Why the prisoner release reinforces the Occupied/Occupier relationship.

I don’t always agree with Jeffrey Goldberg, and I suppose that ultimately I’m not entirely in agreement with him now, but he’s raised an important point that I believe reflects a reality underlying the entire Israeli-Palestinian relationship, one that we (and in that “we,” I’m boldly including President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry) should bear in mind as peace negotiations move forward.

On Monday, Goldberg wrote that:

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu would sooner release murderers from prison than stop building apartments on the West Bank. In traditional Zionist thought…possession of all the biblical heartland wasn’t understood to be a moral and spiritual necessity, if such possession would undermine the safety of Israelis or the moral and political standing of Israel itself.

For members of Netanyahu’s party and his broader coalition, however, the possession of these biblical lands is paramount. They have become idol worshippers, and their idol is land. How else to explain what just happened: An Israeli government decided to venerate land over justice, and over life itself.

Yes, I agree with this. I agree that Israel’s right has forged a Golden Calf out of the occupied territories, and that it is willing to sacrifice (or overlook the sacrifice of) real human lives to the cult of that idol. I also agree that there is something essentially anti-Zionist about the entire process.

But I think that there is, in fact, an additional way, an even more essential way, to explain what just happened. Netanyahu’s actions—and those of 65 years of Israeli officialdom—also reflect something much less poetic, much less Biblical, much more banal, and fundamentally much more human.

When Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, the subtext is entirely of a piece with the subtext of the whole occupation infrastructure: We control your lives. We decide who may go where, and when. We build walls, we issue permits, we arrest, we release. Your lives—down to and including your very bodies—are under our control.

On the other hand, the subtext to freezing apartment building on the West Bank is “Palestinians are allowed to help shape Israel’s future as well as their own.” Adjusting the settlement enterprise, in any way, is an acknowledgement that Palestinians have a right to say something about it in the first place, and that’s something Israeli officials are not predisposed to acknowledge.

There are a number of reasons for this, not least that acknowledging Palestinian rights threatens Israel’s hold on the West Bank. Given that Israel’s government has long done all it can to deepen the occupation, the notion that Netanyahu will loosen that grip easily is a little fanciful (witness all the hard work Kerry has put in, and still the settlements grind on). And of course, as resonant as the prisoner release is for Palestinians, as emotionally challenging as it is for Israelis, sending a few dozen people back home (murderers or no) doesn’t actually change or threaten the occupation.

But beyond that, there’s all that subtext. Official Israel has almost never been able to acknowledge that Palestinians have a right to an independent opinion on any of this. The entire relationship has always been predicated on the presumption that Israel is in the right, the Palestinians are in the wrong, and only Israel may set the parameters of discussion and the region’s future.

Consider the language that official Israel so often uses: The government will or will not “allow” the establishment of a Palestinian state, it will “grant” the Palestinians this concession or that. Veteran negotiator Uri Savir discussed this very issue in his book about the Oslo Accords, The Process:

The bureaucrats and officers who ruled the Palestinians had been asked to pass on their powers to their ‘wards.’… We had been engaged in dehumanization for so long that we really thought ourselves ‘more equal’… [Those bureaucrats and officers] tended to begin by saying ‘We have decided to allow you…’.

Israelis and Palestinians like to believe ourselves special and our conflict unique, but bottom line, this is classic Subject/Other, Occupied/Occupier behavior.

When men tell women how they may be women; when white Americans define citizenship for black Americans; when the US forcibly transferred Native American children to white schools and Japanese Americans to internment camps; when Israel threw a fit because Palestinians had the gall to use the word “state” before Israel had said they could—in all such cases, people in positions of power tell those with less power who they are and what they may do. The Subject strips the Object of agency, and then reacts very badly when the Object reclaims that which has been taken.

Releasing Palestinian prisoners reminds the Palestinian people who’s boss; freezing settlements gives them part in the project at hand. The first comes to Israel very easily—as for the latter, we’ll have to see what Secretary Kerry can do.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

The case for a less-guarded optimism.

