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Yes, Israel does differentiate between Jewish and Palestinian terror

When Palestinians demand their attackers receive the same punishments as those who target Jews, the pretense of equal treatment before the law slips away.

Some of Israel’s most hardline politicians are fond of saying that they don’t differentiate between terror attacks perpetrated by Jews and Palestinians. In the wake of the Duma arson that killed three members of the Dawabsheh family, the likes of Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuMiri Regev, Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett were all heard singing variations on the theme of “terror is terror, no matter whether Jewish or Arab.”

The Israeli state and its judges, however, continue to prove that this talk of equality through zero tolerance is for appearances only. Whereas Israel regularly demolishes the homes belonging to the families of Palestinian attackers, it refuses to do so when the perpetrators are Jewish.

On Wednesday, the state told the High Court that there was no need to demolish the homes of the three Jewish Israelis who murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir, because of the difference in the “scope” of terror attacks committed by Jews and Palestinians. The state, which was responding to a petition filed by the Abu Khdeir family, further claimed that the fact that the three were sentenced in court was deterrent enough.

This is not an outlying decision. Back in June, the Defense Ministry wrote to the Abu Khdeir family’s lawyer that deterrence is not necessary among the Jewish public, meaning that there was no need to demolish the perpetrators’ homes. The state deployed the same logic in court two years ago while defending its practice of punitively demolishing Palestinians’, but not Jews’, homes. High Court Justice Noam Sohlberg made the same argument in November 2015.

Let’s be clear: punitive home demolitions are a form of collective punishment, and collective punishment is not only morally wrong, it’s also illegal under international law. The end goal should be to end all punitive home demolitions, not to mete out unjust punishments equally to Jews and Palestinians alike.

Part of that process needs to be recognizing the deceptive nature of claims that Israel doesn’t discriminate between Jewish and Palestinian terror.


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Jerusalem mayor believes collective punishment is key to coexistence

How does one go about fostering neighborly relations in Jerusalem? It’s very simple, according to the city’s mayor: curfews, closures, concrete blocks and lots of police.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat regularly holds forth about how his city’s various demographics can rub along in peace and quiet. Back in July, in deference to the city’s ultra-Orthodox population, he announced he wouldn’t attend Jerusalem’s Pride parade. Barkat’s decision, taken so as not to “harm” Jerusalem’s Haredi community, came one year after an ultra-Orthodox man was so outraged at the presence of LGBTQs in the city that he stabbed six people at the same event, murdering one of them.

In August, Barkat told a group of Likud activists that a stop for Jerusalem’s planned cable car will be placed in the Palestinian town of Silwan so as to show “who really owns this city.” As a reminder, Silwan is already at boiling point due to the encroachment of settlers and settler organizations both over– and underground.   

And last week, again speaking with Likud activists, Barkat waxed rhapsodical about his “philosophy of coexistence” for Jerusalem, a term he used after explaining how he has collaborated with the security forces to impose collective punishment on the city’s Palestinians.

“We’ve developed some very, very interesting models. The first is cooperation between the Shin Bet, police, law enforcement and the municipality… I’ve requested closures and curfews in Jerusalem… We’ve put nearly 30 closures (in place). If you walk around the entrance and exit of the (Palestinian) villages today, you’ll see concrete blocks… This philosophy creates a very high level of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the city.”

There you have it: not only are repressive military tactics now a philosophy; they are also, according to Nir “Sun Tzu” Barkat, a means by which to foster harmonious relations between Jews and Palestinians. Of course, the “co” is somewhat undermined by the fact that the two groups in this equation exist at opposite ends of the barrel of a gun. But Barkat’s philosophy springs from the same logic as keeping Israel’s eternal, undivided capital in one piece by liberally sowing concrete blocks and barriers along its streets. So the mayor of Jerusalem is, at least, consistent.

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For Israel's military gov't, PR trumps freedom of information

When Israel’s military government needs to provide Palestinians with crucial information about the rules that affect their lives, money and Arabic-speaking staff are apparently in short supply. When it comes to PR, resources are seemingly on tap.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman this week announced his new “carrot and stick” plan for Palestinians living in the West Bank, which roughly works out as: if you behave, we will give your towns and communities economic benefits; if you don’t, there will be more demolitions, more arrests, more raids, more canceled permits.

