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.”

Handing the Western Wall to the Judaizers.

Quick, if you’re a settler-dominated government uninterested in sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinian people, what’s a good way to telegraph your position without raising a ruckus?

Well, one good way would be to turn over a sizable portion of Judaism’s holiest site to the management of a maximalist settler group — which is precisely what Israel’s government is about to do.

…Elad is best known, perhaps, for its management of the City of David (Ir David) archeological excavations, which it has turned into a right-wing propaganda center, eliding Palestinian history in the city, ignoring findings that don’t support a Jewish-only narrative, and in the process of expanding its work, damaging (or simply claiming) the property of Palestinians living in the surrounding neighborhood, Silwan.

Elad is also known for its aggressive efforts to settle — or, in its own words, to Judaize — Silwan, a Palestinian village that got tacked on to the modern municipality of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967, part of a massive annexation that engulfed 64 square kilometers of Palestinian lands and more than tripling Jerusalem in size.

This appeared last week in The Forward — to read more, please click here

Moar catching up: Haaretz & The Forward.

Ok, so I didn’t link to last week’s piece for Haaretz and now it’s nearly not even this week anymore! And in the meantime there’s been another Forward piece. I’m not a very serious wonk, am I.

Ok – to the words!

Why we must raise the alarm about settler violence

It’s easy to know nothing about events that disturb us. We talk a lot about how technology allows the siloing of information, but it’s always been easy to skip bad news. How hard is it to turn off the radio?

I would even argue that to a certain degree, our capacity for ignorance is a gift, because immersing ourselves in the news is often to immerse oneself in despair – and despair can be debilitating.

But much as ignorance can be a gift, we must also be honest about its costs. Ignorance that has calcified, that serves as a wall rather than an occasional reprieve, is treacherous, particularly if we value democracy. When the disturbing events touch what we hold dear, ignorance takes from our hands the ability to respond usefully and play an active role in protecting democracy’s future.

In Israel and among those who care deeply about the Jewish state, one of the most endemic forms of political ignorance concerns the settlements and their residents.

to read more, please click through to Haaretz.

Why Are We Ignoring Palestinian Nonviolence?

The Jewish and Israeli press is quick to report any and all Palestinian violence against any Jew, anywhere. Which makes sense, of course. Israelis and Palestinians are at war, Jews everywhere have a dog in the fight, violence is deplorable, et cetera and so on.

But, by contrast, there’s a marked reticence to report on events that show Palestinians actively engaged in nonviolent forms of protest, like last week’s little-noted “protest village,” Ein Hijleh, established by hundreds of activists to protest Israeli annexation plans in the Jordan Valley. This reticence speaks volumes. Really inconvenient and uncomfortable volumes.

The Jewish and Israeli narratives — the way we talk about who we are and why we’re here (and though they run parallel, these narratives are not the same) — are, like any other cultural narrative, heavy on self-promotion. Jews share a deep and disturbing history of anti-Jewish violence and hate, and we often tell ourselves that this is the only part of our story that matters when we’re looking out into the world. This is the part that tells us everything we need to know.

In this light, our enemies can only be unjustified in their hate; the use of violence defines them and reveals their truest selves; anything else is aberration and cannot be trusted.

to read more, please click through to The Forward.

On Ariel Sharon and Gaza.

The Gaza Strip.

The Gaza Strip.

UPDATE 1/12/14: Haaretz ran a report today suggesting that newly revealed documents show that Sharon was already thinking about further territorial concessions in the West Bank at the time of his death. I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions the writer draws, and will blog about it sometime this week, but I thought I should link to the report in the meantime — to read it, click here. [h/t and thanks to Brent Sasely]

News came out of Israel last week that the health of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (who has been in a coma since January 2006) had begun to deteriorate; it’s been reported in the past few hours that he’s now in critical condition. It really is just a matter of time before the media will have to start publishing obituaries — and if they’re anything like last week’s proto-obituaries, it’s a good bet most will get the story of Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza wrong.

So before that happens, a few quick notes.

