+972 Magazine » Syria http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Thu, 11 Feb 2016 22:13:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The Zionist dream is over — it’s time to move forward http://972mag.com/the-zionist-dream-is-over-lets-move-forward-together/116165/ http://972mag.com/the-zionist-dream-is-over-lets-move-forward-together/116165/#comments Fri, 22 Jan 2016 11:00:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116165 The Zionist dream is disappearing due to the rise of the messianic Right. Jews who are worried must know there is an alternative: building a society based on equality and democracy.

Palestinian residents confront Jewish settlers who have seized Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, September 2, 2011. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinian residents confront Jewish settlers who have seized Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, September 2, 2011. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The end of the Zionist era is upon us. Perhaps it is time to close this chapter in the history of the Jewish people. The Zionist movement has succeeded, and now it is time to take down the monster before it goes too far.

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You, our Jewish cousins, established a state in the most unjust way possible. One cannot hide the Palestinian people or what they have gone through any longer. The state of shock following the Second World War and the founding of Israel has begun to lose its significance. When considering everything that successive Israeli governments have done to Palestinians — continuing occupation, the siege on Gaza, the spread of settlements, rising violence and racism — we simply cannot go on like this.

I must admit that I almost said goodbye to my dream of a Palestinian state with an Arab-Palestinian majority — one that could have been established here following the British Mandate. It was a dream state replaced by force with the State of Israel, which turned me and a million other Palestinians into a minority. It is clear to me that there are two peoples living in one holy land. One of them is my people, the indigenous people of this land. The other, our cousins, have been here for generations, the majority of whom came here from all corners of the globe.

The defeated Palestinians have reconciled themselves to the situation, and have acted with relative restraint toward the invaders and their army. The Palestinian Nakba dispersed my people, and despite the fact that my family members are now in refugee camps in Europe after they fled their original refugee camps in Syria, I believe that the vast majority of my people are willing to live alongside the Jewish people in a place where we are equal. On the basis of freedom, democracy, and equality.

I want you to understand how difficult this is — how much of it depends on dialoguing, forgiveness, seeking justice, and correcting past injustices. I believe, however, that this is truly possible. People have done this in the past, after bloody struggles in places such as South Africa, Ireland, and Bosnia.

Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. A beach for Whites only near the integrated fishing village of Kalk Bay, not far from Capetown. January 1, 1970. (UN Photo/KM)

Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. A beach for whites only near the integrated fishing village of Kalk Bay, not far from Cape Town. January 1, 1970. (UN Photo/KM)

This is all very possible. We are only left with a question of will: has the time come for the Jews to part with their dream of a pure nation-state for the Jewish people? Hasn’t the time come to toss this racist theory of purity and Jewish supremacy into the dustbin of history?

The irony of the story of the Jewish people is that the Palestinians were not the ones who sabotaged the Zionist enterprise. It was the national-religious Jewish right wing that conquered the country you had always dreamed of building. If you hadn’t noticed, the liberal, Zionist, democratic Israel of yesterday — the one you dreamed of — no longer exists. Perhaps it no longer exists in your dreams as well. It hurts, I know.

But at this historical juncture, I want to propose that instead of fighting for a dream that will not come true, focus on being a free people in your land, and give up on the land of Zion and Jerusalem. You are on your way to becoming slaves to the national-religious movement. The future of this country is a religious totalitarian regime that doesn’t give a shit about you. So instead of mourning and crying over how “they took our country” — get it together and start looking for new partners for your struggle against persecution.

Palestinian and Israeli protesters dress up as characters from the film 'Avatar' during a demonstration against the wall in Bil'in. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian and Israeli protesters dress up as characters from the film ‘Avatar’ during a demonstration against the wall in Bil’in. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

At this point, those who have understood that it is impossible to live in peace with the fictitious notion of “Jewish and democratic” must make the inevitable choice. It is clear to us what the Israeli Right wants: to build the Third Temple and a religious Jewish state. It is unclear what the Right has in store for the Palestinians, but let’s just say that the beginnings of a Jewish kingdom do not bode well for us, or for you either.

So I ask you, all the Israeli Jews who do not want war and a religious state. What do you really want?

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Netanyahu and Erdogan need each other more than ever http://972mag.com/netanyahu-and-erdogan-need-each-other-more-than-ever/114942/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-and-erdogan-need-each-other-more-than-ever/114942/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 16:20:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114942 It’s no coincidence that a deal to normalize relations between Turkey and Israel was announced on the same day that Netanyahu pushed a natural gas deal through the Knesset. As usual, the Palestinians are the biggest losers — oh yeah, and the Greeks.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu tours an onshore natural gas facility in southern Israel, December 17, 2015. (Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu tours an onshore natural gas facility in southern Israel, December 17, 2015. (Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Two years ago, when a major-but-ultimately-premature breakthrough in the frozen relations between Israel and Turkey was announced, I wrote a short and silly post explaining the development through the lyrics of Wu-Tang Clan mainstay Method Man: “Cash rules everything around me.”

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The Turkish energy minister declared at the time that his country was the only suitable port of entry into Europe for Israel’s off-shore natural gas fields, but that negotiations about pipelines could only begin once the two countries re-normalized diplomatic relations.

On Thursday, we once again witnessed just how connected the two issues are. Just hours after pushing through parliament a deal that lifted the final hurdle to getting the gas flowing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that understandings had been reached with Turkey to resume full diplomatic relations.

There is no such thing as a coincidence on matters like these.

Just a few weeks ago a senior former Turkish diplomat familiar with the negotiations told +972 that the deal to normalize relations between the two countries had long ago been finalized, and that the ball was in Israel’s court to make the final move. That the final puzzle piece, it seems was the gas.

In the unofficial announcement made by Israeli officials on Thursday, a number of points were detailed: Israel will compensate the families of the 10 Turkish nationals its commandos killed aboard the Mavi Marmara (which was agreed upon a long time ago); the countries will reinstate their respective ambassadors (agreed upon long ago); criminal charges against Israeli officials relating to the Marmara killings would be dropped (agreed upon long ago); and Turkey would take steps to limit Hamas activities within its borders (a minor concession). The final point, was that negotiations about building a natural gas pipeline would commence quickly.

