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When the High Court has to intervene so a Palestinian family can mourn

After Israeli police shot and killed Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qi’an before demolishing his home, the state held onto his body for nearly a week. Only an appeal to the High Court allowed his family to bury their loved one.

The only way to describe what took place on Monday in Israel’s High Court, during a hearing on a petition by the Abu al-Qi’an family demanding the police release the body of Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qi’an, is as a nerve-racking drama. For three hours, those present in the courthouse — police officials on one side, and members of the Abu al-Qi’an family and Arab leaders on the other, including half of the Joint List Knesset members — listened to the arguments put forth by both sides and tried to glean which direction the wind was blowing.

Here’s some background before we get to the case: Abu Al-Qi’an was shot and killed by police during home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran in the Negev last Wednesday. A close analysis of a video that captured the killing — as well as initial findings from the autopsy that were published by the media — indicate that he lost control of his car after being shot, only then running over and killing a police officer. The autopsy further showed that Abu al-Qi’an bled to death without receiving any medical help, which likely would have saved his life.

Israeli police were quick to disseminate their version of events following his death, according to which Abu al-Qi’an was an ISIS-supporting terrorist who tried to ram his car into security forces (the only evidence of which was that he had several copies of Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom in his home). The large question marks surrounding the incident did not stop Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from continuing to call Abu al-Qi’an a terrorist, all while the Department of Internal Police Investigations is still investigating the incident.

The police refused to release his body after the killing, holding on to it as a bargaining chip ֿto force the family to accept three conditions for the funeral: it would be held in the Bedouin township of Hura, rather than in Umm el-Hiran; the number of participants would be capped at 50 (Arab politicians and public figures would not be allowed); and it would have to...

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When some are more equal than others before the law

The differing approaches to suspected law-breaking by Netanyahu and Palestinian MK Basel Ghattas expose just how selective the rule of law in Israel really is.

Law is a deceptive concept. We like to take pride in being “law-abiding citizens,” and so tend to reject and condemn members of our community who have broken the law. Joint List head Ayman Odeh, for example, was quick to voice his disapproval of the news concerning Basel Ghattas, a Knesset member in his party who is suspected of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian prisoners. Immediately after the reports regarding Ghattas surfaced in December, Odeh emphasized “the importance of respecting the law.”

This instinct is understandable: as citizens, we want to believe that our legal system is one based on fundamental ideas of morality and justice, which aims to order communal life for the benefit of all. This concept is particularly important for minorities, whom the rule of law is supposed to protect from the tyranny of the majority, while safeguarding their rights.

Perhaps this is why we tend to be more shocked when elected officials are caught breaking the law. The idea that someone involved in drafting the rules of the game would exempt themselves from those same laws appalls us, above all when it concerns the prime minister.

But we need to be precise here: the issue is not actually the fact that Netanyahu has, in all likelihood, broken the law. Observing the law is not in of itself a value. We are given to treat it as such because we need in our lives the idea that there is some relation between the law and principles of justice and morality; it helps us put ourselves on the “right side,” or at least helps us distinguish between the “good” and the “bad.” 

Yet this distinction isn’t really connected to the law, and certainly not in a country where the law is used to uphold institutionalized theft, discrimination and exclusion of one group for the enrichment of the other. As Momo in the book “The Life Before Us” puts it: “The law…was made to protect the people with something to protect from other people.”

If the State of Israel enshrines land theft in law and calls it “formalization,” then I have no respect for the “rule of law.” If the state prevents residents...

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Palestinian citizens go on strike to protest home demolitions

Hundreds of Palestinian citizens demonstrate across the country after Israeli authorities demolish 11 homes in the central Arab town of Qalansuwa. 

Photos by Keren Manor /

Palestinian citizens of Israel called a one-day general strike on Wednesday to protest the demolition of 11 homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa by Israeli authorities the previous day.

Businesses, schools, and local government offices were closed in Arab municipalities across the country Israel, with local activists announcing they would organize a march in the town on Friday against the demolitions.

The owners of the homes said they received notices two days before the demolitions and were not given enough time to respond through legal channels. According to the Finance Ministry, the buildings had been built in an area zoned for agriculture, and thus breached both regional and national master plans. Qalansuwa Mayor Abed al-Bassat Salameh resigned in the wake of the demolitions.