The way this story is generally told is some version of the following: “Ariel Sharon, a hawkish former general known throughout Israel as ‘the father of the settlements,’ surprised the world when he left the rightwing Likud to form a centrist party, Kadima, and took the difficult if pragmatic decision to withdraw Israel’s military from the Gaza Strip in 2005, despite fierce backlash among his once fervent supporters.”

The reason this version of the story is inaccurate is because it is incomplete.

The decision to withdraw from Gaza was fiercely contested, it did come as a surprise, and it was pragmatic — but not because Sharon had become somehow less hawkish. It was pragmatic precisely because Sharon was still a hawk, and he had understood that he had to lose Gaza in order to save the West Bank.

As former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies Yossi Alpher pointed out soon after Sharon announced his plan to pull out of Gaza, “the advent of the Geneva Initiative and the frenzied response of the Israeli right – with every senior political figure espousing his or her new plan, and most advocating disengagement – precipitated this development.”

One characteristic of Sharon’s approach has not changed at all: He did not present a realistic strategy for peace. First he “hijacked” the [security] barrier and distorted it by transforming it from a legitimate means of self-defense into a political tactic for creating a Palestinian bantustan. Now he has hijacked the idea of disengagement and the dismantling of settlements – which was originally intended by the left to rescue Israel demographically… and seeks to reconstitute it as a rationale for fencing in the Palestinians and grabbing the rest of the West Bank.

Alpher’s reference to the Geneva Initiative is the key element here. The Initiative (also frequently called “the Geneva Accord”) is a draft plan for a two-state peace along the 1967 borders with a shared Jerusalem. Launched by a group of Israeli and Palestinian thought leaders in October 2003, the ideas represented by the Initiative quickly gained significant support among the Israeli public — by the summer of 2004, that support had reached as high as 76%.

Sharon had seen the writing on the wall, and knew full well that a two-state peace meant the loss of the West Bank and an end to any notion of Greater Israel. Always a very savvy politician, he grabbed some of the Intiative’s ideas and vocabulary in order to stem the tide.

Or, in the words of his close adviser, Dov Weissglas, in October 2004:

The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians.

…The American term is to park conveniently. The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians. There is a decision here to do the minimum possible in order to maintain our political situation. The decision is proving itself…. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote. It places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. 

The “disengagement” also included a withdrawal from four small Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, which Weissglas described thus:

The withdrawal in [the West Bank] is a token one. We agreed to only so it wouldn’t be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza.

…Arik [Sharon] doesn’t see Gaza today as an area of national interest. He does see Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] as an area of national interest. He thinks rightly that we are still very very far from the time when we will be able to reach final-status settlements in Judea and Samaria.

And finally, it’s very important to remember that Sharon refused to actually negotiate the pull-back with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, insisting instead that the withdrawal be unilateral — which in turn meant that two-state minded Palestinians had nothing to show for a decade of negotiations, and Hamas, which during the same decade had waged a brutal terrorist campaign, was able to claim victory.

The withdrawal from Gaza was a unilateral act intended to freeze out the Palestinian leadership and put the peace process itself on ice, so that Israel could deepen its hold on the West Bank.

And guess what? It worked.

Israel’s Defense Minister calls settler attacks on Palestinians “terrorism” – some context.

On Wednesday Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, termed attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians “terrorism.”

The unacceptable trend known as ‘price tag’ is in my opinion terror in every sense of the word, and we are acting and will act against the perpetrators, firmly and with zero tolerance, in order to eradicate it.

price tagThis is a perfectly accurate description (acts of terrorism being violent acts intended to achieve political ends), and it is particularly interesting given that in the summer, the cabinet in which Yaalon serves took a vote and decided that price tag attacks are not terrorism. The fact that Yaalon is a staunch member of the Likud’s right flank (bearing in mind that the Likud is the core of Israel’s right to begin with) makes his comment more interesting still.

It’s important to remember a few pieces of context, however, starting with the rift within Israel’s far right, which runs largely along generational lines.

The settler movement’s failed efforts to halt Israel’s  2005 withdrawal from Gaza led to marked upheaval in the ranks, with many in the younger generation feeling they had been failed by leaders who’d tried to woo the rest of Israel to their cause, rather than go head-to-head with the government. While Jewish terrorism is not new, the “price tag” phenomenon was a direct response to the failure in Gaza — it’s meant to extract a “price” for government actions with which especially extremist settlers disagree (to learn more about that, click here).