The gas issue is important to Turkey for a number of reasons, some new and some old. The long-standing ones relate to pure economic interest, but also ensuring the country’s continued importance to Europe as a reliable supplier of fossil fuels. The latter has become all the more urgent as Europe and Turkey face down Russia on a constantly growing number of diplomatic, economic and military fronts.

Israel had also been in negotiations with Greece, which also wants to be the main port of entry into Europe for Israeli gas. Israel’s most important off-shore gas field straddles the country’s exclusive economic zone boundary with Cyprus, a close ally of Greece and a long-time foe of Turkey. Greece, which is in deep economic straits of its own, has been fighting hard for the right to import eastern Mediterranean gas into the European Union. Successive Greek governments have made a number of gestures toward Israel in order to sweeten the pot for such a deal, the latest of which was a declaration that Helenic Customs officials would ignore new EU directives that require labeling Israel settlement products.

But in addition to pure economic interest, and it must be noted that trade and commercial ties between Turkey and Israel did not suffer very much in the five years of diplomatic discord, there is also an influential, liberal realpolitik worldview at play in the offices of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks in Istanbul, September 20, 2015. (Photo by Orlok / Shutterstock.com)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks in Istanbul, September 20, 2015. (Photo by Orlok / Shutterstock.com)

Both men believe in a geopolitical order based on interests of economic growth and prosperity. For Netanyahu, the idea was clearly articulated in his “economic peace” platform on which he ran in 2009 before he was pressured into endorsing the two-state solution. This approach to regional ties can also be seen in the often delusional-sounding messages coming from the halls of power in Jerusalem about building alliances with Gulf states, independent of any progress on the Palestinian front.

For Erdoğan, constantly expanding trade and capital investment in a broad range of regional countries —from Iran to Germany and the EU to Israel to the Gulf states to Syria before the war — has been a strategy for diversifying regional leadership and influence, and, at least in theory, fostering stability.

Yet both leaders have been disappointed by the results of their economic peace endeavors. For Turkey, strong economic ties with the EU have not been able to bridge xenophobic and other political hurdles to membership in the European Union; a strong economic relationship with Syria was undermined by Assad’s crimes and the ongoing war; relationships with Arab states have been tested by the war in Syria; and now ties with Russia have been dangerously compromised in the skies above Syria.

Netanyahu’s “economic peace,” meanwhile has fallen flat on its face, along with all efforts to achieve real types of peace. Israeli fantasies about building strategic alliances with Gulf states around the Iranian issue, too, were deflated by the Iranian nuclear deal.

All of that makes the situation for renewing ties between Israel and Turkey riper than ever. The economic and geo-political interests for both countries are clear. Netanyahu and Erdoğan can offer each other cash and stability. What more can a leader ask for?

The largest political division that remains between the two men is the Palestinian issue. In the past, one of Erdoğan’s major public demands of Israel before reconciliation could take place was the latter lifting its siege on the Gaza Strip. That was a non-starter for Israel, and apparently only dramatics for Ankara.

So what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinian issue has always posed a major hurdle for Israeli ties with its neighbors. Resolving the problem of Palestine was a major part of Israel’s peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan. And yet it has managed to ignore those treaty obligations for decades with a grand total of zero consequences. In those cases, too, the geopolitical and economic benefits of normalization with Israel outweighed the moral or domestic political considerations that demand action on the Palestinian front.

The Middle East is facing a terrifying future of instability, war and political turmoil. Nobody believes that anything good is going to happen anytime soon. And in that reality, from a realist perspective like those held by Netanyahu and Erdoğan, it’s better to strengthen whatever friendships you can muster.

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Is Israel’s High Court the enemy of human rights? http://972mag.com/is-israels-high-court-the-enemy-of-human-rights/114670/ http://972mag.com/is-israels-high-court-the-enemy-of-human-rights/114670/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 17:16:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114670 As we mark International Human Rights Day, it is worth challenging the myth that Israel’s High Court is the defender of human rights in Israel. 

By Noam Rotem

Israel's Supreme Court sits as the High Court of Justice, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Israel’s Supreme Court sits as the High Court of Justice, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills)

When he woke up from his nightmare one morning, Mr. Israeli discovered that the Israeli High Court had turned into a giant insect. Tasked with balancing the sickening populism of the legislative branch and fighting to protect Israeli democracy, the High Court has become the legal rubber stamp for the racist caprices of its overlords.

This week, as we marked International Human Rights Day, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, published a report on 10 recent decisions by the High Court that violate basic human rights.

The first decision is raising the election threshold, which forced the Palestinian public in Israel to give up on internal pluralism and run as one party in the Joint List. Imagine if United Torah Judaism and Meretz were to run together, along with Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman. Logical? According to the High Court, the answer is yes.

The second decision is the support for the “boycott law.” The High Court rejected the petition against the law, which allows Israeli citizens to sue those calling for a boycott of Israel or its settlements. The court even went so far as to label boycotts a form of “political terror,” no less. And not a single word about the disappearance of freedom of speech, especially when it comes to Palestinian citizens, who are subject to arrest or raids whenever they speak out against the regime (what is often labeled “incitement”).

The High Court also supported applying the “present absentee law” in East Jerusalem, which allows the state to confiscate Palestinian property and hand it over to Jewish organizations. The owners of the property are well known to all; the only problem is that they live in the West Bank. This did not prevent the highest court in the land from permitting the confiscation of their property.

And what about discrimination based on nationality? Not a problem. Palestinian security prisoners cannot take higher learning classes, as opposed their Jewish counterparts. The High Court went so far as to announce that this kind of discrimination is “legal and legitimate.”

And what about the legal status of certain towns? The High Court decided that there is no problem with the destruction of Atir/Umm al-Hiran in the Negev in order to build a Jewish town on top of the ruins. Similar decisions were handed down in other cases, when Bedouin who have been on the same piece of land since before the founding of the state are expelled. Even the High Court decision vis-a-vis the Al-Aqoubi family is based in discrimination, after it determined that Bedouin who settled land before the Nakba have no right to that land, in defiance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Children in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Um al Hiran, Negev, Israel, January 18, 2014. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Children in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Um al Hiran, Negev, Israel, January 18, 2014. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The High Court of Justice also opposes family reunification. That is, if the families in question are Palestinian. If one of the partners lives in Gaza and the other lives in the West Bank (despite the fact that there should be no reason on earth to prevent them from living together) the High Court believes it is completely natural to prevent them from reuniting, even in areas not under the sovereignty of the state. This is an ugly extension of the policy that prevents Palestinians from the occupied territories from living with their partners — who have Israeli citizenship — in Israel. It’s a Jewish state, after all.