Within Liberman’s plan is a proposal for an Arabic-language news website to be run by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Ministry of Defense body that oversees Israel’s military government in the West Bank and its policies vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip. The website is scheduled to launch at the end of January 2017 at a cost of NIS 10 million and will, according to Liberman, tell the news “from our perspective.” Or in other words, it’s a ‘hasbara’ initiative.

This announcement followed a report in Walla! two weeks prior, according to which the Ministry of Defense has assigned a budget of millions of shekels to set up a “new media” unit within COGAT with the express purpose of increasing Israel’s influence on the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza.

These sound like relatively straightforward, if cynical, proposals. Except that COGAT’s recent history with building websites and providing materials in Arabic has been a rather unhappy one, as +972 Magazine has previously reported on here, here, here and here.

COGAT — whose operating budget in 2015 was nearly half a billion shekels — has been without a fully-functioning official website since June 2015, apparently due to a technical problem. It currently has a “temporary” website hosted by Wix, which went online in December 2015 and has enjoyed sporadic updates since. The relaunch of the full website, meanwhile, is continually pushed back as the organization repeatedly misses its self-appointed deadlines.

COGAT has also, since May 2014, been locked in an ongoing court battle with Israeli civil rights NGO Gisha over its continuing failure to translate all of its policies and procedures into Arabic and publish them, despite its own promises and court orders compelling it to do so.

In not providing this information COGAT is knowingly breaking the law, not to mention preventing the...

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West Bank home demolitions hit 10-year high

Israeli military authorities have demolished at least 180 Palestinian homes since the start of 2016 alone, and over 1,100 in the past decade, according to B’Tselem and the UN.

Israeli authorities have demolished more Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank thus far in 2016 than in any other calendar year in the last decade, according to data provided by Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem Wednesday and statistics from the UN humanitarian agency, OCHA.

B’Tselem’s statistics show that the Civil Administration, the Israeli military’s governing arm in the West Bank, destroyed 168 Palestinian homes between January 1 and June 30, 2016, displacing 740 people, including 348 children. A further 12 West Bank Palestinian dwellings were destroyed between July 1 and July 18, displacing a further 62 people, according to figures provided to +972 Magazine by OCHA. This brings the total for the year so far to at least 180 homes demolished — surpassing the previous high of the 175 dwellings destroyed in 2013.

Since 2006, B’Tselem reports, Israel has destroyed at least 1,113 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, not including punitive home demolitions. As a result, at least 5,199 Palestinians have been displaced, around half of whom are minors.

All of the demolitions have taken place in Area C, which is under full Israeli military security and administrative control. Israel justifies administrative demolitions by arguing that the structures in question have been built without a permit. However, it is almost impossible for Palestinians in Area C to obtain building permits: between 2010 and 2014 the army’s Civil Administration granted just 1.5 percent of requests. Moreover, the IDF recently admitted that when it comes to demolitions in the West Bank, “enforcement against Palestinians is hundreds of percentage points higher [than against Jews].”

There are currently around 11,000 outstanding demolition orders in Area C, affecting roughly 17,000 Palestinian structures — homes and others. Israel has issued 14,000 of these orders since 1988; as of the end of 2015, around 3,000 of these had been executed.

Nearly 60 percent of the demolition orders Israel has issued are hanging over structures belonging to communities in Area C that straddle the boundaries of areas A or B, a spatial distribution that is entirely deliberate. Almost all Israeli settlements are in Area C, and most Palestinian cities and larger towns are in areas A and B. The result is that major Palestinian population centers such as Nablus, Ramallah and Qalqiliyah have most, if...

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Homophobia rears its ugly head in Pride month in Israel

‘Sick,’ ‘perverts,’ ‘abomination,’ ‘blasphemers,’ ‘handicapped’: Hate speech against Israel’s LGBTQ community has reached fever pitch this week, and comes as police have detained queer activists and the High Court has capitulated to homophobia.

The last seven days in Israel have been particularly hostile for the country’s LGBTQ community. A steady stream of homophobic slander from nationalist and ultra-Orthodox rabbis has been bookended by two major pride parades facing serious threats and calls for counter-demonstrations.

