I wrote a bunch of stuff this week.

I wrote a bunch of stuff this week. And some in the weeks prior! And I haven’t been updating this blog with any of that writing. Because, you know: Reasons.

Some of these reasons fall under the general heading of “I’m kind of lazy,” and others fall under the narrower heading of “a lot of Non-Writing Life Stuff has been going on” and… you know. Like that! But I’m here with some quick links, because I did kind of promise I would do this sort of thing. Sorry I’ve been rather inconsistent!

In backwards chronological order:

  1. It’s the Occupation, Stupid (The American Prospect, 3/25/14). “From the way my community (on either side of the ocean) yells about BDS, you’d think that BDS is the problem. You’d think that for the last 47 years, the BDS movement had been investing Israel’s resources—financial, military, and human—in morally disastrous policies that serve to dispossess the Palestinian people and undermine Israel’s own democracy…. The bald inequity of the occupation, whereby (aside from any other concern) millions of people’s lives are controlled by a foreign government over which they have no legal influence, is so enormous, so insurmountable, so entirely disproportionate to any other concern that BDS might raise—how can we possibly talk about anything else? And yet talk we do.”
  2. Netanyahu’s Fake Jerusalem Stalls Peace (The Forward, 3/24/14). “Har Homa – an illegal settlement built on Palestinian land in order to massively expand an historically-false version of Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital’ – has framed Netanyahu’s political career. The language employed by the Israeli government concerning Har Homa and the entire settlement project has served to obfuscate, disrupt, and steadily shift the terms of engagement, so that what was once non-existent is now treated as inescapable. Not to mention that no matter how the Palestinians have acknowledged and/or recognized Israel, it’s clearly never been good enough for Bibi.
  3. Peace and Palestinians behind Israel’s prison bars (Haaretz, 3/23/12). “Everything’s a crisis. Everything’s a battle royale. Everything’s a big, boiling pottage of names, numbers, and facts that only a few remember (like that 2005 transport deal). Lines are drawn (red, or in the sand), insults are flung, tripwires lie all around. And every single last one of these brouhahas, individually and collectively, serves as a terrible, horrible metaphor for the entire conflict – and the fact that after all that effort, we are still mired in conflict.”
  4. Book review: ‘The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC – 1492 AD,’ by Simon Schama (Dallas Morning News, 3/23/14). “Here is the heartbreak, here is the horror, but here also are families moving up the social ladder, men choosing brides, women doing business, whole communities shaping and reshaping their relationship with their faith, even as they interact with, influence and are influenced by other communities among whom they live…. In conveying all this, Schama’s writing is at turns wry, sly and lavish, tumbling over itself much in the way that he describes the tens of thousands of documents and fragments of documents found in the Cairo Geniza, and yet often turning agonizingly spare in the face of the terrors that came — and they did come, over and over again.”
  5. Will the Crisis in Ukraine Damage Negotiations with Iran? (Ploughshares Blog, 3/19/14). “Much as it may be tempting to believe otherwise, Russia is a rational actor. Whatever its designs on Ukraine, Moscow also has very real interests involving Iran that President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to want to compromise.”
  6. If a Palestinian Did This, He’d Be Dead (The Forward, 3/14/14). “If you’re online and follow news out of Israel, you’ve probably already seen or at least heard of that wild-and-crazy video of a Hebron settler try to steal a Palestinian flag off a Palestinian roof. The guy gets caught on some barbed wire and then — even as his compatriots shout abuse (‘you son of a whore!’) at Shadi Sidr, the man who lives in the house, and even as Sidr tries to help free the settler from his predicament (while also attempting to reassure onlookers: ‘It’s okay, don’t worry!’) — the settler explains, with almost otherworldly calm, that in fact ‘This roof, this is my roof. This is all mine. The whole country is mine. The whole state is mine.’ Soon after, soldiers show up and threaten not the settler but the homeowner with arrest, demanding that he take down his flag. Crazy, right? Wild!”
  7. (follow-up to the aboveTrading a Palestinian Flag for a Kid’s Freedom? (The Forward, 3/18/14). “Rather than, say, arrest the settler for trespassing, though, soldiers responded to this absurd series of events by attempting to browbeat Shadi Sidr, the Palestinian in question, into handing over his flag. At various points, various soldiers insisted that flying the Palestinian flag was forbidden and that Sidr would be taken into custody if he didn’t take his down, but when he refused, at least one of them had the good sense to understand that continuing the farce in front of cameras was not a good idea. Later it transpired that the Israeli military in fact has no anti-flag regulation.
    And that, you would think, was that. Or, at any rate, you might think that was that if you had no experience with Israel and the occupation. Because of course that was not that. That was not even remotely that.”
  8. Iran Negotiations and the Broader Nuclear Agenda (Ploughshares Blog, 3/10/14). “The number of nuclear weapons in the world tops 17,000, yet none of them belong to Iran. While negotiators work for a verifiable deal that would prevent Iran from ever obtaining nuclear arms – it’s important to remember that the current negotiations also have the potential to strengthen international security, and move us forward on a path to a nuclear weapons-free tomorrow.”