One can also add the High Court’s support for the indictment of former MK Said Nafa, who visited Syria in 2007, despite the justices’ recognition that the meetings he held there had nothing to do with security-related issues. This decision establishes that the Arab population in Israel can have no cultural relationship with those beyond the border.

The High Court also approved an administrative detention order to indefinitely imprison a young Palestinian woman from Nazareth using Emergency Regulations. Since there is no witnesses, one can simply jail her without trial. In this case, the court betrayed its central role: to ensure that every man and woman is afforded a fair trial.

Palestinians from the Abu Jaber family sit on the ruins of their home that was demolished by Israeli forces, East Jerusalem, October 6, 2015. The house belonged to the family of Ghassan Abu Jaber, who killed four worshippers in an attack on a synagogue last year. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the Abu Jaber family sit on the ruins of their home that was demolished by Israeli forces, East Jerusalem, October 6, 2015. The house belonged to the family of Ghassan Abu Jaber, who killed four worshippers in an attack on a synagogue last year. (Activestills.org)

The High Court has also approved punitive home demolitions — a form of collective punishment against innocents or suspects who have never been convicted in a court of law.

A quick glance at this list should worry anyone who believes in the rule of law and equality. The victims of these violations are, for the most part, Palestinian citizens of Israel, akin to a fatal blow against any state that strives toward democracy. Irrespective of religion, race or sex, says the Declaration of Independence, yet in the face of these violations, each and every one of us must hang our head in shame.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is also a blogger. Read it here.

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The craziest things Netanyahu said this week http://972mag.com/the-craziest-things-netanyahu-said-this-week/114557/ http://972mag.com/the-craziest-things-netanyahu-said-this-week/114557/#comments Sat, 05 Dec 2015 17:57:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114557 The prime minister had a busy week. We were taking notes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out at the Negev desert in Sde Boker, November 18, 2015. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out at the Negev desert in Sde Boker, November 18, 2015. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

1. We could destroy Al-Aqsa — if we wanted to

Netanyahu dedicated a good part of the past few months to swearing up and down that Palestinians are inciting violence by suggesting that Israel, Israelis or Israeli rule threatens Islam’s third-holiest site, Haram al-Sharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque. (Ignoring, of course, that members of his own government regularly incite against Al-Aqsa.)

And then there was this.

“If the Jews wanted to destroy Al-Aqsa it wouldn’t take much effort, not at all,” the prime minister told party members in a closed meeting. “But that goes against what we stand for.” Hebrew.)

To be clear, Netanyahu was saying that Israel has no intention of destroying Al-Aqsa. But there is probably a far more calming (read: less crazy) way of doing so than saying that it wouldn’t be very hard to destroy Al-Aqsa.

2. Freezing Europe out of … wait a minute, there’s a peace process?

After years of threatening, last month the EU finally issued guidelines for labeling exports from Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank.

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To formulate a response, Netanyahu convened a special one-man working group consisting of Israel’s prime minister, foreign minister, minister of communications, minister of economy, minister of health, and minister of regional affairs. (Spoiler: All of those ministers are named Benjamin Netanyahu.)

The special forum of ministers had a difficult task: find a way to “punish” Europe without actually doing anything — or at least anything anybody cares about.

So what did Ministers Netanyahu come up with, you ask? He/they decided to freeze the EU out of the peace process.

Yup. You heard that correctly. Israel’s retribution against the EU for correctly labeling the origin of consumer products was — to temporarily suspend contacts with the EU over a process that does not exist, and which Brussels was never even a part of.

3. Yeah, we bomb Syria every once in a while

Everybody knows that Israel bombs Syria from time to time, but most of us are forbidden by the military censor from saying as much out loud. Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t give a single ****.

Eight years ago, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister and Netanyahu was a lowly opposition leader, Israel bombed a nascent nuclear reactor in Syria (according to foreign reports, as I’m legally required to say). The Israeli government’s strategy for avoiding an escalation at the time was not acknowledging the military operation at all. If Jerusalem didn’t acknowledge the attack, logic went, it might not embarrass President Bashar al-Assad, an embarrassment that might have forced him to retaliate.

Screw that, Netanyahu said. He went on state-owned television and confirmed Israel was behind the attack. Olmert was furious. “Bibi’s slip of the tongue borders on national irresponsibility. Once again Netanyahu couldn’t restrain himself and he ran to tell the guys,” now-felon-but-then-prime minister Olmert was quoted as saying at the time.

Under Netanyahu’s watch, Israel has continued to bomb Syria relatively frequently. But such attacks are rarely discussed, and almost never with any direct acknowledgement. That is, until this week. Now that everybody is bombing Syria, why should Israel be the only one to keep quiet?

So, “We operate in Syria from time to time,” Netanyahu let loose in Acre, the city that embarrassingly derailed Napoleon’s arrogant drive into Syria.

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Station to Station 2: The phantom line http://972mag.com/station-to-station-2-the-phantom-line/112353/ http://972mag.com/station-to-station-2-the-phantom-line/112353/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2015 16:10:28 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112353 In a strange feat of partial resurrection, half of the railway between Haifa and Damascus is being fixed for reuse. Elisha Baskin’s lens and Yuval Ben-Ami’s pen follow it, focusing on the decaying and embalmed, rather than the freshly welded.  

(for the full, four part project, click here)

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For the next leg of the journey, Elisha and I meet at a train station, a living one. We are hung up on ruins, but Israel also boasts railway infrastructure that is largely modern, functional, and topped with a bonus bit of irony: our red trains are the same used for local service by Deutsche Bahn. Our forefathers fled German trains to establish a sovereign state where we would ride German trains.

