Abbas cancels Rosh Hashanah party with Israeli politicians.

Mahmoud_Abbas,_Davos

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

On Friday I wrote that Israeli Finance Minister and Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid had forbidden his Members of Knesset from attending a holiday party scheduled for today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Lapid was of the opinion that attending the event would undermine Israel’s negotiating position. I expressed some wonder at this decision, however, because just two weeks earlier, three Yesh Atid MKs had not only met with Palestinian officials in Budapest, they and the Palestinians had agreed that a future peace deal would look very much like the Geneva Accord, a draft agreement that includes two states based on the 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem.

Well. It turns out that Lapid need not have worried: Abbas’s own people have put the kibosh on the party:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a pre-Rosh Hashana toast with more than 30 ministers and Knesset members that was set for Tuesday because he came under pressure from the anti-normalization movement in Ramallah.

Abbas invited the Knesset’s Caucus on Ending the Israeli- Arab Conflict to his headquarters in Ramallah after a Palestinian delegation was greeted by 30 MKs and ministers and a Palestinian flag at the Knesset on July 31. That meeting emphasized the need to have a show of force in Ramallah to boost the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But the anti-normalization movement, which is strong inside Abbas’s Fatah party, criticized him for meeting such a high-profile Israeli delegation so soon after the IDF killed Palestinians in recent incidents in Jenin and Kalandiya.

As an American-Israeli Jew, I can’t presume to tell Palestinian nationalists how to approach my people. Me and mine are in the position of power in this conflict, and those who struggle against military occupation have a limited number of tools at their disposal. And indeed: The Israeli military just killed Palestinians—if Palestinians had just killed Israelis, it’s a good bet that Israeli parliamentarians would not be going to Ramallah for a pre-holiday toast. (Moreover, as Peter Beinart so eloquently documented in the New York Review of Books yesterday, American Jews have their own anti-normalization movement—we just don’t call it that).

Furthermore, the gathering might not be permanently cancelled: According to Labor MK and caucus head Hilik Bar, the Palestinian officials behind the now-cancelled event have promised him that they’ll reschedule. “I told the Palestinians that if this is not the ideal time, we can do it after the holidays,” Bar said. “I want the President [Abbas] to feel comfortable and hold the meeting in the best environment possible.” It could be that just as Lapid didn’t raise a stink about the earlier, more quietly held meeting in Hungary, Abbas will be able to pull off a less high-profile event.

But I do despair a little bit more every time one side or the other refuses to so much as sit at a table with their opposite number (apparently the supply of despair is bottomless). These things do not—cannot possibly—replace a rigorous examination of the conflict, its perpetuation, and the possibility for resolution. They are not a substitute for the difficult and painful process of letting go of decades-old habits and fear in order to forge a path to mutual respect and self-determination for a people too long denied their rights.

Yet it also cannot be denied that no genuine peace will be born or survive without the million smaller moments in which two enemies learn to see each other as people. And the irony of Fatah’s anti-normalizationists being on the same side as Yair Lapid isn’t lost on me.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Why joint Palestinian-Israeli police patrols are good for peace.

It’s not that Israelis and Palestinians don’t care about things like traffic fatalities and drug smuggling. It’s just that when you’re consumed with and by a military occupation, it can be hard to find effective methods to combat life’s more banal scourges. Where neighbors might be able to help each other on cross border issues, enemies find it a lot harder.

Which is why last week’s revelation that Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian police chiefs have been quietly meeting for the past 18 months (under the auspices of the U.S.-based Police Executive Research Forum), and that furthermore Israeli and Palestinian police forces may soon begin joint patrols, is good news. Following a three-day summit in Jericho, Palestinian police chief Hazem Attallah explained the rationale at a press conference:

As you all know, crime these days has no limits, has no borders, and of course for all police forces in the whole world, their job is to counter this violence, to counter crime. We are gathered here for this reason and for this reason only—how we are going to be able to improve the ways that we are using to counter crime, in different ways and different levels.