Meanwhile hundreds participated in a giant demonstration at the entrance to Qalansuwa on Wednesday. After meeting with a local action committee, Joint List MK Dov Khenin said “it is painful to see these families whose homes were destroyed. These are houses that were built on private land — neither on land that belongs to anyone else, nor state land. Incitement against minorities is the last refuge of scoundrels. In Netanyahu’s case, it is clear that as investigations over his corruption increase, so do the demolitions against Arab citizens.”

MK Jamal Zahalka, also of the Joint List, called home demolitions a “declaration of war against Arab citizens.” Speaking to the protesters in Qalansuwa, Zahalka accused Netanyahu of “leading a campaign of incitement and destruction against our community, and trying to cover up his corruption under the cloak of over-patriotism. We are not interested in a confrontation, and have suggested dialogue as a solution to the problem. But the government sent bulldozers and left us no choice but to defend our homes with our bodies.”

Demonstrations also took place in Umm al-Fahm, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv University.

As Amjad Iraqi previously reported, out of over 40,000 construction tenders for new housing units published by the Israel Land Authority in 2014, only 1,844 units (4.6 percent) were in Palestinian towns. Out of 139 Palestinian localities included in Israel’s new national master plan, only 41 of them (29.4 percent) have been given updated plans. Palestinian couples still find that it can take years to acquire a building permit,...

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There's nothing 'pro-Israel' about the UNSC vote — and that's a good thing

The Israeli Left was quick to praise the UN Security Council’s resolution against the settlements, arguing that it was ‘good for Israel.’ As usual, the Palestinians were left out of the equation.

Ever since the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements last Friday, the Israeli Left has, for the most part, adopted the position that the resolution is “good for Israel.” Surprisingly this stance was adopted only by the Zionist Left, but even some segments of the radical left.

The logic behind the thinking is clear: the UN has given us another opportunity to distance ourselves from the settlements. If only we would learn how to explain to Israeli Jews just how much they contradict our interests as non-settlers, maybe we will finally be able to convince the public that they’re getting a raw deal.

And while there is something enticing about the optimism of taking such a position, especially in days as hopeless these, doing so reveals two central problems:

Firstly, the fact that this line of thought once again erases Palestinians from the equation, leaving the question of the settlements’ prudence as just another aspect of an endless inner-Jewish conversation (“are settlements good for the Jews? For Israel?”). Sorry to break it to you, but the resolution is not “good for Israel”; rather it is good for the Palestinians’ right to live their lives free of the chains of occupation, which has stolen their land and violently oppressed them for 50 years.

But even this position remains problematic. With all due respect to the Security Council, there is nothing new about this position. The UN and its various institutions have been very clear about their stance vis-a-vis the settlement enterprise for 50 years. I doubt that the resolution caused even a single Israeli to change her or his opinion.

In fact, that very thought betrays a total misunderstanding of the forces that prop up much of the public’s unquestioned support for the Right. In a sense, it is a direct continuation of the old adage “money to the neighborhoods, not to the settlements,” and could be just as ineffective for the same exact reasons: both are blind to the fact that the Israeli reality is based far more on national sentiments than class or ethnic considerations.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that even considering the feasibility of removing settlements will not be enough to convince the public that their existence is too costly....

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Meet the Palestinian man arrested for being sarcastic on Facebook

Anas Abudaabes, arrested for publishing satirical Facebook posts about people celebrating the wildfires in Israel, talks about how Israeli police tried to humiliate him, and explains why he insists on criticizing Arab society in Israel.

Like Ludvik, the protagonist in Milan Kundera’s novel “The Joke,” Anas Abudaabes has discovered firsthand the problems that arise when a regime lacks a sense of humor or irony. Yet Abudaabes, unlike Ludvik, has not lost his own sense of humor, even following his Kafkaesque arrest last week for writing an ironic Facebook post lampooning those who celebrated the fires that were raging across Israel.

When he greets me at the door of his home in Rahat, I tell him that when a prisoner is released, it’s Jewish tradition to say, “Baruh podeh asirim” (Bless the redeemer of prisoners). To my surprise, he shot back the traditional response in Hebrew.