The sequence of events began with Be’er Sheva’s pride parade, slated to take place Thursday last week. It would have been the southern Israeli city’s first march, in lieu of an annual demonstration and in spite of mayor Ruvik Danilovich’s refusal to fund the event. The police, however, decided to withdraw the permit for the parade’s intended route along the main thoroughfare, citing credible, serious threats to participants and the fact that the march would “deeply hurt religious sentiments.”

Religious members of Be’er Sheva’s council threatened to resign over the parade and the High Court rejected a petition to reinstate the original path for the march. The police detained a number of local LGBTQ activists the day before the parade — apparently largely without cause — and in protest at the court’s capitulation, the event’s organizers canceled the parade in order to stage a protest. Ofer Kardi, the deputy mayor and chair of Be’er Sheva’s Shas movement, expressed his satisfaction that the “extremist” parade would no longer be taking place.

As this was going on, a separate controversy began when Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, the co-head of a prominent pre-military academy in a West Bank settlement, repeatedly referred to LGBTQs as “perverts” while addressing a conference about the impact of Reform Judaism on identity in Israel. (This incident came at the tail-end of another media brawl that erupted when the IDF nominated Rabbi Eyal Karim as the army’s next chief rabbi, a religious figure who in addition to being notorious for egregious comments on rape also referred to LGBTQs as “sick or disabled.”)

It should be noted that Levenstein’s comments earned him condemnation from across the political spectrum as well as from some of his students, who declared their intention to march at this year’s pride parade in Jerusalem. Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett, too, censured Levenstein, saying that one cannot label an entire community and then “hide behind halakha [Jewish religious law],” although he and his party are staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage.

But Levenstein and...

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Why won't Israel's military gov't translate its policies into Arabic?

The inaccessibility of Israel’s military procedures means Palestinians are often forced to navigate the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the occupation in the dark.

The Civil Administration, the arm of Israel’s military government that rules over 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank, has once again broken its own commitment to publish all its policies and procedures in Arabic.

After being slapped with a near-unprecedented rebuke by a Jerusalem District Court judge in May over its continuing failure to make these procedures available, the Civil Administration was ordered to finish translating and publish all of its regulations within six weeks of the court’s ruling, which was issued on May 3.

With the deadline having passed, Israeli human rights NGO Gisha — which has been petitioning the Civil Administration since December 2014 to publish all of its policies and procedures in Arabic, as per its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act — requested on June 21 that the state be held in contempt of court. The judge has given the government until July 10 to respond.

The documents in question dictate fundamental, day-to-day processes for Palestinians in the West Bank, such as obtaining travel and work visas, getting entry permits into Israel and dealing with medical requests. Palestinians’ ability to go abroad, attend weddings, visit sick relatives and live in one place or another are all subject to these procedures.

Access to this information in Arabic is therefore critical for Palestinians subject to Israel’s military regime, in order for them to know what their rights are and how they can claim them. The inaccessibility of this information means that in many cases, Palestinians are forced to try and navigate the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the occupation in the dark.

Moreover, says Gisha’s Legal Director Dr. Nomi Heger, the Civil Administration didn’t even honor its own commitments to the court. “The legal proceedings ended with an unequivocal, explicit verdict, after the Civil Administration committed yet again to publish all the remaining procedures but it failed to do so in Hebrew or Arabic,” Heger told +972.

Having now broken its own commitments six times in the past 18 months, the Civil Administration’s “contempt for the court and contempt for the public’s right to know are glaring,” she added.

In addition, many of the Arabic procedures have, according to Gisha, been poorly translated, making them difficult to understand. A number of...

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Nearly 1,000 Bedouin structures demolished in past year

Over 1,700 structures were self-demolished by their owners over the past three years following pressure by police and state inspectors. Around half the demolitions were carried out in recognized Bedouin villages.

Israel demolished 1,041 Bedouin structures in the Negev between 2013 and 2015, with a further 1,711 structures being destroyed by their owners after receiving demolition orders, according to a new report by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF). In 2015 alone, nearly 1,000 structures were demolished in the Negev — 365 by the Israeli authorities, and 617 by the homeowners themselves.

The waves of demolitions have displaced thousands of Bedouin over the past three years, according to Michal Rotem, the author of the report. Those who demolished their own homes were pushed into doing so by police officers and state inspectors, who frequently turned up at their door to put pressure on them. The same tactics were used to coerce around 210 home owners into demolishing their own homes even though they hadn’t received demolition orders, under the threat that one would be issued if their home stayed standing.