There’s nothing easy or simple about any of this. The patchwork—and entirely political—division of West Bank territory into Areas A, B and C lies at the very root of the problem. Aside from anything else, it can be all too easy to (say) nab a car in one area and take it along back roads to another, driving right off police radar in the process.

Moreover, Israel has a vested interest in keeping Palestinian society at a low-boil of instability in order to deepen the occupation, and the military’s regular raids on Palestinian institutions and general disregard for settler violence make it hard for many Palestinians to trust Israeli law enforcement on anything. Israelis, for their part, often react quite viscerally to the image of Palestinians with guns, sure that years of mutual violence means that we can never be sure those guns won’t be turned on us.

But this was, of course, the point of the outreach. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum:

The bigger picture is that sometimes these lines of communication can act as a prelude to something as large as a peace process by simply getting people to work better together.

If any “peace process,” anywhere on earth, is to be successful, it will be made up of a handful of splashy events like those at which the likes of John Kerry or Martin Indyk preside, and a million smaller moments without which the big events will be meaningless and ultimately fail. The enmity, power imbalance, and sheer ignorance between Israelis and Palestinians are staggering and color every aspect of daily life, for people in positions of power as well as the average citizen. Working together to catch bad guys might very well serve as one of those crucial smaller moments in which some of those issues can begin to be addressed.

Israeli Inspector General Yahanan Danino sounded a positive note:

We have [made] a lot of progress. We feel it not only in the working groups, not only on the issues that we mentioned. We feel it in our relations on a daily base when you need something, we have a lot of examples, that we used these relations for the good of our people in all the area.

Hazem Attallah did as well:

It was the first time when there is a Palestinian chief of police standing in the Israeli police academy and give a lecture. I think this is part of the success and No. 2, [I am] inviting Commissioner Danino to come and give a lecture to our officers. This is the kind of progress that we are talking about.

It’s not peace. It’s a long way from peace. But joint Palestinian-Israeli police patrols have the potential to improve real people’s lives, right now—and without such steps, any hope for peace will crash and burn. Again.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Ryan Braun and Anti-Semites.

ryan braunSo yes: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and America’s own “Hebrew Hammer” has accepted a 65-game suspension under a drug-testing agreement, which means (aside from anything else) that he cheated in a game which has been (let’s be honest) fairly riddled with cheaters of a similar nature. So that’s bad enough.

But then, but then! On Monday, we heard that back when he was lying about having cheated, Braun called some fellow ballplayers to try to win their support, and along the way, accused the collector of his urine sample of being not just an anti-Semite, but a Cubs fan, to boot.

As a the daughter of hard-core Cubs fans, I’m not sure which accusation could be considered the deeper cut. But I will say this: you shouldn’t be an anti-Semite. Not if you collect the urine of professional athletes, and not if you do anything else, either. (I’ll leave it up to readers to decide what they think about clinging to the Cubs).

But wait! According to Braun’s own mother, who is a Catholic, Braun “is totally not Jewish”—in 2007, USA Today reported that:

Ryan was not raised Jewish and never had a bar mitzvah, but suddenly he’s hearing from Jewish organizations claiming him as their own. 

“He’s totally not Jewish,” Diane says. “I heard some organization started called him ‘The Hebrew Hammer’.” I said, ‘Oh no.’ My mother would be rolling over in her grave if she heard that.” 

“Ryan is proud that people want to claim him now, but where were they before? You know how that stuff works.”

But hold on! It’s not even clear that Braun accused anyone of anti-Semitism! Some of the people to whom he’s supposed to have made the comments have issuedcategorical denials.

And yet, none of that has stopped actual, self-revealing anti-Semites from being just as pleasant as you might expect actual, self-revealing anti-Semites to be.

“Ryan Braun typical sneaky Jew,” tweeted one upstanding sports fan last month. “Of course Ryan Braun took steroids,” wrote another, “he’s a Jew, and last I checked, sports aren’t really their thing.”  And of course: “Bye Ryan Braun, you cheating piece of sh*t. CANT JEW YOUR WAY OUT OF IT THIS TIME.” You can read more (if you really feel the need) by clicking here.