The engine of our train dies before we emerge from Tel Aviv, and we remain stuck for 15 minutes or so, but the driver is so apologetic that we forgive. An hour later we are in Haifa, switching to a bus that would take us east, to explore the “Valley Railway.” The rails used to run east of here, linking the coast with Dar’aa in Syria, and with the main artery of the Hijazi railway: Damascus to Mecca.

The Ottomans laid down these rails in anticipation of constructing a major port in Haifa. They run along the Jezreel Valley and past the ancient site of Armageddon. Armageddons around here are a dime a dozen. The empire crumbled soon enough and the port materialized only under British rule. Once the Brits left in 1948, it was the rails’ turn to crumble. The border between Israel and Syria was sealed, the largely rural Eastern Galilee was not deemed worthy of train service, and the locomotives vanished like billows of steam.

Afula’s eggs

Abandoning rails is always a mistake. The fate of towns such as Tiberias and Beit Shean would have been dramatically different had they not been taken off the grid. The Valley Railway is currently being recreated all the way to Tiberias, but for the moment the new rails aren’t functional. We have an entire phantom line to explore and a strangely morbid task: to pick out the dead from the living, to ignore the shining new stations and devote ourselves to those that rot.

We jump off the bus in the town of Afula. Above us, an electronic banner flashes over a food stand: “May this be a year of blessing,” it wishes, “a year of hope, a year of shawarma.” Afula is the butt of many a Hebrew joke. It is seen as a vacant backwater, a puddle of falafel stands and sunflower seeds. In the town’s midst, an abandoned station stands hugged by a tiny public park. This was once the north’s major railway junction.

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Old Bisan station overlooks the newly renovated rails

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Samakh station at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, now a museum

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The sign at Al-Hamma / Hamat Gader station

It’s stunning. There is a one-story cargo terminal, a two-story passenger terminal, a water tower that was used to supply the steam engines and even a small bathroom stall. All are made of limestone and date back to 1912. The main structure is alive, but in an acoustic ceilings, bland tiles and Formica desks sort of way — like an embalmed corpse badly made up to look too pale. It serves as the municipal facility to support and absorb Jewish immigrants; the Russian-accented employees are happy to show us around.

The sole, ancient relic — besides the window frames — is a turn of the 20th century staircase, sealed off from the other offices and used as a broom closet. We climb it carefully and find a small pigeon’s nest, complete with two tiny eggs. The mother flutters about, distraught.

It’s best to leave her in peace. We head out, scale the water tower, then the bathroom stalls, before noticing two donkeys grazing in a small urban corral and head over to meet their owner. His name is Meir, and he lives in a pretty stone relic of Afula’s Arab past. Meir got married last night and his bride awaits him on a swing in the garden. It is a garden he himself landscaped and fenced with rungs and rails he found strewn about — the ribs and sternums of this land’s past. We wish them both a happy life and wander on.

To the secret spring

The next station, Beit Shean, is being modernized for the renewed line. Elisha snaps a photo from the bus and catches both the living and the dead in a single frame, like a family photo that captures grandma’s apparition. At Tzemach, just south of the Sea of Galilee, we bump unprepared into a gem. The Palestinian town of Samakh was destroyed in 1948, but its station is still here has just been beautifully restored for preservation as part of a college campus. It offers an exhibition on the history of Ottoman railways in the region. We learn that this was formerly a gateway to Tiberias, and that passengers were shuttled to the town by ferry over the lake.

But even this special place is only a whistle stop on the way to the day’s destination. We are headed for Hamat Gader, the last station on the line accessible from within Israel, but which is not technically in Israel. It is located in the Golan demilitarized zone, directly on the Jordanian border. It once served the hot springs of Al-Hamma, which have been an attraction since antiquity. Whatever the state of the terminal is, the location will cast magic on it.

A sweet Golan settler gives us a lift into the valley of the Yarmouk. She tell us her daughter knows a secret spring by the border fence, and calls her up to get the exact location. Following the instructions, she drives us directly to the border fence. It is staggeringly tall, intensely well-maintained and equipped with rows of razor wire and signs that warn of mortal danger. The effect is intimidating. We skip the spring, thank the lady and head for the station.

Terminus

The tiny enclave of Hamat Gaderis is restricted by a fence from two sides by a steep slope on a third. A recreational facility takes up a quarter of the land, while the rest is taken up by spring-fed fish pools. The station pops out of a lot filled with fish pool equipment and supplies, including hundreds of gallons of hydrogen peroxide. There is also a one-story stone house here, and it seems inhabited, but no one is around and the fence is feeble. We hop over it and approach the building.

It is crumbling but intact, and by the light of dusk it beats any Taj Mahal. Stepping inside, we climb the creaking stairs to the second floor. Elisha sprays water on the dusty tiles to unveil their beauty. We step onto the balcony and behold the stone sign proclaiming “Al-Hamma” in perfectly preserved Arabic calligraphy. The sounds of explosions come from across the border. Is that Syria burning? No, Syria is still a few good miles away, perhaps Jordanian target practice. Somewhere in the lot below, a lone male peacock treads, the third unexpected animal sighting of the day.

It is not the last. They appear as we step back out to the road, crossing it right before our eyes, quiet and deliberate, on the way to the barren hills for nocturnal wanderings, howls and feeds. There are five or six of them, jackals, entirely unfazed by our presence. No one else is about, only us and wilderness.

What have we done today? We took the moment that began it, a static spell in an air conditioned wagon, where we were trapped among skyscrapers, and traveled far enough to turn it on its head. This moment is the perfect contrary, and gives us a bit more clarity about our skeleton chase. Like these jackals, we are drawn to dead things because, like them, we know that nothing around here really dies. There is life in the rabbit’s cadaver. It nourishes. There is life in the abandoned train station, and the nearer we come to it — the more likely we are to come face to face with stunning, alert, real and hungry jackals.

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No, BDS does not unfairly ‘single out’ Israel http://972mag.com/no-bds-does-not-unfairly-single-out-israel/108825/ http://972mag.com/no-bds-does-not-unfairly-single-out-israel/108825/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 15:00:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108825 Ironically, the boycott movement actually expresses some level of faith in Israeli democracy by assuming a little pressure might motivate it to change.