Making a ‘fair’ critique of settlements.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Teneh_Omarim.jpg

West Bank settlement of Teneh Omarim.

In Gil Troy’s response to my recent post about the U.N.’s settlement report—in which he accuses me of “demonizing Israel” and “validating every maximalist Palestinian demand,” neither of which I’ve ever actually done—Troy, like the Israeli government, chooses to ignore that which is visible to anyone who cares to look. It’s an unfortunate fact that when given a chance to talk to the U.N. about its settlement project, Israel did what it regularly does: it refused. And then, when a report came out anyway, Israel did what it regularly does next: it declared to the world that the people to whom it had refused to talk were one-sided.

This is part and parcel of a larger refusal, shared by many Israelis and supporters of Israeli policy, to look at and grapple with facts that make us look bad—facts like the those laid out by the U.N. in the settlements report (facts which, again, were all public knowledge before they were gathered into one place, many of them first revealed by Israelis, and in at least one case, by a current government minister).

But there are other facts that are routinely ignored in the constant drumbeat to say that the territories are “disputed” rather than under military occupation and that applications of international law to Israel are acts of hostility or possibly anti-Semitism.

One rarely hears, for instance, that in September of 1967, Theodore Meron, legal counsel to Israel’s own Foreign Ministry, found that

civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

One rarely hears that the US government expressed unequivocal opposition to settlements as far back as 1968 and that the State Department held that settlements are “inconsistent with international law” as far back as 1979.

Another thing one rarely hears is an honest assessment of Palestinian reality. Whatever bias that anyone on earth may or may not have toward Israel, none of it changes the actual, documented, plain-as-day facts of state violence and discrimination toward the millions of Palestinians over whom Israel rules and who have no say in that rule.

There is a sense among many that in order to be judged ‘fair,’ any and all critique of Israel policy must devote a magical number of words to acknowledging that the Palestinian leadership has always been a party to the conflict, that the Palestinian people are not themselves angels on high, that terrorism is a horrifying thing, and that Jews have rights too, you know.

Those things are true, and they have been said over and over and over for 46 years, by Americans and Europeans and Israelis and even plenty of Palestinians (while we’re at it)—and their truth in no way mitigates the horrors of the occupation or the wildly disproportionate power that the state of Israel holds over the stateless Palestinians it has occupied since 1967. If I regularly give these truths but one or two sentences in a 500- or 800-word blog post, it’s because what needs to be heard is not the widely recognized truth, but the truth that no one wants to talk about.

One accusation that Troy levels against me is, however, accurate: I do think that this “territorial dispute” is much simpler that the government of Israel wants the world to believe it to be. Because it actually is.

There are two peoples. The land between the river and the sea belongs to both of us. We have been waging a war of competing nationalisms for close to a century, and to the extent that either side has won (in that it has established a durable state) that side is Israel. Both peoples continue to behave as if we are still at war, because we are, which means that both sides continue to behave badly—but only one side has an actual army and the single most powerful country on earth at its side. Only one side physically and literally controls the lives of the other. Only one side is in a position to continuously take land from the other in an open and widely acknowledged effort to create “new facts on the ground.”