Since his release from jail on Sunday evening, Abudaabes and his wife of three months, Ruqayya Sabah, have primarily dealt with receiving visitors and well-wishers. He is a journalist and social activist, she is a Master’s student researching immunology and cancer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “They’ve organized a honeymoon for us,” Ruqayya says.

The couple are clearly exhausted, but they are kind and generous hosts, reconstructing the bizarre chain of events that led to Abudaabes being detained for days after writing a Facebook post that ended with the hashtag “#Satire_not_serious”.

“I wrote the statuses after I’d finished work that day, almost spontaneously. It’s not like I sat and thought about them for an entire day beforehand,” Abudaabes says. “The mockery was supposed to be offensive to those it was aimed at. It’s like how you can’t tell Holocaust jokes in Arabic — the cultural context is not there. It’s the same here: they [Jews — o.n.] read the Arabic but didn’t understand; it’s so far from their narrative that they don’t get it.”


‘Drink petrol’

An hour after Anas had written the second post, “the most incriminating of all,” three plainclothes detectives showed up at the Abudaabes’ home, armed with a search warrant. “Fifty-three minutes after,” Ruqayya specifies. “The post had received fewer than 100 ‘likes’ by that point.”

“At first I still thought this was a minor misunderstanding that would be cleared up after I explained it to them,” Abudaabes says. “But when they asked for our computers I realized...

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From Umm el-Hiran, the future of Zionism looks bleak

Israeli authorities delay the demolition of the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran. But it’s just a matter of time. A regime that by definition privileges one national group at the expense of another, the indigenous group, has no choice but to destroy Umm el-Hiran for the benefit of the Jews waiting to move in.

Despite the Israel Land Authority’s (ILA) announcement that it would begin demolishing the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran Tuesday morning, in order to build a Jewish village in its place, the bulldozers didn’t show up. Instead of standing in front of the bulldozers, dozens of activists were left to watch solemnly as the residents of Umm el-Hiran removed their property from the shacks and trailers and makeshift structures they call home.

The residents of Umm el-Hiran may have been able to breathe a sigh of relief Tuesday morning, but they know the impending eviction and displacement still looms over their heads. A delay is only a delay. Perhaps the Israeli authorities changed their plans due to the large numbers of activists, journalists and politicians who showed up Tuesday. But previous experience tells us that there’s not much hope for optimism: from the moment the state sets its eyes on a piece of land on which Palestinians live — whether it’s in the West Bank or Israel proper — eviction and displacement is only a matter of time.

The magnitude and absurdity of the injustice in Umm el-Hiran’s story is nothing short of astounding. You can read the whole history here in this article by Mya Guarnieri. In short, the community was uprooted from its land in the Israeli state’s early years, moved by state authorities to its current location, and now, the same Israeli authorities are about to uproot them again in order to build a Jewish town on the ruins of their homes. The High Court of Justice rubber-stamped the whole thing. Because it is “state land,” and that state can do whatever it wants with it. Screw the people who live there.

The Jewish public in Israel is used to hearing about about Bedouin citizens of Israel trespassing and building illegally in the Negev, but that is not the case here. Construing the Bedouin as “trespassers” is problematic anyway in as much as it reflects a deep-seated racism, but it is also simply not true in Umm el-Hiran: the residents were moved...

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Cheer up! Trump's victory gives us reasons to be optimistic

The election of Donald Trump is a reminder that when the American people want change, they go out and make it. When will the same thing apply to Israelis?

The grief that overcame my Facebook feed Wednesday morning is understandable. The thought that a violent, racist, anti-Semitic man such as Donald Trump will now hold run the most powerful country in the world is nothing short of frightening.

And though I understand this kind of reaction, it is wrong to view Trump’s election in apocalyptic terms. Not only because the anxiety and desperation paralyze us politically, but because things are generally more complex than a simple black-and-white reality — and that reality often tends to disprove even the most founded predictions.

This, of course, goes both ways: the Israeli Left was euphoric following Ehud Barak’s election as prime minister in 1999 — an election that to many signaled the end of the dark days of the Netanyahu era, ushering in a new era of light and hope.