Stock photo boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

When the most recent flotilla set sail for Gaza to protest Israel’s eight-year blockade, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote an open letter to the activists. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, he suggested they had taken a wrong turn on the way to Syria. It’s part of a theme repeated obsessively: “there are worse violations elsewhere, but no one ever protests them. Therefore, protesting the occupation on behalf of Palestinians is hypocritical, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Therefore, it can be ignored.” Nowhere is this argument more prominent than as a response to boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) efforts against Israel.

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At first glance, it is a genuinely troubling point. No one who claims to care about human rights should sleep at night knowing what is happening to millions of Syrians who are and have been uprooted, and the hundreds of thousands who have been butchered – for a start.

The problem is not that liberals don’t care. The problem is that the accusations of global indifference are simply false. Whether you support or despise the boycott of Israel, it’s time to stop writing it off as hypocrisy.

Start with sanctions. The U.S. and Europe have both placed sanctions on Iran for human rights violations, not just for nuclear research. International sanctions to end human rights violations began long before the putative “singling out” of Israel, even before the occupation.

In 1965, Britain placed sanctions on Rhodesia; then in 1966, the UN Security Council for the first time in its history authorized international sanctions against the white minority government, for the next 14 years, until Rhodesia created a fairer government and became Zimbabwe. (Israel, incidentally, was one of the countries that did not respect the sanctions – displaying at least moral and political consistency.)

The UN imposed sanctions against Iraq (1990, for its treatment of Kuwaitis during the invasion) and against Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, for its treatment of ethnic minorities. In those cases, sanctions preceded international military intervention, something that has never remotely been on the table in the West’s treatment of Israel.

Numerous other countries perpetrating egregious human rights violations, such as Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone have been placed under international sanction regimes. Including, yes, Syria. The charge of “singling out” Israel is dead wrong.

What about boycott efforts that seem to be catching fire among academics and cultural figures? Why don’t they take aim at North Korea, or at ISIS?

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

First, celebrities probably wish to support what they perceive as the underdog, the party in need of attention, which they can bring. For most of the decades under occupation, Israel’s narrative reigned in the West. Palestinian people were essentially ignored, written off wholesale as terrorists, and their claims and experiences of life under occupation misunderstood, if noticed at all. The last decade of attention to Palestinian reality is essentially a pendulum swing in their direction.

Celebrities may not feel the global attention they command is needed on behalf of ISIS victims. We all agree that being drowned, beheaded, pushed off a building or burned with acid is evil.

Second, it’s attractive to work for a cause where there’s a possibility you can actually make a change. North Korea is an impenetrable fortress that scoffs at arguments of democracy and human rights, if it notices them at all.

But precisely because Israel has a democratic ethos, because it is part of the West and in dialogue with it, activists reasonably believe gains can be made. They’re right. If Israel wants to be more democratic toward all the people it controls, it surely has the political culture in place to do so. The claim to democracy also makes the nearly 50-year occupation so much more offensive.

But there’s an even simpler reason why students, celebrities, academics, and some individuals call to boycott Israel instead of other places: Palestinians asked them to.

The Global BDS movement is certainly problematic. There is a gap between its stated policy goals, and the implication supporters sometimes convey that only erasing Israel will suffice. BDS activists can be aggressive and coercive. Boycott efforts – specifically those in the West Bank –  could hurt Palestinians more than anyone else, by taking jobs away from average people on the front line.

Those are major flaws. But just as Israel expects its supporters to “stand with us” despite Israel’s flaws, some Palestinians are asking people around the world for support despite the flaws of its movement. The South African anti-apartheid movement immolated collaborators. That didn’t stop Western governments and corporations, and everyone in my high school, from proudly joining in the boycott of South Africa. We didn’t hate South African whites and boycotters today are not automatically anti-Semites. They just figure solidarity counts, and boycott is how the Palestinians they encounter have asked them to help.

Anyway, what are the other options? Should supporters of Palestinian freedom protest occupation the way the occupying power wants them to? In fact Israel rejects all forms of protest on this issue. Violence is of course wrong. Diplomatic action is considered an anti-Israel plot. Unarmed grassroots demonstrations in West Bank towns week after week are met with tear gas, blasts of putrid water, arrests and sometimes death. Failed negotiations are invariably and entirely blamed on Palestinians. Boycott is called “economic terrorism” – and, of course, hypocrisy.

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

If the boycott movement is accused of wishing to erase Israel, aggressive “pro-Israel” messagers seek to erase the occupation from our minds. Defenders of Israel’s policies must answer that charge if they expect a reasonable position from BDS.

Otherwise, activists will continue to view Israel as hypocritical: a democracy that holds people in chains. A country that could change, precisely because it is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” In a strange sense (probably one they didn’t intend), their protests show faith that Israel will ultimately honor its democratic values if pushed just a little harder, or if they can point out the internal contradiction to Israelis who simply cannot see it.

Some activists don’t just wish to mouth off opinions. They want something to do, even if it’s not perfect. For any other cause, we would probably find that commendable.

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First, do no harm: Israel and the Druze in Syria http://972mag.com/first-do-no-harm-israel-and-the-druze-in-syria/108091/ http://972mag.com/first-do-no-harm-israel-and-the-druze-in-syria/108091/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:55:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108091 Some Druze in Israel are campaigning for intervention to save their kin on the Syrian side of the border, but the Druze in Syria reject the idea out of hand. Instead, they are demanding that Israel stop supporting the people threatening to massacre them.

By Rabah Halabi

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, Majdal Shams. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, Majdal Shams. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra are fanatical religious movements that pose a danger first and foremost to moderate and enlightened Islam, then to the Arab world, and humanity itself. These same dark forces are threatening the wellbeing and very existence of the Druze in Syria, because of their religious beliefs, which they have held for nearly 1,000 years. If that threat is realized, the catastrophe that awaits the Druze will be on the same scale as that which struck other minorities in the region — the Yezidi and Christian minorities in Iraq.

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Members of the Druze community in Israel are doing everything in their power to ensure nothing bad happens to their brothers. Some Druze citizens and leaders are demanding that the State of Israel intervene to help our bothers on the other side of the border. I am sure that they are motivated by nothing but good intentions borne of sincere concern. But their efforts are not only unhelpful, they are likely to further harm the very people they want to help.