Most of the limited attention the situation of the Negev’s Bedouin receives tends to revolve around the area’s unrecognized villages — localities that the state does not recognize as legal, and which are therefore ineligible for basic municipal services and are not connected to electricity grids or water networks. These villages were the subject of the notorious Prawer Plan, currently back off the table, which sought to forcibly relocate the residents of these villages into designated townships. Some localities are still vulnerable to total demolition in order to be replaced with Jewish towns, as is the fate looming over Umm el-Hiran and Atir.

But according to statistics from the Southern Directorate, which oversees the demolition policy in the Negev, around half of these demolitions are carried out in recognized villages. In 2014, Rotem reveals, 46 percent of demolitions took place in unrecognized villages, while the remaining 54 percent were carried out in recognized villages.

This makes clear that the threats facing the Negev’s Bedouin residents extend far beyond the more publicized issues surrounding unrecognized dwellings. As the report states, while 34 percent of the population in the area is Bedouin, only 18 of 144 settlements are earmarked for these communities — a housing crisis greatly exacerbated by what even the Southern Directorate admits is...

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Wiping Palestinian history off the map in Jaffa

A tourist map of Jaffa presents a reimagined, Zionist version of the city: Jaffa 2.0 is a boutique neighborhood of Tel Aviv, with a smattering of ‘local’ (read: native) color. But the map itself simply represents a much broader process of destruction and reconstruction.

If you go into Jaffa’s tourist information centers (run by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality) and ask for a map, you’ll receive a colorful, user-friendly guide promising to tell you the best places to go to sample Jaffa’s food, markets, history and more — and in four different languages, no less.

The problem is that the version of Jaffa the map presents is a narrow, carefully-curated one, of chic boutiques, European-style art galleries and a smattering of Christian history. None of those four languages are Arabic, and a quick scan of the rest of the official tourist information center’s materials also reveals a dearth of Arabic.

On one side of the map, a zoomed-in view of the Old City, only two Muslim sites are labeled: the al-Bahr Mosque (also known as the Sea Mosque), thought to be the oldest in Jaffa, and the Mahmoudiya Mosque next to the flea market.

Only the al-Bahr mosque gets a minaret icon — which on one side of the map is partly obscured by a church spire and on the other side is the same color as the background. Neither mosque receives an explanation in the map’s key. On the zoomed-out side of the map, the Mahmoudiya Mosque does not appear at all.

Meanwhile, numerous churches are labeled with either an icon of a cross or an image of a spire. Several Christian sites receive explanations in the map’s key, which also refers to “Jewish and Christian traditions.”

The words “Palestinian,” “Arab,” and “Muslim” do not appear in the map’s key or descriptions once. The word “oriental” does feature, however— as a category of restaurant, which fits neatly into the colonialist model of either erasing or subsuming the native culture and then passing off the safely fractured remnants as ‘local color.’

When asked about the map — which features the logos of city-owned tourism and development companies — a municipality spokesperson first denied that the logos appear, then accepted that they do but said that it had no official ties with the map. Instead, the city spokesperson told +972 Magazine, “municipal bodies with logos on the map pay for their complexes to be detailed...

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For Israeli police, every Palestinian is guilty until proven innocent

Like many Palestinian citizens before him, Israeli police insist on holding Maysam Abu Alqian responsible for the beating he took in broad daylight.

The beating of 19-year-old Maysam Abu Alqian by plainclothes Border Police officers in central Tel Aviv on Sunday was depressingly familiar, both in the incident itself and its aftermath. Alqian, a Bedouin resident of Hura in the Negev Desert who works at a Tel Aviv supermarket, had stepped out of the store to take out the trash, when he was asked by the two plainclothes officers to present his ID. According to eyewitnesses, when he didn’t, they assaulted him, while other police officers came and joined in before hauling him off in a police car.

The police version of events is that Alqian attacked the officers first and that they “had to use force while the suspect continued attacking them,” according to spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld. For the time being, the police seem to be sticking to this version of events: in the middle of the night, Alqian was released to house arrest after a brief hearing. Although he eventually received delayed medical treatment, the police prevented his father from visiting him at the hospital.