Who would have believed at the time that it was Barak who poisoned the state’s relations with its Arab citizens, who would make sure every Israeli knew they have ‘no partner’ in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, rendering any negotiations to bring about the end of the occupation meaningless. For better or worse, leaders should also be evaluated by the correlation between the hopes and the fears that accompanied their election — both by their supporters and opponents — vis-a-vis what they accomplish.

As Israeli citizens, we can find solace in the fact that our prime minister is no longer the most outlandish leader in the club to which we pretend to belong. Compared to Trump, even Netanyahu appears to be reasonable, responsible, and restrained.

But beyond all this, Trump’s election — grotesque as it is — expresses a deep American belief in the need for change, along with the understanding that it is not a good thing when one party remains in power for too long. In this sense, the American people force both the Democrats and the Republicans to remain alert, to know that their rule is anything but assured.

In the short term, Trump’s election appears to be a catastrophe. At the same time, however, it expresses the exact opposite of a paralyzing cynicism: instead it expresses the belief that the public can take the wheel and change direction. Even...

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Seeing the 'other' on Yom Kippur, in Jerusalem

On Yom Kippur in 1967, the Year of Forgetting, I put on

my dark holiday clothes and walked to the Old City of

For a long time I stood in front of an Arab’s hole-in-the-wall

not far from the Damascus Gate, a shop with

buttons and zippers and spools of thread

in every color and snaps and buckles.

A rare light and many colors, like an open Ark.

I told him in my heart that my father too

had a shop like this, with thread and buttons.

I explained to him in my heart about all the decades

and the causes and the events, why I am now here

and my father’s shop was burned there and he is buried here.

When I finished, it was time for the Closing of the Gates

He too lowered the shutters and locked the gate

and I returned, with all the worshippers, home.

(By Yehuda Amichai, “Jerusalem 1967”, translation by Stephen Mitchell as published by NPR)

If one were to place Jewish holidays on a continuum ranging from those between oneself and fellow man, i.e. those grounded in our surroundings, and those between man and God, Yom Kippur would at the very edge of the latter end of the scale. It is the day most clearly intended to gather for dialogue with oneself and with God.

That is where Amichai’s poem draws its power, and the reason I love it so — even on this day, or perhaps especially on this day, it doesn’t cease seeing those people around us, the Other, in this case the Arab shop owner in Jerusalem’s Old City.

He stands and speaks with him, even if in his heart, even if it’s a difficult conversation, instead of going to prayers, and imagines the store as the Holy Ark of a synagogue, nothing less. His conversation with the Other, his ability to see the Other at all, winds up taking the place of prayer on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. That is astonishing to me.

By the time I write this Israel will have already placed a full military closure on the Palestinian territories ahead of Yom Kippur. East Jerusalem will...

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Why I'm not on my way to Gaza (the IDF had nothing to do with it)

Technical problems kept myself and almost 20 other women off the latest Gaza flotilla. Despite my disappointment, I wish these inspirational women nothing but a safe journey.

“If everything goes according to plan, on Monday, September 26 an all-woman flotilla will set sail for Gaza. If everything goes according to plan, I will be on that flotilla.” That is what I wrote before leaving for Messina, Sicily to join the eighth Gaza flotilla last week. My doubts were apparently well founded, since everything did not go according to plan.

In fact my doubts began even before leaving Israel. At that point we had already learned that one of the two boats (which turned out to be small sail boats), the Amal—Hope, was having severe technical problems and would not set sail alongside the Zaytouna. But the flotilla’s organizing team promised that intense efforts were being made to find a replacement boat, and that chances were high that two boats would set sail together.

The staff eventually found a replacement, the “Amal-Hope II,” on which technical problems were also subsequently discovered, preventing the replacement boat’s departure as well. By Saturday it was doubtful whether either of the Amals would be able to join. That would mean that nearly half the women who came from across the world would not be able to go on the journey.