The entire Druze leadership in Syria, as well as Lebanon, has rejected the option of such intervention outright — for reasons that are appropriate for them. Even in the middle of an unavoidable emotional storm, we in Israel, must not make decisions for stake-holders who have proven their ability to deal with their own problems, better than we have managed our own here at home.

But along with rejecting Israeli intervention, the Druze in Syria are astounded — as am I — by what appears to be Israel’s support for Jabhat al-Nusra. Clearly, the State of Israel acts according to its own narrow interests, without taking into consideration its friends and allies. But in this case I have serious trouble understanding what those considerations and state interests are, which have led Israel to actively support a murderous, extremist religious movement sponsored by one of the most regressive countries in the world — Saudi Arabia.

Israeli tanks positioned along the Syrian border in the occupied Golan Heights, January 29, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli tanks positioned along the Syrian border in the occupied Golan Heights, January 29, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel, obviously, denies claims that it is cooperating with Jabhat al-Nusra, but the Druze in Syria insist such cooperation is taking place, and there is significant evidence supporting their claim. One example is that Jabhat al-Nusra fighters are being treated in Israeli hospitals. Another example is the situation in Khader, a Syrian Golan Heights town in the demilitarized zone separating Israel and Syria, which the Syrian army is forbidden from entering according to the cease fire agreement between the two countries. Nevertheless, Israel is not stopping Jabhat al-Nusra from operating freely there.

As Druze and as Israeli citizens, it is our obligation to demand that Israel stop this unquestionably immoral support for Jabhat al-Nusra. For the moment, the Druze do not want Israel’s help. But they are also demanding that Israel stop supporting those people who are threatening to massacre them.

Meanwhile, the “enlightened” Western world’s true colors are once again exposed. Western states, first and foremost the U.S., intervene when their intervention isn’t needed, and refuse to intervene when they are asked or obligated to. Despite the attractiveness of Western enlightenment and morality, the only guiding “moral” is economic self-interest. If catastrophe strikes the Druze in Syria, and if god-forbid they are massacred, the West will not have clean hands.

The truth is that I don’t expect a lot from Israel or the West. I trust the Druze in Syria and their intelligent leadership. They are certainly capable of navigating through this ugly storm. We, the Druze in Israel, and all truly enlightened forces, should be attentive to them and help them whichever way we can without fanfare. This is the time to be silent, silent but not passive, at least not until the Druze are out of danger.

Dr. Rabah Halabi is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and at Oranim College. Among other things, he is an expert in Arab-Jewish relations and Druze affairs in Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Why not boycott Iran? http://972mag.com/why-not-boycott-iran/107822/ http://972mag.com/why-not-boycott-iran/107822/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 11:54:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107822 The fact that there are human rights abusers worse than Israel should not obscure the fact that the Palestinian-led BDS movement is asking for one thing: solidarity.

Graffiti on the Israeli separation barrier dividing East Jerusalem neighborhoods reads, "Boycott Israel", March 26, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Belier/Activestills.org)

Graffiti on the Israeli separation barrier dividing East Jerusalem neighborhoods reads, “Boycott Israel”, March 26, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Belier/Activestills.org)

One of the most common claims one hears against the BDS movement is that it is hypocritical. “Why don’t they boycott Iran/Syria/Hamas/ISIS?” is a question that comes up quite often.

The answer? We actually do boycott other countries and groups. Iran and Syria are facing a harsh sanctions regime. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization across Europe and the United States, and the Gaza Strip is under siege by Israel and Egypt. Nearly every country in the West, the Mediterranean and the Arab world are fighting against the Islamic State. There are sanctions and boycotts on North Korea and Sudan, Cuba was under a U.S. embargo for decades, Russia is now being placed under sanctions, the list goes on.

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Israel, on the other hand, is considered a Western, democratic country that is a signatory to major trade agreements, enjoys the status of a European country (in trade, academic relationships, Eurovision, etc.), received enormous, unprecedented sums of money and weapons from the United States, is a member of the OECD, etc.

Boycott activists claim that the same country that contravenes international law and holds millions of people under a military regime with no civil rights should not enjoy all the privileges of belonging to the developed world.

If Israel’s starting point was akin to that of Sudan, Syria, Iran or Somalia’s, it would have been impossible to launch a boycott campaign like BDS, simply because the country would have already been boycotted, its goods would not be sold in the West, artists would not come perform here, foreign banks would not invest in its economy, tourists would not come visit, etc.

Interview: The man behind the BDS movement

“But what about the U.S.? It sends its soldiers to occupy countries across the world, kills many more citizens than Israel, and maintains its rule on at least half of the world. So why don’t we boycott the U.S.?”

Why? Because it is the U.S. Because political activism ought to strive to be practical and realistic. Since there is no practical way to boycott the U.S., there is no way to win enough support for this kind of project — whether by citizens or by states who would sanction the U.S. — in order for it to succeed. The United States may be responsible for heinous crimes, but realistically, neither sanctions nor boycotts are going to change that.

All these comparisons ignore one simple truth: the BDS movement is Palestinian-based. The Palestinians, who have tried pretty much every way to cause Israel to end the occupation — from stone-throwing to the murder of civilians to popular protests to diplomacy — have decided to use the tool of boycott, and now they are the ones asking the world for help. Palestinians, who are struggling for their freedom, are not required to be objective. They do not need to prove that they are boycotting ISIS or the U.S.

The Palestinians are asking for solidarity in their struggle — people around the world will choose whether or not to support them. That is all there is to it. You can agree or disagree with the boycott movement, but these are the reasons Israel is being targeted.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Lifelong refugees: Palestinian boat people search for a new home http://972mag.com/lifelong-refugees-palestinian-boat-people-search-for-a-new-home/106943/ http://972mag.com/lifelong-refugees-palestinian-boat-people-search-for-a-new-home/106943/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 11:15:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106943 After escaping the horrors of the Syrian Civil War by boat, a group of Palestinian refugees washed up on the shores of Greece. Now they are wandering the streets of Athens without food or shelter.