Legal or not, disputed or not, Jewish history and our own grievous wounds do not make Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands right. Palestinian actions do not remove from our shoulders the responsibility for our own, nor do they change the actual, lived facts of the actual human beings under Israel’s military rule.

Moreover, I’m not entirely certain what UN document Troy read, because he writes that

A report highlighting the real problems, such as anti-Palestinian violence, illegal land seizures, and unfair bureaucratic obstacles to Palestinian building would have been much more effective.

That’s exactly what the report did. It can be read in its entirety here.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

On HuffPost Live about the UN settlements report.

I’m happy to say that I was able to appear on HuffPost Live again, this time to discuss the UN settlements report about which I wrote, below. If you’d like to watch the segment, you can click here; if you’re my mom, I start at roughly the 3 minute mark. There’s a lot of agreement and pessimism. Alas.

The UN settlement report: just the facts.

un_logo11There’s something bracing to official Israel’s decades-long insistence that it will reject the world’s reality and substitute its own.

On Thursday the United Nations published a report regarding Israeli settlement policy, a report that revealed nothing that wasn’t already public knowledge—indeed, much of the information was first brought to light by Israelis. At the end of its report, the U.N. calls on Israel to do something to which Israel in fact committed a full decade ago: “Cease all settlement activities without preconditions.” If you don’t remember that the Government of Israel [GOI] committed itself to precisely that back in 2003—in an agreement also signed by the Bush Administration, the EU, the U.N., and Russia—let me remind you:

GOI immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements). [parenthetical in original]

This was in a little document called the Road Map to Peace. It was signed by the godfather of the settlements, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the commitments of neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority were to be contingent on compliance by the other party.

Of course, history shows that Sharon began to undermine the commitment he’d made well before the ink on it had dried; history also shows that in the intervening 10 years, the settler population has grown by well more than 100,000. So you know: commitment, schmommitment.

Moreover: facts, schmacts.

The meat of the report—the text itself, minus cover page, contents, etc—is 19 pages long. Nineteen pages of unassailable, concentrated truth.

In those pages, you’ll find land and water theft perpetrated by both settlers and the state; you’ll find Palestinian children detained and held in prisons inside Israel; you’ll find settlers who rain violence down on Palestinians with impunity; you’ll find systematic “dispossession, evictions, demolitions, & displacement”; you’ll find that

the legal regime of segregation operating in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] has enabled the establishment  and the consolidation of the settlements through the creation of the privileged legal space for settlements and settlers. It results in daily violations of a multitude of the human rights of the Palestinians in the OPT, including incontrovertibly violating their rights to non-discrimination, equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

You’ll find Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz saying on Israeli radio, just this past November, that

we’ve doubled the budget for Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. We did this in a low-profile manner, because we didn’t want parties either in Israel or abroad to thwart the move.

The Israeli government and the settler movement know exactly what they’re doing. They know that, as the U.N. reports, 94 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits have been rejected in the last 20 years. They know that “in the event of a water shortage, valves supplying Palestinian communities are turned off”; they likewise know that “this does not happen for settlements.” They know that the identities of settlers who attack and intimidate Palestinians are known to authorities, and they know that more than 90 percent of criminal complaints brought by Palestinians against settlers are closed without indictments being served. They know that the U.N. is telling the truth.

So, as one, they stick their collective fingers in their collective ears and sing “la la la” very loudly. They say that the report is “counterproductive and unfortunate” and serves merely as evidence of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s “systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel.” They refuse to cooperate with the U.N. on compiling the report (thus also failing to allow themselves the opportunity to respond to its findings). And they accuse you of being anti-Israel (read: anti-Semitic) if you don’t agree.

And yes: The U.N. has made rather a habit of looking at Israel’s human rights abuses very closely while often ignoring those of other countries.