I don’t know this for a fact but I suspect there’s an element of this internal, generational tension at play when Yaalon scolds his movement’s young hotheads. Note also that all of this comes in response to a group of settler vigilantes being caught, detained and beaten on Tuesday by the Palestinians in whose village they were trespassing — and a member of Yaalon’s own party, the even-farther-right Moshe Feiglin, is blaming Yaalon for the treatment afforded the vigilantes.

Furthermore, it’s very important to note Yaalon’s next sentence: “[Price tag terrorism] is a stain on Israel and it undermines the settlement enterprise.” [emphasis mine] Yaalon’s primary concern is and remains the settlement enterprise.

(I’ll digress for a moment to say that while I understand the Palestinians’ actions on Tuesday, that’s still no excuse for the violence. They might have reasonably restrained the settlers, given that heretofore the Israeli military has never taken real action against the price tag phenomenon [never], but the vigilantes should not have been beaten. I will also note that if Israel starts to actually treat settler violence as terrorism because the Defense Minister himself is mad, I’ll be only too happy. But I’ll also be surprised).

And finally: It’s also important to remember that, like many on Israel’s right, Yaalon is, himself, an inciter to hatred and violence. I’m sure he would disagree with that assessment, but bear in mind that he once called Israel’s left “a virus” (a comment that he tried to walk back with a classic non-apology apology) and while still serving in the military he was given to saying that “the politicians brought the dove of peace and the army had to clean up after it.” He once said that Israel should cut off Gaza’s “electricity, water… fruit, vegetables, [and] cash,” adding “we’ve become accustomed to Arabs being allowed to live everywhere… [but] there are areas forbidden to Jews. We’ve ended that.” He maintains that there’s no difference between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (a man who has publicly supported a two-state solution since 1977, well before Israel did) and Hamas, and just last month told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders working together to promote a two-state peace: “Don’t delude yourselves. We don’t have a partner on the Palestinian side for a two-state solution,” adding that John Kerry’s current proposal

is bad and will destroy the economy, apropos talk of boycotts. If we lose freedom of military action, the West Bank will turn into Hamastan, missiles will be fired at Tel Aviv and the economy will be destroyed.

So what I’m hearing is not “My God, I never noticed before, but this is terrorism!” but rather: “Violence is and will always remain necessary, but only the people in power should decide how and where it’s used.” This is not entirely unlike members of the GOP’s right wing being shocked — shocked — to discover that anyone in the Tea Party would take their words as an encouragement to violence.

And so: Yes. It is good that one of the highest ranking members of Israel’s government has used the T word to describe the violence of Jewish settlers. It’s important that linguistic taboos be broken, and this may yet prove an important moment in Israeli political culture.

But remember the source, and don’t misunderstand or overstate his aims.

 

 

Why are Israelis tone deaf to incitement against Palestinians?

kahane posterThe Prime Minister of Israel has been known to angrily decry anti-Israel incitement among Palestinians, and he is right to do so. If there’s ever to be peace between the two nations, it will have to consist of more than negotiating terms and signing papers—the people involved will have to learn to see and treat each other as human beings, or the paperwork won’t last.

What, then, are we to make of two stories of incitement that came out of Israel just this week?

The first, reported by +972, reveals that posters lauding Meir Kahane have been appearing on the walls of Israeli military outposts. Meir Kahane was not only a racist ideologue of the worst stripe, he actively encouraged anti-Palestinian violence. Baruch Goldstein, the settler who massacred 29 praying Palestinians, was a member of Kahane’s Kach Movement; both the Israeli and American governments have designated Kach and its successor movements as terrorist organizations. The posters in question read “Kahane was right”; in one photo, a uniformed soldier can be seen casually leaning back against Kahane’s headshot, rifle in hand.

The second story emerged from an interview that Yediot Aharonot conducted with Israeli celebrity/fashionista Nicole Raidman.