The widow

Despite that very real possibility, we continued planning for departure. Messina’s mayor, who cordially hosted the delegation, allowed us to use the gorgeous city hall building for our meetings, receptions, and public events. He came to each one in jeans, sandals, a faded tricot shirt with the words “Free Tibet” printed on it, and a scarf decorated with the colors of the Palestinian flag. The warmth he projected, as well as his sincere support for us, was worlds apart from Nir Barkat, the pretentious, extremist mayor who holds the keys to Jerusalem, my home city.

Some of the most memorable moments of our time in Messina were at the nonviolence workshops at city hall. The motif of nonviolence is a central one to the flotilla — not only as a method of action but as moral and ideological position. The workshop, which was led by a veteran activist from the U.S., included a simulation of the boat’s takeover by the Israeli navy. Since a handful of participants had already sailed on previous flotillas, one could only assume that the simulation was an accurate reflection of what could actually happen.

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Why I'll be on the Gaza flotilla this Jewish New Year

In the days before Rosh Hashana, days of introspection and forgiveness, I am reminded that by virtue of my identity as an Israeli citizen I am responsible for the disaster and tragedy befalling the people of Gaza. Introspection begins with opening one’s eyes and recognizing one’s sins, and only then trying to repair them. There is no more Jewish act than that.

If everything goes according to plan, on Monday, September 26 an all-woman flotilla will set sail for Gaza. If everything goes according to plan, I will be on that flotilla.

Naturally, the decision to join the flotilla was preceded by various considerations. But above all towers the image of one girl, Muna, whom I saw three years ago in a film by Gaza-based director Fida Qishta, which tells the story of Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.

Qishta’s film documents the destruction of her city during the war. She is no CNN reporter and has no interest in hiding the horrors of that war: the bombings, the white phosphorous, children’s bodies, more bombings, the cruel and arbitrary attacks on fisherman, gunfire at farmers who cannot work their land because it is too close to the no-go zone, a father who harrowingly calls out for his son among the wreckage, and a 10-year-old girl, Muna, who accompanies Qishta throughout almost the entire movie, pointing out the location where the people she knew were killed.

She is incredibly bright and well-spoken, and very to the point. Time after time she insists on taking Qishta to the house where the Israeli army concentrated her loved ones before bombing it. Muna lost 21 members of her family, including both her parents and several brothers. She remembers every torn limb that she saw that night, along with her dying parents and her brother uselessly begging the soldiers to let them leave.

In her room in her brother’s house, she talks about her dreams and shows Qishta her drawings. “Sometimes I see my mother in a dream, only there am I able to see her now, but even in the dream I know that she actually died and won’t come back.” In the neighborhood, or what is left of it, Muna agrees only to play with other orphaned children, since she doesn’t want to hear another mother call out for her children to come inside.



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How Israel is turning one Arab party into a security threat

Balad isn’t the first political party in Israel to be suspected of violating campaign finance laws. But it is the first one to have its members arrested in overnight, commando-style raids.

There are two possible ways to describe the dramatic, highly-publicized arrest of dozens of activists and senior members of the Balad party earlier this week:

“The police opened a wide spreads investigation against Balad over suspicions of fraudulently transferring millions of shekels to the party’s coffers during the 2013 elections.”

Or: “In an overnight operation security focus raided the homes of dozens of Palestinians, arresting them for pro-Palestinian activism.”

Most Hebrew-language media outlets that reported on the story chose a variation on the first headline. In my eyes, however, the second headline is far more accurate for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I have no idea how Balad’s election fundraising campaign functioned, whether in 2013 or in general. As a supporter of the party, I want to believe that nothing illegal was done. However, what I do know for a fact is that there is hardly a single party in Israel that was not been suspected or convicted of violating Israel’s campaign finance law. I am also sure that the members of these parties were not arrested in the middle of the night, as if in a top-secret commando operation. Not even when suspicions were far greater and more severe — not even when the suspects were high-level officials. This isn’t the “language” in which Israel functions in the political-civil sphere. In Israel, night raids and arrests are a “natural” response to security threats.

It’s no coincidence, of course: the State of Israel has for years attempted to remove Balad from the political arena and turn the party into a security threat. Lacking the desire or even the ability to deal with the kind of discourse Balad promotes — perhaps the only party that has consistently presented a detailed vision for a real democratic future for this country — Israel prefers to turn it into a threat.