And yet: Our abuses and perfidies do not magically become something else as a result.

The only way to be comfortable with the information held in this report, with commitments made and commitments broken, with walls built and lives broken, is if we fully accept the idea that the Jewish people’s past in Judea and Samaria is more binding on us than international law, and that moreover, Jewish lives are somehow more special than anyone else’s.

Whatever explanation there may be for any one story, any one incident, any one abuse, there’s simply no way to explain away the entire corpus of Israeli actions in the occupied territories—not security needs, not anti-Semitism, not structural maltreatment. The abuse is what it is. It’s just the truth.

Ever since 1967, the supporters of Israel’s settlement project have worked mightily to reject the reality all around them, even while trying to build a reality more amenable to their ideology and vision for the future. To a certain, frightening extent, they’ve succeeded.

But not completely: Israel will never be able to make the occupation genuinely moral, just, or right, and it will never be able to wish away the consequences it is having in the blood and bone of millions of people who live the occupation’s reality every day.

And keeping a low-profile can’t change any of that.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

The one book you need to read: The Unmaking of Israel – Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg

I am late to this, but The Unmaking of Israel (published 2011) is that one book that you need to read on Israel, if you read no others.

And if you read others, you should still put Unmaking at the top of the pile.

And if you read nothingnothing else?

At least read the first chapter. It’s only 14 pages, and it’s a brilliant little précis of the book’s entire argument.

Plus the book’s short, and honed razor-sharp, and a pleasure to read, to boot. (And look! It’s only $10.94 on Amazon!)

Gorenberg is an American-Israeli like myself, except he stayed. He’s been there for more than 30 years, is Orthodox, lives in Jerusalem, and he’s a very, very good writer — I often recommend his short-form work, and over on the right you’ll see a link to his blog, South Jerusalem. Before I go any further, though, a caveat: I agree with virtually every single word in Unmaking, and the only reason I say “virtually” is because I’m sure there’s some small point that I would have handled differently, because surely there has to be. I just can’t remember which one, just now.

So it’s possible that part of why I recommend this book so highly is simply because it is such a relief to read something that to me feels like the very finest of common sense. But even so, having gotten that out of the way: It’s a great book, with an excellent summary of Israeli history that manages the supposedly impossible task of respecting the Palestinian narrative as well right in that first chapter, and you really should read it.

Gorenberg’s bottom-line point is this: The settlements, and everything that led up to and is flowing from the settlements, is pulling apart the positive good that is Israel, and has been so doing since 1967 — and it’s not just Israel that’s suffering, but Judaism itself.

The trends I’ve introduced here did not grow out of one carefully premeditated policy. Some resulted from ignoring commonsense warnings about long-term rule of another people. Some are the completely unintended consequences of seemingly safe decisions, or of choices made to solve immediate problems. Many are the product of continuing to sanctify values that made sense before 1948, when Jews were seeking self-determination — and that make no sense in an independent state.

There’s an essential chapter about the utter lawlessness of the entire settlement enterprise — even by Israeli legal standards – and Gorenberg very clearly lays out the dangers of allowing a particular ideological group rise to the top of the military in a democratic state (especially when that group openly opposes government policy), as well as the danger in fostering the flowering of an entire sub-society, the ultra-Orthodox, that rejects the secular state, contributes nothing to it and consciously fails to prepare its children to ever contribute to it, all while depending on that state for its livelihood.

In his concluding chapter, Gorenberg writes:

For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes. First, it must end the settlement enterprise, end the occupation, and find a peaceful way to partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Second, it must divorce state and synagogue — freeing the state from clericalism, and religion from the state. Third and most basically, it must graduate from being an ethnic movement to being a democratic state in which all citizens enjoy equality.

As someone who focuses almost exclusively on Gorenberg’s three-part #1, I must say I got a little bit of a frisson in my Israel-loving heart when I realized that hey now, he’s about to say that ending the occupation/settlements is not the be-all, end-all! Because of course it’s not. It’s the first, prerequisite step, but then there are these other messes that we’ll have to clean up.