Raidman told Yediot that she’s planning a new home in a small community on the Israeli border with Gaza, a house that will feature green construction and solar energy. Asked by the reporter what she plans to do there, Raidman responded:

I’ll sit on the roof with my daughter and an AK-47 and play Angry Birds: There’s an Arab! Shoot! More than that: I’ll buy a pink tank with Swarovski crystals. I’m a right-wing extremist because a friend of mine was killed in an attack when I was a girl, okay?

Fantasizing about randomly killing Palestinians with one’s daughter, a tricked-out tank at your side, is bad enough, as far as these things go. As to Raidman’s justification for her attitude, I’m sure that the Israelis involved with the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum might have a different idea as to what she might do with her grief, but heaven knows Nicole Raidman isn’t the first person to respond to violence with revenge fantasies.

But then Raidman goes on to reveal just how blind she is to the implications of what she’s saying, shedding light not just on her own inner workings, but also on the enormous cognitive dissonance that exists for so many in Israeli Jewish society.

When the reporter asks her to clarify, Raidman helpfully adds: “I just mean terrorists”—and then, when told “but not all Arabs are terrorists,” replies:

I agree. I have Arab customers. One customer from Ramallah spends millions. What do I care. But their way of thinking, the way they raise their children with hate towards us, I can’t stand it. But if I see a 10 year old with a huge gun [totach —literally: cannon], I’ll shoot him!

Note that Raidman’s daughter—the child she is raising, educating, and wants to take up to the roof with an AK-47—was born in 2010. I can only imagine what Israeli officials would say if a Palestinian celebrity said anything similar.

This inability to see that something’s broken when a government can complain about incitement but isn’t much bothered by Kahane, or that cultivating murderous loathing among children is indefensible on either side of the border, is a kind of blindness that plagues Israeli Jewish society and shapes its relationship with all the Arab peoples among which it lives. And lest you be tempted to bring up textbooks: Sure, Palestinian textbooks have issues with hate-and-fear-mongering—and Israeli textbooks do, too.

Like any people, we Israelis tend to see our side’s flaws as unremarkable, and the other’s as unforgivable. We tell ourselves that a few posters don’t mean anything; that neither Raidman nor her toddler will be hauling a Kalashnikov up to the roof anytime soon. That our textbooks tell the truth.

When people kill each other for decades, though, the hate and the fear tend to flow both ways. Whether or not we want to talk about it, there exists mounds and mounds of evidence that Israelis are just as capable of hate and fear as anybody else.

Consider this: After hearing his interviewee fantasize about killing 10 year olds,Yediot’s reporter blithely changed the subject back to fashion. Violent xenophobia and bigotry are just part of the conversation.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Rick Perry announces Texas A&M campus in Nazareth.

TexasAMLogo1Former-and-current U.S. Presidential hopeful Rick Perry went to Israel this week to burnish his pro-Israel bona fides in advance of the 2016 campaign, and also to announce plans for Israel’s first non-Israeli institution of higher education. As The Texas Tribune reported ahead of the announcement:

On Wednesday in Jerusalem, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp are expected to announce plans to establish a Texas A&M campus in Nazareth. It will be called Texas A&M Peace University.

… “Our side of the equation is to locate and make available land, which is a scarce resource in Israel,” said [Manuel Trajtenberg, chair of Israel’s Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education].

Trajtenberg said he anticipates significant student interest. “Of course, we would appeal to potential students in the area, but also Jewish Israelis of all sorts…” he said. “I suspect there will be a strong demand for this institution from students who would prefer to study in English and are comfortable in a multicultural environment.”

Though a first for Israel, Texas A&M has maintained a presence beyond American borders since 2003, with a branch campus in Qatar. The primary difference between the Qatar and Israel campuses is funding: The Qatar institution is supported entirely by the Qatar Foundation; the Israeli branch will depend on international donors. Fundraising help will come from (among others) Chancellor John Sharp, who is Catholic and told The New York Times that he’s wanted to take this step since taking his position in 2011: “I wanted a presence in Israel… I have felt a kinship with Israel.”

Also instrumental to the plan is the Texas-based evangelical power-pastor John Hagee:

When Mr. Sharp began exploring the idea, he sought the help of John C. Hagee… who has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for projects in Israel and for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In March 2012, Pastor Hagee told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel about Mr. Sharp’s plans and helped connect Mr. Sharp and other Texas A&M officials with Israeli leaders.

