they decided to to vote for him at the last minute. Another version of the same rationale is that they were so angered by what Netanyahu called the foreign funded, left-wing backed hate campaign against him by the media and left-wing NGOs that some decided to vote for Netanyahu as — get this — a protest vote against the anti-Bibi propaganda.

I don’t buy either version. Those who voted for Netanyahu did so because they firmly believe in continuing the status quo that existed before him and that he has entrenched for the last six years. Whether or not they were vacillating between different parties on the Right, the bottom line is that the majority of Jewish Israelis chose to elect parties that share the vision of Greater Israel, religious nationalism, racism and intolerance of internal dissent.

To put it succinctly, Israelis chose to elect an undemocratic leadership, within a system that is democratically impaired to begin with. As MK Ahmed Tibi famously said, Israel is a democracy for Jews and Jewish for Arabs. In the aftermath of this election, it is clear that most Jewish Israelis are not only perfectly fine with that, but even within the confines of Jewish democracy, they do not mind state-sponsored incitement against other Jews (the “Left”) who don’t agree with the party line.

Palestinian citizens on the other hand, turned out in high numbers to vote for the Joint List, who ran on a platform of full democracy and equality, as well as the recognition of Palestinians as a national minority. However, only 7,000 Jews voted for them. In...

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How the Joint List has already made history in Israel

No matter what happens on election day, or what kind of coalition is formed afterwards, the Joint List’s very existence has already changed the face of Israeli history.

The fact that the Joint List is likely to be the third largest slate in the next Knesset means they cannot be ignored. All the Israeli papers, analysts and news broadcasters are suddenly forced to relate to “the Arabs” — the 20 percent of the population that are normally out of sight and mind when Israelis goes to the polls.

It was both groundbreaking and satisfying to see Joint List chair Ayman Odeh’s face alongside those of Netanyahu, Bennett, Herzog and Liberman on the Friday evening news. It may not seem like a big deal, but this alone is a game changer.

The very fact that mainstream Israel is forced to look at and hear an Arab politician on “their” television channel is unprecedented, and a much-deserved slap in the face to all the right-wing party leaders who have at best ignored and at worst directly incited against Palestinian citizens of this country. Never mind the fact that almost all the media outlets refer to the Joint List incorrectly as “the United Arab List,” the “Joint Arabs List” or just “the Arabs.” In truth, the very fact that they must now mention them at all is significant.

As Odeh pointed out in several recent interviews, his constituents are a natural and integral part of the Israeli landscape. In many of the interviews I have seen, the hosts have asked him a variation of, “What is it like to go from being anonymous to the leader of the third most popular slate overnight?” Odeh always answers that he is in fact very well known on the Arab street, as he has been active in politics for the past decade.

As far as I can recall, this is the first time Palestinian citizens of Israel have a presence in the election cycle and thus a presence in the Israeli discourse. Regardless of how many seats they end up getting or their role in the upcoming government — this is already revolutionary.

One example of how the Joint List seems to be pushing Palestinian citizens to vote is a video by Tamer Nafar from the Palestinian hip hop group DAM, in which he repeatedly says, “I’ve never voted before in my life,” but...

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We're not stuck with Palestinians, we're stuck in our own fear

A group of ex-generals is warning Israelis that another Netanyahu-Bennett government will mean being stuck with the Palestinians forever. But no matter what happens, Israelis and Palestinians will always be stuck with each other.

“With Bibi-Bennett, we’ll be stuck with the Palestinians forever.” I noticed a billboard carrying that slogan the other day and was immediately appalled. It is among the most offensive and racist I’ve seen in this campaign — and there is no lack of competition in that department. (i.e., Lieberman just added to his “death penalty for terrorists” slogan a suggested policy of beheading Palestinian citizens of Israel who support terror.)

At first I thought it was an election campaign poster, maybe by the Zionist Camp. But it is in fact sponsored by an obscure group of former army generals, self-proclaimed “experts in national security” who call themselves the “Peace and Security Association,” one of many ad-hoc groups popping up lately to campaign against Netanyahu. Their years of professional experience, it appears, qualifies and drives them to campaign on hatred and disgust for the Palestinians — which makes them no different than Bennett, Netanyahu, Liberman and others.

But the Palestinians are human beings, not objects you are “stuck” with. And if anyone is stuck, it is the Palestinians — “stuck” with Israel’s occupation for nearly half a century. It is hard to articulate in words just how insulting it is for a group of privileged members of Israel’s version of the military industrial complex to address an entire national group over which it has total control in such a way — and in the name of peace, no less. Think about what it is like for Palestinians citizens of this country to walk past these sign.

And I have news for the “Peace and Security Association”: no matter what happens, Israelis and Palestinians will always be “stuck” with one another. One state or two states, whatever the constellation, Israelis and Palestinians will have to find a way to live together and cooperate — economically, socially, politically, on every level.

So telling Israelis that by unseating Netanyahu they can avoid being stuck with Palestinians is not only offensive, it’s inaccurate and misleading. It is the same misguided thinking that inspired the Labor camp to negotiate and sign the Oslo accords: the idea that it is somehow possible to give the Palestinians a little money and some semblance...

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WATCH: Rightists attack Palestinian MK Zoabi and staffer at panel

Palestinian Knesset member Haneen Zoabi and her media adviser and acting Joint Arab List spokesperson Emilie Moatti were attacked by rightists Tuesday during a panel at the Ramat Gan College of Law and Business. The attackers were identified with extreme right-wing settler Baruch Marzel, who is running with Eli Yishai’s Yachad party.

The assailants violently interrupted the panel Zoabi was speaking on, before physically getting on the stage and pouring cola on her head. Moatti was reportedly hit in the head with a flagpole outside the building while Zoabi’s staff members attempted to evacuate the MK. Moatti was taken to the emergency room at Ichilov and reportedly suffered a light concussion.

The attack came just hours after Marzel published a status on his Facebook page, which read, “Zoabi, I’m coming for you,” and included details of the event, calling on his supporters to attend. After the attack, Marzel boasted on Facebook that he had managed, as promised, to prevent her from speaking at the panel, which focused on the status of women in Israeli society and was attended by several female Knesset members from across the political spectrum. Marzel has been campaigning with the slogan, “I will wipe Zoabi’s smile off her face.”

The police were notified about the threats, yet did not send anyone to secure the event. “The racist and violent attack by right-wing party activists on Zoabi and her staff illustrates the right’s approach and is a direct continuation of its incitement and effort to exclude Arab representatives from the Knesset,” the Joint Arab List said in a statement following the attack.

Related:
No parity between Zoabi’s democracy and Kahane’s racism
The road to a fourth Netanyahu gov’t runs through Haneen Zoabi

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