In those final pages, Gorenberg presents a very, very reasonable plan (a series of very, very reasonable plans) to essentially save Israel from itself, and perhaps the greatest disagreement we have is in tone — merely by laying these things out, Gorenberg suggests their possibility, and I have become so disheartened that I have a hard time believing anymore in those possibilities. I would venture that Gorenberg probably has his bad days, too, though.

And even if it never happens, I believe there’s value in marking the place and saying “This is what might have been.”

At any rate: If you read nothing else about Israel, read Gershom Corenberg’s The Unmaking of Israel.

(And happy new year!)

Israeli forces raid Ramallah NGOs.

If you are ever tempted, at any moment, to think of the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign government, the relationship between it and Israel as that of equals, and the Israeli occupation as anything less than complete, consider the following news story:

Israeli forces raided three civil society organizations in Ramallah early Tuesday…. Soldiers raided the offices of the Agricultural Work Committees, prisoners group Addameer, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, located in Qaddura refugee camp.

Four laptops, one hard disk and a video camera were taken from Addameer’s office, a statement from the group said.

…Israeli forces confiscated files and computer hardware from the women’s committee before ransacking the office, witnesses said.

During the raid, clashes broke out with local youths and Israeli soldiers, who responded by firing tear gas.

Military forces also raided the offices of the Palestinian NGO Network.

…An Israeli army spokesman said that “overnight IDF soldiers searched several offices in Ramallah which are affiliated with the Popular Front terrorist organization.”

In February, Israeli forces raided two Palestinian television networks in Ramallah and briefly detained four employees, journalists said.

Ramallah is the administrative heart of the Palestinian Authority. It is the city in which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has his offices, where his cabinet meets, and where diplomats travel to discuss the possibility of reviving the moribund peace process.

And in the wee hours of the morning, under cover of darkness, Israeli forces raided the offices of four different non-profits with possible ties to an organization which Israel doesn’t like—raids similar to those the military conducted in May of this year, and as today’s report indicates, in February as well.

Last month, President Obama said that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” And he was right.

But apparently the people living in the Palestinian Authority are supposed to tolerate incursions by a foreign army in the very city that houses their government.

You know, just like Israelis would tolerate a raid by the Palestinian Authority’s security forces on Jerusalem.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

On the Palestinian olive harvest and the Talmud.

Olive tree on the West Bank with several branches hacked off.

The problem with trying to convey the full reality of the occupation for Palestinians is that the occupation is such a vast and unwieldy thing.

There’s a natural tendency to focus on the most dramatic details, and in particular the bloody ones, but those details reflect only a part of the staggering whole. The extent of the occupation is sprawling, its bureaucracy Byzantine, and it keeps every aspect of life, both public and private, at the hands of both the State of Israel and Israel’s citizens. There is no moment, no place in a Palestinian’s life, that is in any meaningful sense free of the occupation’s influence.

Which brings me to Palestinian olive groves.

Last Saturday, as reported by Alon Aviram in +972,

Israeli Border Police declared an area belonging to [the West Bank village of] Susya al-Qadima a closed military zone, effective immediately. An officer waved papers at us and stated that he was legally warranted to force everyone out of the valley. We noticed that the orders were outdated, unsigned, and dictated that only Israelis were prohibited from entering the specified site. This did not stop the temporary expulsion of Palestinian locals.

This happens to Palestinian farmers of all stripes frequently, and entirely randomly—they arrive ready to work their land, only to be told that they are not allowed to so much as step on it. The olive season began on October 6 and in the harvest’s first 18 days, hundreds of farmers had been denied access, or given only very limited access, to olive groves “located behind the Barrier or near settlements.” But even having access is not a guarantee of being able to get the work done: On October 9, Aviram reported, soldiers fired tear gas at harvesters who got “too close to” the chain link fence separating them from the settlement of Adora.