Palestinian refugees from Syria fleeing the horrors of war on a boat originally headed to Italy.

Palestinian refugees from Syria fleeing the horrors of war on a boat originally headed to Italy.

After four days at sea, with no food or fuel, 175 Palestinian refugees were rescued by the Greek navy. After fleeing the horrors of war in Syria for neighboring Turkey and paying huge sums to their smugglers, who promised to bring them to Italy (not to mention ensure they had entry permits, as well as food and drink), the refugees found themselves living in the streets of Athens. Dreaming of reaching Europe on one hand, while facing the possibility of deportation on the other.

Some of those same refugees are members of the Salaime family, from the Palestinian village Sajara, which was destroyed in 1948. My family’s village.

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As it made its way to the beaches of Greece, the same boat carrying the Palestinian refugees washed up on the shores of my consciousness. That’s it, I can no longer pretend that that the war in Syria is far removed from me or my children. Now that members of my village, along with other refugees, have escaped from Yarmouk and Al-A’idan refugee camps, there are people who will tell the story. There are photographs of the boat and there are children begging for a piece of bread, after they lost all their food at sea. There are the tears of a helpless mother as she faces her children.

And there is the human trafficking between Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. “War traffickers,” said Abu Ahmad Salaime, a 54-year-old engineer who was chosen to head the group of refugees who left Turkey in an old, rusty boat carrying 175 people.

There was no single whole family on the boat. Everyone has been separated between Syria and Turkey. “They don’t put the entire family on one small boat in the middle of a huge sea,” said one of the survivors. And anyway “who has the money to pay the smugglers, who take between $5,000 and $10,000 per person? This is the equivalent of an entire house in a Syrian camp. So imagine, Samah, binti, what we had to do to get here. We’ll make it where we make it, and then we’ll demand family reunification. This is how everyone does it.”

The photos and horrific stories that have been coming out of Yarmouk would shock anyone. But this is not happening here, not at our door, we’ll be okay. This mantra keeps us Palestinians in Israel calm.

Lifelong refugees

Two years ago, the Arabs in Israel took part in the humanitarian mission for the Syrian Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, and then came the stories that the Jordanian authorities refused to allow Palestinians from Syria into the camps. I was overcome with rage by Jordan’s decision, which did not allow a Syrian-born Palestinian into the country despite being married to a Syrian woman, after claiming that according to the United Nations, a person can only be a refugee once in their life.

Syria receives world support for absorbing Palestinian refugees from 1948 — this is a status that stays with you your entire life until a solution is found and the Palestinians return to their land, said the Jordanians. Now, when the Syrians have themselves become refugees, it has been decided that there is no “double sale.” Syrians were welcomed with open arms, while the gates slammed shut on the Palestinians.

In this war, half of the Syrian people became refugees. The war, which engulfed the entire country, did not pass over the Palestinian refugees. The smart and lucky ones, who left before ISIS captured Yarmouk, found safety across the world — especially in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands — with friends and relatives. The joke about the new Palestinian capital established in southern Sweden no longer makes me laugh.

The boat that carried several of my family members did not reach Italy, its original destination. After several days, the dates, raisins and drinking water disappeared. There was no bread left, which was meant solely for the children. The fuel ran out in the middle of the journey, and the person who was supposed to come from Benghazi to help them refuel never came.

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

The Egyptian captain reached a point of desperation and could not make contact with the smugglers. Under pressure from the frightened passengers, he agreed to call for help from the Greek navy. After several hours, a large ship arrived with a helicopter, and pulled the boat toward the nearest Greek island. The entire ordeal lasted 10 hours.

Trampling our dignity

On the beaches of Greece, volunteers from the Red Cross waited for the refugees with a tent encampment. “Finally, food and a mattress to sleep on,” one woman told me. “Thank God, the people in this camp are really very nice. There is food, drink and medical treatment. Everything. We even had access to the internet to call our family members and tell them we were saved.”

And we, Palestinians in Israel and across the world, breathed easy. The photos from the boat were published in the Facebook group dedicated to the villagers of Sajara, and we knew that the group made it to shore safely. Hundreds of family members rushed to “like” the photos and bless the survivors. However, it turned out that they could remain in the camp for no longer than four days. The Greeks kicked them out, since there were more boats on the way, and the group was asked to leave Greece as soon as possible.

The refugees were thrown into the streets of Athens with some clothing, 50 euros per person and a temporary freedom of movement pass. They began to wander, in the streets and public parks or in dilapidated apartments and packed hotels, with nine people to a room for an exorbitant price. “Here is another industry of exploitation in a city suffering from a difficult financial crises,” says Abu Ahmad Salaime, “Everyone wants to make money off us. That’s how it is: those who have money live, and who do not get stepped on.”

The churches and orphanages of Athens are full of refugees. The story of two young children whose parents drowned on one of the boats, hasn’t left me for the past few days. A Palestinian activist in the city, who today is a Greek citizen, said that the Palestinians in the city are collapsing under the load and the requests for help. There is no one to talk to at the Palestinian embassy in Athens, and people across the city have lost all hope.

Sometimes people find food in the street, other times they don’t — everything depends on the kind heartedness of passersby.

“A few days ago a truck came to the park and provided us with food bags,” says Abu Ahmad. “Many people ran over to the truck, but I stood to the side and watched. It pained me greatly. Of course I also wanted to eat, but I felt like my pride was being trampled on. I am an engineer and my daughters are brilliant students who are also studying engineering and computer science. Why should I be in this position? What have I done in my life?

“I was very angry at my parents, who turned us into refugees in Syria, but somehow I managed. I told myself that the most important thing is to remain quiet. The most important thing is a roof, a job, a family and a livelihood.

“And here I am, waiting for a strange man to hand me a bag of food. All of a sudden I think that my parents, who were uprooted from their land, were lucky. Despite their difficult conditions and the war, they remained with the members of their village, all of them from Palestine. They remained together, and their journey ended in an Arab country. The Syrians are just as miserable as us, but could speak Arabic. You know, all of a sudden I miss being surrounded by the Syrian accent. In Turkey they didn’t speak to us in Arabic, and here we’ll have to learn another language in order to receive a single can of food.”