Think about how many times the words “terrorists,” “traitors,” or “spies” come up in the context of Balad. Not just from talkbackers on the Internet, but from ministers and MKs in the Knesset plenum. The sentiment behind every single attempt to delegitimize the party, from the repeated attempt to have the Knesset Ethics Committee ban its members from running in...

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The Iranian-German who made a film about the annihilation of Ukraine's Jews

Director Farschid Ali Zahedi fled Iran for Germany following the Islamic Revolution, where he became fascinated by Jewish history and the Holocaust. After four years of work he is now releasing his latest film on the extermination of Jews in the Ukrainian city of Kovel. Orly Noy sat down to speak to him about debuting his film in Israel, the memory of the Holocaust, and the bleeding wound of his homeland. 

Before the Second World War, the Ukrainian city of Kovel was home to an significant and flourishing Jewish community. During the Nazi occupation, which lasted from 1941 to 1944, the Jewish population of the city was almost entirely annihilated.

Two men were primarily responsible for carrying out the extermination: Erich Kasner, the head of the local German administration, and Fritz Mantay, a German police officer. Twenty years went by before the two were located by German authorities and were put on trial for their crimes. The trial took place in the German city of Oldenburg and lasted 13 months.

“We Believed the Sun Would Rise Again,” the new film by Iranian-German director Farschid Ali Zahedi, looks at the the destruction of Kovel’s Jews, bringing its story to the big screen for the first time. Zahedi is a former political activist in Iran who fled the country after the revolution and was granted asylum in Oldenburg, where he runs a local cinematheque.

A story hardly told

“I arrived in Germany in the middle of the 1980s. During my first years there I was very busy with issues having to do with Iran and human rights in general, while at the same time I continued to work as a cinematographer and began doing some directing,” Zahedi tells me at a Jerusalem cafe, following his visit to Yad Vashem, a day after his film was screened at Beth Volyn (named after the district in which Kovel is located) in Givatayim. “Later I founded the cinematographers and directors union in Oldenburg, which I still head today.

“Life in Germany caused me to become very interested in the Jewish history of the place, and I made a few films about the city’s Jewish history. I was mostly interested in the question of what happened to the property that they left behind when they were taken to the extermination camps. What happened to their homes, their writing tables, their clothing. I researched the issue and published a book, which won me...

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Born again peaceniks: How ex-IDF generals clean their conscience

For years they have served in high-ranking positions in the Israeli army, taking part in the most violent aspects of the occupation. Only once they leave do they suddenly discover that, perhaps, military rule isn’t such a great idea.

By now it has become a tired ritual: every once in a while a former high-ranking member of Israel’s defense establishment “wakes up” and discovers — to his and his supporters’ utter surprise — that over the past 50 years Israel has been maintaining a violent occupation over millions of people who lack basic rights. This week came Gen. Gadi Shamni’s turn to express remorse for his part in upholding the occupation, while getting his 15 minutes of fame. “We are the world champions of occupation,” he said at a glitzy conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, promoting himself to the rank of “occupation champion,” no less.

The Israeli political discourse loves these kinds of expressions — the kinds of scandals that supply ammunition to every side of the inter-Jewish political map: the Right will become enraged over the politicization of the security establishment and the need to uproot the subversive elements that prevent it from “getting the job done.” Meanwhile the Left will hug its new star, who uses his storied past to legitimize his current positions. The Palestinians will continue to look on at the Israelis who have, for the past 50 years, been astounded to discover — time and time again — that the occupation exists.

This ritual repeatedly raises the question of why these insights arrive a moment after the army uniform comes off — not before. Personally I tend to believe it stems from a place of utilitarianism: as long as they wear the uniform, they have a clear interest to not see or recognize the crimes they are complicit in. They reap very real benefits from this type of blind spot: promotions, ranks, salaries, status. The “moment of clarity” also has its benefits: symbolic capital, prestige, etc.

It is possible that there are less cynical psychological explanations for the phenomenon, but that question is less important at the moment. We must not focus on the processes — psychological or social — which create these security-oriented “born again” peaceniks, but rather on whether they put their money where their mouth is. Okay, we understood that the occupation is immoral and that the army is the body maintaining the occupation. Now...

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