Haaretz reported on October 13 that the Palestinian Authority had, in fact, made arrangements with the IDF for olive farmers to work their settlement-adjacent fields for specified periods of time, under military protection from settler violence, but each village was only given “up to” three days for their harvest, and thus

even though the harvest has only just begun, it is already clear that the limits mean many villagers will not be able to finish the harvests in the areas near the settlements. In some cases, when Palestinian farmers did try to reach their groves they were driven off by settlers.

Which is not surprising, because while the IDF was busy coordinating which days of which week farmers would be allowed onto their own land in order to earn their livelihood, settlers were vandalizing or destroying close to 1,000 trees in the first three weeks of October alone. All told, in the course of 2012 to date, settlers have damaged or killed about 7,500 olive trees.

Why do violent settlers attack trees? Because while they’re violent, they’re not stupid.

Of most immediate urgency is the fact that some 80,000 West Bank families depend on the harvest as their main source of income. Beyond that, however, the cultivation of olive groves reaches back centuries, and trees typically live for 200 years or more. Thus, the olive tree also serves as a potent symbol of Palestinian steadfastness, and the links between generations—as Honi HaMa’agal teaches us regarding his own tree planting in the Talmud: “I found a fruitful world, because my forebears planted for me. Thus I shall do for my children.”

And so, in destroying olive trees, settlers are not only making it as hard as they can for farmers to feed their families, they’re also mocking Palestinian pretensions to belonging to their home.

Declaring victory, and wiping away generations of effort, with one swing of an axe. Or one outdated and unsigned military order.

That’s what the occupation looks like.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Do you understand the charges against you?

Israel’s two official languages – really rather different! – followed by English.

Amira Hass reported in Haaretz on Wednesday that Israel’s military “May Re-Instate Arabic Translations in West Bank Courts,” a headline that forcibly reminded me of just how pervasive the repression of the occupation is, how daily its stumbling blocks and humiliations, and how easy it is to not know very much about it at all.

I had no idea. I write about Israel/Palestine all the time, and read about it even more frequently, but I had no idea that Palestinians tried in Israel’s military courts do not have access to court materials in their own tongue. It would never have crossed my mind that Israel—a country in which Arabic happens to be one of the two official state languages—would do such a thing.

Yet, as it turns out, four Palestinian attorneys have petitioned the military and

[t]he IDF is willing to resume its one-time habit of translating into Arabic the indictments it submits to military courts in the West Bank, but insists there is no need or duty to translate other documents, such as verdicts or court transcripts.

…At present, all documents handed to the prosecution and defense are in Hebrew. Simultaneous translators are still present at the courts, but their duties include other tasks such as maintaining silence and order in the courts, making sure there are security guards, preventing people from entering or leaving the court during trials and helping the judge control the proceedings.

Which is to say: Since the mid-1990s, Palestinians who stand accused by the State of Israel haven’t had the luxury of being able to read the charges against them, and if Israel’s military has its way, will never be able to read their own verdicts. This in courts established exclusively to try people whose mother tongue is Arabic, courts in which prosecutors and judge are fluent in the language of the military authority that rules defendants’ lives, but defendants often are not.

It’s true, of course, that most adult Palestinians can speak at least pidgin Hebrew, and Palestinian attorneys have to be able to negotiate spoken and written Hebrew every day of their professional lives. This is part and parcel of being an occupied people.

And that’s probably why, in its response to the petition, Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office insisted that

the petitioners failed to establish their claim that the right to due process was damaged by the fact that the documents were not translated, and that international law does not necessitate translating all documents. [The State Prosecutor’s Office] also said that the fact that the documents were not translated for years “did not harm the fairness of the legal processes that took place.”

Yet I don’t need it to be enshrined in international law to know that any legal system constituted in such as way as to prevent every single one of its accused from reading his or her own court documents in his or her own native tongue is neither fair, nor morally tenable.

But then again, in a court system in which nearly 100% of cases end in conviction, I should not, perhaps, be surprised. Conventional wisdom in Israel—on all levels of society, from cafes to government offices—is that a Palestinian arrested is a Palestinian guilty. Surely the Palestinians know that already, whether or not they can read the paperwork.