John_Kerry_official_Secretary_of_State_portraitWe waited nearly an hour, and then it lasted for all of 16 minutes. John Kerry’s press conference with negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat was very like his shuttle diplomacy—a lot of waiting, a false beginning, and finally, one step forward, with very little information attached.

Here’s what we know: Formal negotiations will begin in the next two weeks, either in Israel or in the Palestinian territories; the parties have agreed that “all final status issues, core issues and other issues” are on the table, with the goal of ending claims against each other; the Arab League has reaffirmed its Peace Initiative, which offers an end to regional conflict in exchange for a two-state peace; the only person authorized to make statements on the process is the Secretary of State; the deadline is nine months from now.

Those last two points should make folks sit up a little straighter. One of the biggest mistakes made in the past has been to establish long, essentially open-ended timelines that allowed spoilers to do their work (whether via political maneuvering, or violence—suicide bombings, assassination, intifada, military incursions, etc), while also allowing Israel to deepen the occupation even as it sat at a go-nowhere negotiating table. One of the other biggest mistakes has been to let anyone and everyone run their mouths about it.

Violence can be carried out at any given time, but those who would maneuver and undermine need information (verifiable or wild rumor, it matters not) to do their work. They need to read tea-leaves, divine the intentions of all and sundry, and work their publics into a froth based on those efforts. By saying that the parties have agreed that he and he alone may be trusted, Kerry has nipped that in the bud. Solutions cannot be floated, threats cannot be implied, ideas cannot be run up flagpoles—and when all of that happens anyway (as all of it inevitably will), each side can point to Kerry and say: “Not us! He’s the one running the Comms office.”

So what Kerry has done is create both less space, and more space. Less space for jerking the process around for domestic consumption, more space for creativity and (dare I say it?) bold decision making. Less space in which terrible things can happen that might drain the peoples’ willingness to accept the process and its outcome, more space for the political cover anyone negotiating an end to decades of violence needs.

Then there’s the little fact that “all final status issues, core issues, and other issues” are on the table. The peace process has a history of front-loading Israel’s immediate needs while back-loading Palestinians’ long-term needs, and what winds up happening is that Israel’s security demands get met (more or less), while Palestinians are allowed to languish. By bringing everything up, right now, Kerry does an end run around that tradition, while also deftly avoiding any specifics. What about (final status issue) Jerusalem? “It’s on the table.” Has Netanyahu (core issue) agreed to ’67 borders? “On the table.” Has Abbas (other issue) agreed to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state? “Have you seen our table?”

I’ve lately taken to describing my approach to Kerry’s efforts as one of guarded pessimism. I’ve been on this merry-go-round since 1993, and there’s nothing like two decades of resounding failure to make a person lose her hope—but like Kerry himself, I believe that outright skepticism is a luxury that we can’t afford.

The Secretary of State clearly knows what he’s up against, and as a veteran of the Senate, it seems he also has some skill negotiating delicate matters among folks who loathe each other. Finally, and I know this is a small thing but it speaks volumes to me: Kerry’s actually been to Gaza. Unlike the vast majority of American leaders who bloviate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, John Kerry made the politically unpopular choice to travel across the gin the wake of Israel’s 2008/2009 Gaza War to witness what the conflict has meant, not only for Israelis, but for Palestinians, too.

John Kerry means business, and though their comments were brief, it seems that Livni and Erekat also mean business. Mahmoud Abbas has supported a two-state solution since 1977; Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to make it sound like maybe he’s not as opposed as he used to be. President Obama went out of his way this morning to make it clear that he, too, means business.

Everyone involved has their reasons for being involved, and some of those reasons are petty. The ways in which the whole thing could fall apart are myriad. History gives us very little reason to hope.

But in the wake of this morning’s press conference, my pessimism is less guarded* than it was. Let’s see what you can do, Mr. Secretary. Next April would be a lovely time to re-write the future.