So I don’t know. Was the guy whose unenviable job it is to collect urine an anti-Semite? Did Braun ever say that he was? Does Braun genuinely identify as a Jew, or was he forced into a virtual yarmulke and then despised for it? It’s kind of hard to say at this point.

Here’s what we do know: Braun did, in fact, dope, and then he lied about it, and then he agreed to pay a price for his unassailably awful behavior. And no matter what he did or did not say about the guy who took his pee, actual anti-Semites are a real thing.

It’s been my impression that Catholics have some pretty well-established ideas about lying and cheating and how to address those problems. But if Braun wants to tackle them through the faith of his (Israeli-born!) father, we have a special day coming up on which he can do so. Everyone’s welcome in shul on Yom Kippur.

As for the actual anti-Semites who dumped their repulsiveness on a man they presumed to be Jewish? Some sins are harder to absolve.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Yes, Virginia, there is anti-Israel bias at the UN.

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon

On Friday, several sources reported that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had “admitted” that the State of Israel faces unfair treatment at the United Nations. The European Jewish Press reported that in a meeting with students in Jerusalem, Ban replied to a participant’s question saying “Unfortunately, because of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, Israel’s been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias—and sometimes even discrimination.”

Yup.

We on the left don’t often like to bring it up, but it’s the truth: Israel is often singled out for behavior that goes along unmentioned in other countries, often in much greater measure. Resolutions condemning Israel carry a nearly ritualistic quality at this point, yet blatant human rights abuses in other countries in the region (Saudi Arabia comes to mind) and around the world (China, anyone?) often appear to barely register on the official U.N. radar. The ongoing brutality in Syria provides an unfortunately apt example: While many member states have clearly wanted to take a stronger stand all along, for others the mere notion of harsh language was a bridge too far.

And that is wrong. That is wrong, and unfair, and frankly unhelpful to anyone wanting to build genuine, lasting peace anywhere in the world, not least Israel/Palestine.

Not because Israel shouldn’t have to answer for its behavior in the occupied territories. Of course it should—I’m a firm believer in the universality of human rights law, and as an Israeli, it’s a matter of no small concern to me that my government is often far too happy to trample Palestinians’ innate human rights in pursuit of political and territorial gain. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be studied closely in Israeli schools and by Israeli diplomats, and when evidence of violations is found, those responsible should be held responsible. And the occupation must end, full stop.

But when the international community singles out one country’s bad behavior while all but ignoring that of others, we send a clear message that our concerns are not centered entirely on the question of human rights—and it makes it very easy for the country in question to shrug off the criticism.

In an ideal world (a world in which, alas, we will never live), we would make equal demands of each other. We would insist that not only must Israel behave a certain way, but so must Saudi Arabia, China, Syria, the Hamas government in Gaza, and indeed the American, British, Canadian and Australian governments. I don’t know of any culture that has a lock on good behavior, or any government that doesn’t abuse power, often in pursuit of a goal that it deems righteous and worthy.

The fact that Israel gets called on the carpet so often is wrapped in a multitude of sometimes contradictory factors. Within its internationally recognized borders, for instance, Israel is a fully functional democracy (which is to say: flawed, like every other fully functional democracy) and as a result, much of its government’s bad behavior is exposed by Israel’s own citizens. That can’t happen in countries without a free press, so countries without a free press often get away with more.

Then there’s international politics, not least the fact that Israel enjoys the almost unqualified backing of the world’s single most powerful nation. Yelling at the U.N. is one of the few ways that those who oppose Israeli policy can get an international hearing—and for all the umbrage that Israel takes, you would think that it’s had some kind of impact. I don’t know if you’ve checked, but the occupation continues merrily along, gobbling up land that is not Israel’s to gobble, even in the face of peace negotiations with the people to whom the land belongs (the rather limited E.U. sanctions that were only recently introduced notwithstanding).