…“The things we have in common with Israel are much greater than anything that would be separating us,” [Hagee said].

You remember John Hagee—he’s the guy who thinks Hitler was sent by God to “chase the Jewish people back to the land.” I don’t know if he’s listed that idea on the “things in common” or the “things that separate us” side of his ledger, but neither that opinion nor Hagee’s theology have ever kept right-wing Jews in Israel or America from using his fundraising prowess for their own ends.

All of which leads me to instinctively wrinkle my nose. The tendency among Christian Zionists (and not a few Jewish Zionists) to treat the modern nation-state of Israel as a sort of Disney version of The Promised Land is not, to put it mildly, my favorite thing. It’s a real place, with a real culture, real joys and sorrows, and not some pie-in-the-sky fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

But on the other hand, there’s this:

As many as 5,000 students will study there, officials said, with most coming from the Arab communities in and around Nazareth. Arabs make up more than 20 percent of the population of Israel, but only 11 percent of the student body in the country’s higher-education system.

…“There’s no significant academic presence in Arab towns and cities in Israel,” Mr. Trajtenberg said. “It will have a symbolic impact beyond the academic impact.”

Now, it could be argued that if Israel’s Council for Higher Education is worried about the lack of academic opportunity in Arab-Israeli municipalities, it could use some of the national budget (into which the citizens who live in those places pay their taxes)to address the issue. Waiting for foreigners to solve the problem isn’t necessarily the most responsible option.

Yet the fact is that the State of Israel has not chosen to invest in higher education in Arab-Israeli (more properly: Palestinian-Israeli) locales, and along comes Texas A&M—hardly a slouch in the higher education department. English-language instruction is a frankly deft way around the political stink that would no doubt arise if Israel dared establish an Arabic-language university, and should also provide anyone graduating with a leg up in the global marketplace. In short: Who am I to begrudge the good people of Nazareth a world-class institution?

Of course, all of this remains in the wait-and-see stage—not only have planners not yet broken ground, they haven’t even bought land; the Times reports that fundraising should begin “within weeks.” Many a grand idea has come and gone without leaving so much as a ripple.

But ultimately, I think I can only wish this project well. Given that Israel’s government has typically treated its Palestinian-Israeli citizens as little but a demographic burden (at best), Texas A&M represents the possibility of genuine improvement. Here’s to hoping it works.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Palestinian parents to be allowed to accompany children under Israeli interrogation.

This is what occupation looks like:

An Israeli judge at a Jerusalem Magistrate’s court ruled [last] Wednesday that the parents of young Palestinian detainees can attend police interrogation sessions with their children, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society said.

…Israeli police interrogate Palestinian children repeatedly without the presence of their parents and often force minors to confess to crimes using illegal methods, [Mufid al-Hajj, a lawyer with the Palestinian Prisoners Society], said.

The decision will be circulated to Israeli police stations in Jerusalem, the lawyer added.

Just in case it needs spelling out, what the foregoing means is that heretofore, Palestinian children have routinely not been allowed to have their parents with them when questioned by Israel’s security forces—and lest you think by “children,” I’m just talking about teenaged ruffians (who, it should be noted, also have a right to have their parents present when detained by police), I actually mean children as young as 12, 10, 8. Children as young as 5.

UNICEF reported last spring that

In the past 10 years, an estimated 7,000 children have been detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned within the Israeli military justice system – an average of two children each day.

…The common experience of many children is being aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation center tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear. Few children are informed of their right to legal counsel…. Children are often prevented from saying goodbye to their parents and from putting on appropriate clothing for the journey.

 The majority of children prosecuted in the military courts are charged with throwing stones…. Data based on the work of organizations providing legal support to children show that children charged with throwing stones and prosecuted in the military courts are receiving prison sentences in the range of 2 weeks to 10 months.

Occasionally the children of Israeli settlers throw rocks at Palestinians. Earlier this month, a Palestinian six year old from the village of Umm al Ara’is approached a young settler boy, his hand outstretched—the two shook hands, and as the Palestinian boy walked away, the Israeli child bent down, picked up a rock, and threw it.