*Many hours after writing this line, I realized that I’d been too clever by half — I am more guarded in my pessimism, because I am less pessimistic. And any line that requires that many mental somersaults has not been well constructed and dang if I don’t wish I’d written it differently! Alas.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Israel arrests violent settlers who attack the army. If they attack Palestinians, though? Meh.

settlers armedOn the one hand, Haaretz reported this last Tuesday: “[Israeli] Prosecutors have accused six settlers from Yitzhar of constructing a    barrier against security forces and throwing stones at police.” The paper went on to note that, in its indictment, “the Central District Prosecutor’s Office cites ‘systemic and organized conduct of a violent and extreme nature’ around the Yitzhar settlement and ‘serious violence against military and police forces and residents of the region.'”

On the other hand, Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din reported this last Wednesday:

Figures based on monitoring of the investigations in 938 files opened by the various units of the Samaria & Judea [West Bank] District Police following complaints submitted by Palestinians… show that between 2005 and 2013 just 8.5 percent of investigation files ended in the indictment of Israelis suspected of harming Palestinians and their property.…[Accusations included] damage to property; seizure of Palestinian land; and other offenses, including shooting, stone throwing, arson, the cutting down of trees, injury to livestock, theft of crops, construction on Palestinian-owned land, threats and harassment.

To a certain extent, I will admit, that this is comparing apples to oranges. Story #1 is the tale of one group of hooligans, accused of three incidences of violence; story #2 is a longitudinal study of close to 1,000 cases.

Yet it’s hard to imagine that if settlers had physically assaulted Israeli security forces 938 times in the course of eight years, only 79 of those cases would have ended in indictment (and bear in mind that it’s widely understood that many Palestinians who are attacked never even bother to bring charges).

This is one of the main reasons that most settler “price tag” attacks are directed against Palestinians—they may not like what the government is doing, but they know that physically attacking soldiers and police officers can not only result in prosecution, it might turn the general Israeli public against them. By attacking Palestinians, they make their point, make trouble for the government, and not incidentally deepen their own hold on the land by making daily Palestinian life increasingly insecure—all safe in the knowledge that it’s nearly unheard of for anyone to ever pay for their lawlessness.

Yesh Din researcher Noa Cohen issued this statement about her organization’s findings:

Despite numerous declarations of enhanced enforcement concerning attacks by Israelis on Palestinians, the figures show that in reality there has not been any change. Time after time the police fail to bring offenders to justice. The negligent investigations and low indictment rate send a clear message to offenders that the State has no interest in forcing them to end their actions. Anyone who is familiar with the situation in the Territories recognizes that Israel has abandoned its obligation to protect the Palestinian population.

Abandoned its obligation—or, as four and a half decades of experience would suggest, are choosing to allow certain acts of violence to go unchallenged, because they also further the goal of a slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the West Bank.

Put another way: When Palestinian families give in to fear and pressure and pull up stakes for Jordan or Detroit, no one in Israel’s government mourns—and when the settlers next door take over that Palestinian farm, no one in Israel’s government stops them.

Unless they throw rocks at a soldier on the way. Someone has to be in charge.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Like a leaf on the wind. Of cuteness.

Wherein a very wee cosplayer, dressed as me-in-another-‘verse, meets my-husband-in-another-‘verse, and I explode from the cute:

alan tudyk little kaylee

Brought to my attention by my gal @alisonrose711; original source; if you don’t know the reference, you’ll find your answers after the jump.


Troy Davis’s nephew got accepted to a prestigious college – but tuition is tough.


You will remember Troy Davis, executed by the State of George two years ago for a crime he did not commit. While fighting for his life and for an end to the death penalty, Troy was particularly involved with and proud of his nephew De’Jaun, and was known to regularly help De’Jaun study for tests over the phone from death row.

An excellent and dedicated student, De’Jaun was accepted to the prestigious Morehouse College (where the President spoke this past May), but his family has been beset by sorrow after sorrow in recent years (all of them also costly): A few months before Troy was executed, De’Jaun’s grandmother/Troy’s mother suddenly died; then Troy was killed; then De’Jaun’s mother/Troy’s sister Martina, long living with cancer, also died — all within about eight months.

And of course, no matter what, tuition is never easy. My friend Jen Marlowe (who produced the videos about Troy’s case for Amnesty, and has written a book about his case and his family) has organized a fundraiser for De’Jaun — if you have a few extra dollars, De’Jaun could surely use the help with his school expenses.