“I chose to flee with my father,” tells me one of his daughters. “Perhaps I will continue to study in Europe. My mother remained in the camp with three brothers and she is waiting for us to call and save her so that we will go back to being together. My sister and I had to leave because we were afraid of being kidnapped by the fighters. Many young women have been raped and kidnapped, and on the way from Homs we passed areas controlled by different armed groups — Nusra Front, ISIS, Al-Ahrar. Every area is controlled by a different group. We paid the rebels to allow us to pass peacefully.”

Jaffa flotilla

Several days ago I participated in the “return flotilla” to Jaffa, organized by the Israeli NGO Zochrot. We boarded the “Sababa” ship in Jaffa port, where we listened to an elderly man (also named Abu Ahmad) describe how he was pushed into a boat with hundreds of people without parents and food during the 1948 war. His boat was meant to sail to Egypt, but he found himself on the beach of Gaza, 11 years old, alone. It took him a few more years until he went back to Jaffa.

I thought to myself: “What am I doing on this fake flotilla, on a boat used to sell ice cream and cold drinks, with a group of enlightened Jews who are shocked by what happened to us 67 years ago? The same thing is happening today to the descendants of those same refugees. Today and every day.

This time around, the irony of life took its toll. I couldn’t sit in the restaurant after the tour like everyone else. I came home with pain all over my body, and spoke for hours with the survivors from the boat, only to hear their story, cry and feel their pain.

There is only one question on my mind since then: why didn’t these damn boats, with the new-old asylum seekers, reach Acre?

Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he/she is a blogger. Read it here.

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If only there was oil under Yarmouk http://972mag.com/if-only-there-was-oil-under-yarmouk/105344/ http://972mag.com/if-only-there-was-oil-under-yarmouk/105344/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 15:56:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105344 As Palestinians are being murdered and starving to death in the refugee camp near Damascus, the Arab world is busy intervening in Yemen, the Palestinian Authority is silent, and Israeli television is talking about where to eat during the Passover holiday.

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

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

Monday morning, on the morning show on Israel’s Channel 10, which was co-hosted by the station’s military correspondent because the regular hosts are on vacation, they were supposedly discussing recommendations for the Israeli holiday traveler. After describing Israelis on vacation as ugly and litterers and more, the hosts recommended places to see and good places to eat.

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As one might expect, most of the restaurants their guest culinary experts recommended represented the Arab kitchen. They went from Acre to the Galilee to Tiberias, and then Or Heller, the military correspondent, asked the two guest chefs for recommendations of places to eat in the Golan Heights. One of chefs, Haim Cohen, thought for a second and then answered, “Syria. But’s a little difficult [to get there],” adding that “the Syrian kitchen is excellent!”

The host, Or Heller, kept the jokes coming. “Yes, in the Yarmouk Camp … well ISIS are the only ones eating there.” Making fun at the expense my people in the camp that has been under siege for three years really got to me. I got up and went to the kitchen without changing the channel and listened to the rest of the program from afar. And then, another half-joke comes out of the television set, this time as part of their map of holiday traffic jams, about what icon Waze should have to indicate where ISIS is in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp. I couldn’t get over the anger and the pain, and wasn’t able to continue by daily routine.

People don’t understand just how bad the situation is in the Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, famished and under attack, are sitting prey for a group of fighters/rebels/terrorists/Assad supporters. We, the Palestinians, and the entire world, don’t really know who’s against who or what they are guilty of. There have been more and more reports of bodies, horrifying murders and wounded in recent days.

‘Yarmouk is devastated throughout, with street storefronts and houses suffering the brunt of the physical damage.’ (Photo by UNRWA)

‘Yarmouk is devastated throughout, with street storefronts and houses suffering the brunt of the physical damage,’ January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

When the war in Syria began three years ago, we, the Palestinians here in Israel, were angry at them, with utmost self-righteousness, that they didn’t join the revolution against Assad. Later we understood their immense fear of getting mixed up in it. The reports we’ve gotten in the past three years about what the Assad government has done to Palestinian youngsters in the refugee camp are simply horrible. Later we got mad at al-Nusra Front, which entered the camp as an opposition force to the regime and were angry that the organization was terrifyingly executing people on the streets. Its fighters raped young women and committed other crimes against humanity that are documented and available for anyone to see on the Internet.

And now, news that ISIS united with al-Nusra Front against the poor Palestinians in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear — aside from al-Nusra’s fear that it was losing control of the camp, and joined ISIS to defeat a group of Palestinian youngsters who organized themselves in an attempt to defend the camp. They call themselves “Aknef Beit al-Maqdis” (The Environs of Jerusalem, in Arabic).

Gathered on Yarmouk Street, residents begin hurrying to reach the distribution point.’ (Photo by UNRWA)

Gathered on Yarmouk Street, residents begin hurrying to reach the distribution point, January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Refugees who fled for their lives to every corner of the world from Yarmouk have described the terror and the smell of death that permeates the camp. “People are eating each other out of starvation,” somebody wrote. There has been no running water since September, and the world is silent.

Palestinians the world over search for snippets of information about their relatives in the camp and, over and over again, see photos of funerals, and that video, in which a boy who hasn’t seen a slice of bread for months tears your heart open with his tears. The descriptions and the photographs that make it out are reminiscent of the eternal photos of concentration camps, or of ethnically cleansed villages in Bosnia.

For we Palestinians who are outside the walls of the Yarmouk refugee camp, our utter and complete helplessness is unbearable. Even organizing a small demonstration in Haifa over the weekend was emotionally trying for the activists, who came with overwhelming despondency, anger and sadness — about the entire world that is simply ignoring what’s happening, about the Arab world that managed to organize a special military force in Yemen overnight, about the silence of the Palestinian Authority, and about the impotence of the international community.

I know that my anger toward the Israeli television presenter who tried to make jokes about my kin in Yarmouk is actually anger about the entire situation. It is anger at the irrationality of it all, the injustice, and the war that is crushing thousands of people — and that nobody cares. It’s a shame. It’s a shame that there isn’t any oil or natural gas under that refugee camp. If there were, I’m sure that an alliance of freedom-seeking nations would quickly come together — with the backing of the UN, of course — to save all those innocent people.

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

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