So, should the settler boy have been arrested by the many armed Israeli security personnel present at the time? On the other hand, if uniformed Israelis had not been present but Palestinian security forces had, should the Palestinians have arrested the Israeli child? And if either had happened—how would the world respond?

Currently there are some 30 Palestinian minors under the age of 16 in Israeli prisons. What if they were Israelis, in Palestinian prisons?

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

What do Jews lose when rabbis feel compelled to dissemble on Israel?

Earlier this week, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) issued the findings of a study it conducted among 552 American rabbis; in its report, JCPA found that “nearly half of the rabbis in this survey hold views on Israel that they won’t share publically, many for fear of endangering their reputation and their careers.” The report goes on:

The challenge is not only to sort out their own positions on complex Israel-related issues, but also to discern how to express views that may challenge, annoy, or even distress friends and people who hold influence over their careers and livelihood. They frequently find themselves fearful of or caught in the maelstrom of tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their personal views about it.

The bima at the Falmouth Jewish Congregation in East Falmouth, Massachusetts. source

The bima at the Falmouth Jewish Congregation in East Falmouth, Massachusetts. source

About 12 percent of the rabbis defined themselves as “closet hawks,” while some 18 percent could be called closet doves; less than a quarter of the hawks were found to be “very fearful” of expressing their opinions on Israel and the conflict, while 43 percent of the doves were “very fearful.” All told, in the last three years, nearly half of those surveyed reported having refrained from expressing themselves on the topic “for fear of offending” people with whom they were engaged in conversation, or anyone who might be listening.

Yet more interesting numbers emerge from more focused questions: When asked if Israel should freeze West Bank settlement expansion, a whopping 62 percent agreed “to a great extent,” while only 10 percent said “not at all.” The reports finds “some considerable doubts” among American rabbis over the idea that Israel is more invested in the peace process than its negotiating partners, “with even a majority of rabbis from the largest denomination demurring from the idea that Israel truly wants peace more than the Palestinians.” Fully 93 percent of those surveyed said they are “very attached” to Israel, “a figure about double that found in many studies of rank-and-file American Jews.”

Speaking with Dina Kraft at Haaretz, report co-author and newly-ordained rabbi Jason Gitlin said:

I saw many of my classmates and younger colleagues come under attack or question by the broader Jewish community about how important Israel was to them and where they stood. They are among the most informed and knowledgeable people, and to not have them serve in the most honest and engaging way is a loss to the community.

It’s important to note (as the JCPA report does) that the group surveyed doesn’t constitute a fully representative sample of American rabbis, if for no other reason than that Orthodox clergy are underrepresented.  As such, the authors warn that “the nature of the sample obviates strictly generalizing to the universe of American rabbis”—and yet, anyone who’s been involved with two-state advocacy over the past twenty years will not be at all surprised by the figures, which if not strictly representative, are broadly characteristic of anecdotal evidence that’s been building for years.

Moreover, the findings are entirely resonant with the experiences of rank-and-file Jews as well, and I would argue are a major reason why so many of the rank-and-file have chosen to remove themselves from communal life, or give up on caring about Israel at all.

I agree with the report’s authors that the fact that so many rabbis feel they can’t be honest with their parishioners is “a cause of concern for a community that champions open and free discourse on key issues affecting it”—but I also worry about another facet to all of this.

I don’t know a single Jew for whom questioning the conventional wisdom on Israel is easy. The path from consensus to questions is generally fraught, and often both emotionally and spiritually challenging.

I worry that a sizeable minority of our spiritual leaders are “very fearful” of telling their own truth about the Jewish people’s national and spiritual homeland (a homeland to which 93 percent of them are very attached) not just for the sake of the rabbis themselves, but also for our own sake, as a people.

What do we lose when our clergy feels they cannot be honest with us? What do we lose when political argument pushes out spiritual practice? And who have we lost along the way—which intellectual giants, which tziddikim, how many Arnold Jacob Wolfs and Abraham Joshua Heschels—have broken down and walked away because we wouldn’t let them engage honestly with the challenges presented by seemingly endless conflict and occupation?