Here, as is usually the case in such incidents, the onus is on the Palestinian victim to prove that they didn’t deserve to get a beating at the hands of the police. Indeed, when a Palestinian submits a formal complaint about police violence, Israeli police are in the habit of submitting a counter-claim alleging that the officers involved were the ones who had been attacked first, as Tom Mehager, who works with Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, wrote on Facebook after the incident.

(Police chief Roni Alsheikh, sticking to the victimhood theme, on Monday complained — apparently without irony — that the media had turned his force into its “punching bag.”)

The working assumption of the police when dealing with Palestinians is that whoever they have beaten up — or shot — is guilty until proven innocent. And that premise is rooted squarely in racism: as Mehager noted in his post, the believability of a version of events wherein someone suddenly jumps police officers in the middle of their work day only stands up “in a country where the police assume that Arabs are violent by their very nature.”

The “self-defense” claim is not the only falsehood that snakes...

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Recognizing the grief of the Nakba

In appointing itself the gatekeeper of historical memory, Israel has shackled the promotion of its own narrative to the suppression of the Palestinian narrative.

A few years ago I took part in a class about the Armenian genocide at Toronto University with students from around the world, including several Armenian and Turkish participants.

Three of the Armenian students were sitting opposite me during the seminar. Within about 15 minutes of the lecturer beginning to speak, they broke down crying, one by one. Seeing their distress, one of our Turkish classmates, A., also began to weep. It was a stark visual lesson about how close to the surface grief remains when it is boxed in over decades, and when the perpetrator of that grief refuses to accept responsibility for the pain it has caused, as is the case with Turkey.

I was reminded of this scene recently when reading Louis Fishman’s excellent Haaretz op-ed about why Israel should recognize the Armenian genocide as well as its responsibility for the Nakba, when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled and fled, and over 500 villages destroyed, in the war that accompanied the founding of the State of Israel.

Without drawing parallels between the nature of the two events, there is a meaningful comparison to be made regarding their position as defining national traumas. Additionally, as Fishman wrote, “it can be argued that Israel has adopted Turkey’s stance of denial as a model toward the Palestinian Nakba.”

Such denial does more than add insult to injury — it also houses the even more profound issue of the delegitimization of grief. Israel, like Turkey, has taken legislative steps against the mention or memorializing of the historical injustices it is responsible for. In appointing itself the gatekeeper of historical memory here, Israel has shackled the promotion of its own narrative to the suppression of that of Palestinians.

This is a hefty toll to exact on a population. As painful as grief is, having that grief unacknowledged, rejected or undermined cuts even deeper. Grief is an urgent and unwieldy human emotion, and we need its active expression, mourning, as a platform on which to shoulder the unbearable heaviness of loss.

When that platform is denied us, we can make no sense nor structure of our grief. It just remains there: thick, amorphous, and impossible to outrun. And just as grief that isn’t acknowledged or accommodated...

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Most Israeli Jews think there's no occupation. So what is it?

A recent poll finds that 72 percent of Jewish Israelis believe Israel’s control over the Palestinian territories does not constitute occupation. So what do you call military rule over a captive population that didn’t vote for the army to be there?

Depending on who you speak to, the word “occupation” is either the most loaded or the most ignored term in Israel-Palestine. For some, it’s a canard bandied about by traitorous leftists who want nothing more than to destroy the country by smearing it into oblivion; many believe that Israel cannot occupy territory that the bible says was promised by God to Jews; for a dwindling minority, it represents all that is rotten in the State of Israel. And for others, it’s something that happens “over there” which a lot of people seem to make a lot of fuss over, but which has (as far as they’re concerned) little impact on their day-to-day life.

So it’s perhaps not surprising to read in the latest Peace Index from the Israeli Democracy Institute that 72 percent of Jewish Israelis believe Israel’s control over the Palestinian territories does not constitute occupation — of whom 50 percent are “sure” that Israel is not an occupying power, and 22 percent “think” that it isn’t.

If that’s the case, though, what word does accurately describe military rule over a captive population that didn’t vote for the army to be there and that has no sovereignty? How do you describe a military regime that can seal off entire towns, villages or the whole West Bank whenever it feels like it?