There’s also the fact that the world has always known better how to deal with violence between two distinct peoples than with civil wars. There’s habit, inertia and institutional bias. And yes, Virginia, there’s some anti-Semitism, too. Everywhere you go in the U.N., you’ll find diplomats who hate another people for little but their faith or skin—the opinions of former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton regarding Muslims serve as an excellent example here.

Yet rather than look only at the imbalance, bias, and occasional genuine anti-Semitism, as an Israeli and as a Jew, I would rather focus on what we’ve done wrong, and what we can do right. The fact that there are other bad actors out there doesn’t cleanse our bad acts or make them anything but what they are.

Is life at the U.N. fair? No. Do Israel’s abuses (bombing civilian areas of Gaza, for instance) occasionally come in direct response to the abuses of other parties (rockets fired out of Gaza into Israeli towns)? Yes.

That still doesn’t render the human rights of Palestinians an optional concern.

I’m glad that Ban made the comment he made, because honesty is very important. Now I would like Israel to be honest, too, and rather than endlessly fight its critics, take responsibility for its actions.

In memory of the victims of murderers just sent home.

Morris “Moshe” Eisenstadt was born in Brooklyn in 1914; he immigrated to Israel late in life, and volunteered for many years at a hospital in a suburb of Tel Aviv. Eisenstadt was sitting on a park bench reading a book when Ibrahim Salem Ali al-Rai attacked and killed him with an axe in 1994. He was 79 years old.

Isaac Rotenberg was born in Poland in 1927. In the course of the Holocaust he was sent to the Sobibor death camp, but managed to escape in 1943 when Sobibor’s inmates rose up against the Nazis. Rotenberg ultimately fought the German army with the Partisans and, after arriving in Israel, worked in construction. He was on his knees repairing a floor when Salem Ali Atiyeh Abu-Musa and another assailant attacked and killed him with axes in 1994. He was 67.

Annie Ley came from France as a tourist in 1991; Mohammed Ahmed Khaled Asakreh stabbed her to death in Bethlehem, reportedly as she ate in the restaurant at which he worked. Ley was 64. Her murderer, along with al-Rai, Abu-Musa, and 23 other prisoners were released from prison by Israel earlier this week, as a good will gesture to its Palestinian negotiating partners.

Each of these attacks happened when I lived in Israel, and many others as well. I wasn’t able to fully grasp the horror at the time, and I’m not able to do so now. I don’t understand what it takes to pick up an axe and murder an old man on a park bench, any more than I understand what it takes to wrap oneself in explosives and rip a crowded bus to bloody shreds.

I understand that this is a war. When soldiers are killed, I mourn, but at least I understand the mechanism at hand: We kill their combatants, they kill ours. Parents remember nothing but chubby cheeks and expressions of love; enemies remember nothing but the other side’s willingness to kill me and mine.

I also understand that me and mine have killed a wildly disproportionate number of them and theirs, many of them non-combatants, at least a third of them minors. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish can tell you about the three daughters and a niece he lost when an Israeli tank targeted his Gaza home during Operation Cast Lead; a shell ripped through a wall: “Schoolbooks, dolls, running shoes, and pieces of wood were splintered in a heap…. There was brain matter on the ceiling.” (And don’t tell me those deaths were “unintentional”—look Dr. Abuelaish in the eye, and tell him).

I believe that human beings can only make peace with their enemies. I believe that Israelis and Palestinians will have to forgive, or at least look past, terrible acts and tremendous loss if we are ever to stop the cycle of violence. I believe that the release of terrorists who murdered wholly innocent people was the right thing to do, if it will genuinely bring us closer to the possibility of a lasting peace.

Israelis often fail to understand the importance of the issue. The Palestinian prisoner population is massive, and not all are held with as much justification as those who murder Holocaust survivors and French tourists. Israel has long used the collective and individual fates of these men (and a handful of women) as a bargaining chip, and it’s doing so again—not meting out justice, but rather issuing open-ended punishments unless and until the state decides it’s in its own best interest to do something else. Israelis tend to underestimate the resonance of all this for the Palestinian people; it might be worthwhile to consider how much effort we put into returning the bones of fallen soldiers to our borders. Many in the Arab nations see those soldiers in no better light than we see the Palestinians released on Wednesday—one can argue with that perception, but arguing won’t change the fact.