In short: When we force our rabbis to lie to us—what are we doing to ourselves?

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Oops: Bennett and I don’t agree. But migrants find justice in Israel’s courts.

Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett

Alas, it was too good to last. As, perhaps, we could have predicted.

On Thursday, I wrote that I rather surprisingly found myself in agreement with Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Nafatali Bennett—a far-right politician with whom I am typically at ideological loggerheads on all matters political, cultural, and religious. Bennett had launched an investigation of businesses that employ migrant workers; he was reported to have said: “We are doing right by exploited workers [working] under substandard conditions.” I suggested that this was a good start to dealing with enormous labor problems that include not just migrant workers (legal or otherwise), but also Palestinian laborers (legal or otherwise), and Israeli citizens. I even quoted Yom Kippur-specific Scripture in which the prophet Isaiah calls on us to “untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free.”

Alas.

On Sunday, writer and filmmaker David Sheen reached out to me to suggest I watch a segment about Bennett’s initiative produced by Israeli Channel Two News, in which the minister explains his motivations to both ministry employees and Channel Two’s reporter—and (sadly if unsurprisingly) his motivations are in fact entirely in-line with the government’s ongoing efforts to demonize and dehumanize African migrants (many of whom are actually refugees) and free Israel of the inconvenience of dealing with them at all (in contravention of both international law and agreements to which Israel is a signatory).

In the voice-over just before we see Bennett himself, we learn that

At the Ministry of the Economy, they believe that if employing an infiltrator costs as much as employing an Israeli, the infiltrators won’t be able to find work, and will return to Africa. [Note that “infiltrator” is the government’s official term for African migrants and refugees in or on their way to Israel, a term which in Hebrew is historically rooted in the Israeli-Arab conflict and thus trades in an existential fear]

The report then cuts to footage of Bennett himself speaking with ministry employees who we’ve been watching going from business to business with clipboards and a translator. Bennett:

Whoever knows that if he comes here, he won’t find work, because it won’t be worth anyone’s while to hire him, they’ll stop coming—which has already started to happen—but those who are already here will gradually leave.

Reporter Gilad Shalmor notes that Bennett’s comments actually contradict police recommendations that the migrants be allowed to find work as a crime preventative, and poses the question: “What happens when [the migrant] doesn’t find work—he’ll be on the street and then what?” Bennett replies:

In the very short term, there might be a certain [problem] in that regard, but in the medium and long term, the entire phenomenon will decrease.

As Open Zion has repeatedly reported, these migrants have not randomly and lazily wandered across a border in search of an easy income: These are people who have crossed literal wilderness and often survived gangs of smugglers who rape and torture them in order to escape governments that have violently oppressed them in the past and frequently threaten them with death should they ever return. Some who have been forced to return anyway have literally jumped off trucks to their deathsrather than risk their chances back “home.” I’m not sure how powerful Naftali Bennett thinks he is, but the likelihood that he will be able to put a full stop that sort of desperation—or that, indeed, visiting 160 places of business in Tel Aviv will convince all of the nation’s employers (who are, it transpires, among the worst in the Western world with regard to minimum-wage violations even when the workers are fellow citizens) to stop exploiting such a vulnerable community—seems slight.

There is some good news out of Israel regarding the African migrants, however: On Monday, the High Court ruled unanimously to overturn the government’s recently crafted policy allowing authorities to arrest and detain migrants for up to three years without a trial. As the Jerusalem Post reports:

Justice Edna Arbel said Monday that detaining the African migrants rather than making a decision about whether they should be legally deported or granted asylum, “violated their fundamental constitutional rights to human dignity [that] is the basis for Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state.”

As a result and rather suddenly, the state may have to offer permanent residence to the migrants inside 90 days.

The ruling certainly doesn’t end the desperation, or provide work or food, or even do anything about Bennett’s own attitude (which, if history is a guide, will likely harden in response to the High Court).

But it provides a real measure of justice for those who have been illegally detained, and serves as a potent reminder that many in official Israel still recognize the Jewish State’s commitment to a foundational basis of “freedom, justice and peace… [and to be] faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Even if Minister Bennett himself has forgotten.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

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