How would you describe a state of affairs wherein a native population of one ethnicity is subject to military law while a civilian population of a different ethnicity that has been moved into the territory, against international law, is subject to civil law? (Aside from apartheid, that is.)

What about an authority that sits within the Ministry of Defense, and that decides where the people under that military law can and can’t build homes? What would you call the same authority when it tears down the houses of those who weren’t fortunate enough to get inside the one percent approval bracket Israel gives to Palestinians seeking building permits in the West Bank?

How would you characterize a situation in which Palestinians can have their land arbitrarily designated a firing zone, conservation area...

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Israel's military gov't ordered to publish regulations in Arabic

Israel’s military government is once again rebuked in court over its continued failure to meet the bare minimum of its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, and moreover must compensate the NGO petitioning to bring it to account.

Israel’s military government, which rules over millions of Palestinians, was hit with a nearly unprecedented court ruling and rebuke this week for flouting its obligation to publish regulations in Arabic.

The Civil Administration — which is a part of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), itself part of the Defense Ministry — now has six weeks in which to publish all its outstanding policies and procedures in both Arabic and Hebrew, documents that directly affect 2.8 million Palestinians living in the West Bank. There are currently 25 procedures that have not been published at all in either language, and a further four which have not been published in Arabic.

Citing repeated delays in fulfilling its commitments, the Jerusalem District Court judge also ordered the Civil Administration to pay NIS 30,000 in legal costs to Gisha, the Israeli human rights NGO which since December 2014 has been petitioning the government body to make all its policies and procedures public.

The documents in question dictate fundamental, day-to-day processes for Palestinians in the West Bank, such as obtaining travel and work visas, getting entry permits into Israel and dealing with medical requests. Palestinians’ ability to go abroad, attend weddings, visit sick relatives and live in one place or another are all subject to these procedures.

Access to this information in Arabic is therefore critical for Palestinians subject to Israel’s military regime, in order for them to know what their rights are and how they can claim them. Without this knowledge an occupied population is at the mercy of the whims of the occupier and a crucial passage of legal recourse is blocked off, as illustrated by a former COGAT policy that randomly barred Palestinians from entering Eilat. Until fresh guidelines were issued last year, no one could challenge the rule because apparently no one at COGAT knew where the original copy of the policy was, much less why it had originally been put in place.

Since Gisha filed the FOIA petition nearly a year-and-a-half ago, the Civil Administration has on five separate occasions — and only under duress from the court — committed to publish all of its policies and procedures, setting...

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The silent occupation: Bringing pre-1967 Golan Heights back to life

With war raging over Israel’s border with Syria, it’s easy to forget that the Golan Heights — a buffer between the two countries — is occupied territory. But occupied it is, and the landscape bears witness to a history of violence and expulsion.

“The sky fell to earth, the stars turned to stones…”
— Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun

I’m standing at the top of a crumbling minaret, looking into Syria. The tower belongs to a mosque in the destroyed Circassian village of Sur’aman, whose ruins are gradually being consumed by the woods around them. In the distance lies a white UN observer post that sits on the 1974 ceasefire line between the occupied Golan Heights and Syria proper.

The view of Syria on the horizon is covered with a blue gauze; standing on the precipice of the minaret, I remember an essay by the American writer Rebecca Solnit in which she describes how light at the blue end of the spectrum doesn’t travel all the way to us from the sun. When we look out over the horizon, she explains, the blue tinge that we see is “the light that got lost…the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not.”

Ultimately, Solnit says, blue is also the color of where you can never be, because it isn’t the actual color of those places you’re gazing at, but of “the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.” From where I’m standing, Syria is blue, the color of a physical and logistical atmospheric distance.

The Golan, too, is blue, for the 130,000 Syrians — Bedouin, Turkmen and Circassian — who were expelled following Israel’s capture of the area during the Six-Day War in 1967, and who cannot return to their homes. Many were pushed further into Syria, although not all of the refugees stayed there.

One of those Syrian-Circassian refugees is the reason I am standing at the top of the minaret. Farouk Merza, the father of a friend, Eléonore, was born in the village of Mansura in the northern Golan, and eventually settled in France after being expelled from his home in 1967. We are in Mansura to visit the site where Farouk’s house once stood, as well as other village landmarks that now exist only in memory.

Not all were expelled. Between 6,000-7,000 Syrians were left behind in the Golan after...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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