We couldn’t save his uncle, and we couldn’t save his mom. But maybe we can help him through school. That’s what community does. If you’re in a position to help, please click here.

Caps Lockness Monster.

caps lockness monster

Caps Lockness Monster.

h/t @helgagrace; source.

Violence in Nabi Saleh.

btselem_logoOn Friday afternoon, Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for Israeli human rights NGO B’tselem*, was hit in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet fired at close range by a member of Israel’s Border Police (technically an arm of Israel’s police force, the Border Police function as an arm of Israel’s military and are understood as such by the Palestinians they patrol).

Michaeli, a Jewish Israeli, was shot while filming in the village of Nabi Saleh, where residents regularly stage demonstrations to protest the seizure of their water spring and other village property by settlers. As B’tselem reported this past January:

From the outset, the demonstrations at Nabi Saleh have taken the form of nonviolent processions, setting out from the village center and proceeding to the spring in order to protest the unlawful takeover of village lands. The early demonstrations reached the main road that separates the village from the spring and the settlement, and there they were dispersed by the Israeli security forces.

After several demonstrations, the security forces prevented the procession from leaving the village.

When the Border Police broke up the protests in the past, village youth would sometimes respond by throwing stones, and security forces would respond in turn with an escalating variety of non-lethal and lethal weapons—but as the case of Mustafa a-Tamimi shows: Tear gas, for instance, might not be lethal, but when a tear gas canister is shot-point blank at a person’s head, it becomes very lethal, indeed. (A-Tamimi is far from the only demonstrator at whom canisters have been shot directly, as this video and this video demonstrate. The videos also demonstrate that the violence often begins on the Israeli side; the violence in the latter video likewise resulted in the death of a demonstrator).

The rock throwing has largely stopped, though, and a kind of pas de deux has developed in which a few dozen unarmed villagers march toward the main road to demand the return of their lands and are met and blocked by armed Israeli security forces, who then give chase.

Last Friday, as the work of a different videographer demonstrates, the villagers had set three tires on fire, past which ten or so Border Police marched, opening fire as they did. The Israeli forces then regrouped and ran directly at the demonstrators (who were, it might be remembered, in their own village), discharging weapons. As the video makes clear, the Israelis weren’t in danger at the time and indeed, at that point, numbered hardly less than the actual demonstrators still on the scene.

As a result of this action, Michaeli was hit—and as her video shows, Border Police continued to discharge their weapons in her direction even when she was already on the ground and receiving treatment.

It’s worth looking at a picture of her leg immediately post-injury, and at a picture of the bullet after it was removed, and considering what might have happened if Michaeli had been hit in the head or chest. It’s also worth noting that Sarit Michaeli was armed with nothing but a rather visible camera when she was fired upon.

As B’tselem notes in its statement regarding the incident:

The shooting contravenes military directives. The bullet was fired from a distance of fewer than 20 meters, considerably nearer than the stipulated 50-meter minimum. Moreover the person shot was a photographer who posed no threat to security personnel.

Perhaps the most important thing to note, however, is what Michaeli was doing there in the first place: Documenting the very behavior to which she herself fell victim.

A protest was held at Nabi Saleh last Tuesday as well, but that time, live fire was used. An Israeli spokesman reports that about 100 Palestinians were involved in a “violent and illegal riot,” throwing stones and rolling burning tires toward security forces:

One soldier was injured during the riot, and soldiers sensing imminent danger to their lives fired towards a main instigator, registering a direct hit.

For their part, Palestinians called the events “confrontations,” and reported the following:

Mahmoud Tamimi, 22 years old, was shot with a live ammunition bullet in the leg when he was trying to help Mohammad Tamimi, 10 years old, who had been shot with a rubber coated steel bullet in the leg while standing on the hill side where the confrontations were taking place.

It’s also been reported that a journalist documenting the clashes was attacked by security forces, and his camera broken.