That’s how occupation works.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

The Hebrew I love, the Hebrew I fear.

One of the things I miss most about living in Israel is living my life in Hebrew.

I love Hebrew (probably even more than I love English, even though English is the language in which I write) in no small part because I had to take it on and grapple with it and make it my own. I love the almost algebraic sense of Hebrew grammar. I love the shadows and echoes of the ancient past running through 21st century mouths. I love the word-play. I love the sound and shape of Hebrew in song and conversation.

Which is why I identified so strongly with an opinion piece in last Wednesday’s HaAretz by Michael Sfard, the legal counsel for Breaking the Silence and a variety of other Israeli human rights organizations:

We are now marking the 45th anniversary of the largest national project in our young country’s history: the suppression of millions of peoples’ longing for independence and freedom.

…We have established a monstrous bureaucratic entity that purports to manage almost every aspect of the lives of millions of people living under our occupation. Toward this end, the Hebrew language has also been mobilized by decree of national emergency. It has been tasked with providing a soothing, anesthetizing name for the entire project of suffocation, for the blanket system of theft we have imposed on those we occupy.

Hebrew has risen to the challenge, showing the creativity and flexibility of a language that has been called to duty. Thus extrajudicial executions have become “targeted assassinations.” Torture has been dubbed “moderate physical pressure”. Expulsion to Gaza has been renamed “assigning a place of residence.” The theft of privately owned land has become “declaring the land state-owned.” Collective punishment is “leveraging civilians”; and collective punishment by blockade is a “siege,” “closure” or “separation.”

This is how we have translated the abominable things we have done over the past 45 years, and are still doing, into an indecent assault on one of Zionism’s most beautiful and successful projects: the revival of the Hebrew language.

This is the language we have chosen to describe our malignant presence in the occupied territories. A language that is deceptive and misleading, that diverts moral questions to the realm of bureaucratic technicalities. It deliberately conceals the human essence of things.

I’m American-born, and a child of the Watergate era – I grew up knowing that words don’t always means what we’re told they mean. No one who pays any attention to politics anywhere on the globe can claim surprise when a national language is pressed into service for ignoble ends.

But hearing the lies and half-truths and daily dehumanizations to which we have become so accustomed in Hebrew is still wrenching. As Sfard put it, the revival of our national tongue is “one of Zionism’s most beautiful and successful projects.” It’s the language I pray in. It’s the language I love.

But “Occupation Hebrew is made of plastic,” as Sfard writes.

It masks the violence at its foundation just as a boneless chicken cutlet, cleaned and coated in bread crumbs, reveals nothing about the slaughter that brought it to our plate.

I do not miss that Hebrew. And yet it makes its way across in the ocean, providing the scaffolding for news stories and government statements, as damaging and damning here as it is in the place it was born, continuing the unholy project for which it was created: “The suppression of millions of peoples’ longing for independence and freedom.”

New Proof Gaza’s Still Occupied

Today in Good News for Emily: I’m going to be posting more frequently at Open Zion – starting today!

In addition to my every-other-week column that’s meant to be somewhat op/ed-y, I’ll be doing the occasional quick hit that’s more typical of blogs. Today I pivoted off a small story in Ma’an News (a Palestinian news agency) about the fact that Israel has allowed the first export of clothes from Gaza in about five years:

Here’s a small story out of Gaza, one not likely to get picked up much in the Western press but which speaks volumes about the nature of Israel’s continuing control over life in Gaza, despite the 2005 withdrawal:

Israel allowed on Monday the export of Palestinian-made clothes from the Gaza Strip for the first time in at least five years, a Palestinian official said.

Raed Fattouh, who coordinates supplies into Gaza, said a truck carrying 2,000 pieces of mainly woolen garments were exported through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing towards an Israeli seaport en route to Britain….

(Because, you know. Keeping Gazans from exporting clothes isn’t at all like collective punishment. Not even a little bit).

To read the rest, as per the yoozh, please click here!

PS I’m hoping to get a real post up on this here blog at some point today. Fingers crossed!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,019 other followers