Pictures can be seen here of the aftermath of the direct hit on Mahmoud Tamimi—in one, a group of Palestinians carries him away, as a member of the security forces stands to the side. In another, a group of uniformed Israelis surrounds the injured man, and one of the soldiers, rifle across his back, appears to be shoving one of the Palestinians.

Is this a violent riot which posed a threat to life and limb? It’s possible that the pictures we’re not seeing tell a different story, but the photographic evidence available suggests a reality that was, at the very least, not quite what the Israeli spokesman described. Moreover, when protestors who offer no threat whatsoever are rushed at with rubber bullets, it’s hard to take at face-value the explanations for the use of live fire.

Or it is for me, at any rate. As Sarit Michaeli could tell you: B’tselem isn’t out there documenting tea parties. They’re out there documenting regularconsistent, and deeplytroublingviolations of human rights law by Israel’s security forces, frequently contrary to the military’s own statements and/or regulations.

And the sad truth is that if an Israeli or a Jew isn’t there to report back, we pretty much never pay attention. Even then, we might not.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

“B’tselem” means “in God’s image” – a reference to the verse in Genesis understood in Judaism to mean that all of humanity was created in God’s own image.

Israel and Palestine to Resume Peace Talks

Don’t have time to crosspost, but you can read what I wrote a couple of hours ago at Open Zion!

“Trayvon Martin could have been me.” – President Barack Obama

This was an extraordinary moment in American history. Just extraordinary. Thank you Mr. President. Thank you.


The full, 18 minute video can be seen here, and the transcript is below. He talked about the need for us to remember historical context, he talked about institutionalized racism, he said it was unlikely that a white Trayvon would have met the same fate, and he actually said the words “If Trayvon Martin had been of age and armed, could he have stood his ground?” I’m overwhelmed by this.

Possibly the most telling moment in the above clip, however, can be found at the 1:19 mark, where the President of the United States slipped into present tense and, discussing people locking their car doors at the site of a black man, said: “That happens to me.” Remarkable.

The whole transcript is after the jump (source):


And I had to walk uphill both ways.

Reupping this from two years ago, almost to the daybecause it’s all true all over again!!1!

/passes out

sunI don’t know if you’ve heard, but it’s been hot.

Hot in the Middle West, hot in the South, hot in the East, hot for the Hottentots, no doubt. I think even the Pacific Northwest — where in 2011, they apparently had 78 minutes of summer by mid-July (according to actual scientists) — is getting it in the neck this week.

Once upon a time, I lived in a city where this kind of hot was de rigueur at this time of year. Every year. Every day. From June 30 to September 10, give or take (with an inevitable resurgence just in time for Yom Kippur, when those who fast may not have so much as a sip of water) — heat just like this.

It doesn’t cool down on summer evenings in Tel Aviv, and the humidity could fairly easily be cut with a knife. You could make little tofu-like cubes of the humidity, and stir-fry them on the sidewalk, at midnight, is what I’m saying.

And back when I lived there, in the 80s and 90s, nobody but the rich had air-conditioning.

I was not, as you may have surmised by now, counted among the rich.

Here, though, in the gentle exile of American suburbia, I have air-conditioning up the wazoo! And if I keep certain windows shaded morning to night, it doesn’t even have to work all that hard to counteract the blast furnace with which we and the Hottentots must now grapple.

All of which means that I do not have to do any of the following semi-crazy things that I used to do, just to cool down, in Tel Aviv:

  1. Take upwards of three showers a day; allow my hair to drip down my back for as long as possible. Then wet my hair again.
  2. Sleep upside down, so that the fan could be right at my face.
  3. Dampen a sheet, and wrap myself in it at bedtime.
  4. Go to Jerusalem.
  5. Stick my head in the freezer.

Of these five activities, clearly #4 represented the nadir of my misery. Because, dude: Jerusalem is awful.

But for two glorious months of the year, when the sun had set and the breeze had returned, leaving Tel Aviv for the chaotic, dirty capital actually made sense.

One time, I remember, I even had to put on a sweater.

PS Just for the record: I really did used to stick my head in the freezer. You know: Now and then. If I happened to be passing. But I’m kind of short, so it would only last for a few seconds.

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