And, for all that—for all that I believe the prisoner release was justifiable and smart—I do not believe that we are free to dismiss what those men did. I do not believe that we are free to ignore any of the humanity that has spilled on the ground as we have fought, and fought, and fought, using each other’s bodies as the tools by which to achieve our various ends.

Morris Eisenstadt, Isaac Rotenberg, and Annie Ley, and all those like them, did not deserve to die in abject terror as murderous hands descended. They deserved to reach the end of their days in peace and comfort, surrounded by love and goodness. No matter what John Kerry achieves, the reality of those deaths cannot be reversed.

It was right to release the prisoners. And it is right to never forget what they cost us.

A note about names and biographical information: Much of the published information regarding the prisoner release is at least slightly inaccurate—many sources have misspelled names, and at least one Israeli outlet identified Morris Eisenstadt as “a soldier.” In an effort to be as accurate as possible, I have leaned on and cross-referenced Israeli governmental sources for event details, Haaretz for the English transliteration of Arabic names, and a variety of English-language sources for the English spelling of victims’ names. I remain unsure as to whether Eisenstadt went by “Morris” or “Moshe,” so I have included both.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

What role for AIPAC in the process?

aipacRon Kampeas reported on Thursday that AIPAC’s official endorsement of the U.S. push for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is (a) three sentences long, (b) buried on the organization’s website, and (c) appears to have been shared only with those who cared enough to seek it out. Yet back in June, AIPAC’s president gave John Kerry’s diplomacy a reportedly “hearty” endorsement in a meeting with U.S. Senators—and furthermore AIPAC was in the room when Kerry and Martin Indyk briefed American Jewish leaders on their progress, also on Thursday.

What this brings to mind for me is a different Kampeas story, from February: AIPAC’s failure to mention the conflict in its annual legislative agenda. Israel’s special relationship with America? Check. U.S. security aid to Israel? Check. Iran? Check. (Double-check, actually, as the topic of Iran took up two of the four slots on the agenda). The conflict that has defined and shaped Israel since its inception? Quietly buried in a panel discussion.

And of course, there’s this: Twenty years ago, when the Oslo Accords were the newest game in town, AIPAC was outright hostile to Rabin’s efforts, and actively worked to undermine them. In 2007, on the other hand, one of the organization’s biggest donors, Sheldon Adelson, abandoned ship over a letter calling for increased aid to the Palestinian Authority. And then there was AIPAC’s opposition to the modest (and Potemkin-esque) settlement freeze during Obama’s first term.

Which is to say: AIPAC has a pattern of opposing any movement that might promote an equitable peace, and getting slapped when it fails to do so sufficiently. It might be worth noting, in this context, that the Senators before whom president Michael Kassen heartily endorsed renewed peace talks were all Democrats; would his endorsement have carried the same heartiness if he had been standing in front of, say, House Republicans?

Probably not. Israel’s right is currently canvassing House Republicans in an effort to undo Kerry’s work, and not employing what one might call subtlety in the process: “When [Kerry] fails—and he will fail,” the JTA was told by the “foreign envoy” of Israel’s settler movement, “the fact that the Secretary of State of the United States failed will be noticed very clearly in Tehran and in Damascus and in Moscow and in Pyongyang.” Dani Dayan also told the press that he “would like Congress to explain to the State Department that this is a morally improper way to conduct diplomacy.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not elected U..S representatives ought to meet with an ally’s cut-rate, self-appointed diplomats as they work to make America’s own foreign policy goals unachievable; putting aside whether or not Dani Dayan should be in a position to tell the U.S. Congress what conversation to have with the US Department of State; putting aside who might have a better grasp of America’s best interests (Israeli settlers or U.S. generals)—it’s clear why AIPAC might feel a need to be circumspect about its endorsement, hearty or begrudging.

Which might, in fact, suit John Kerry just fine.

The Secretary of State has made it abundantly clear that he wants this whole process to be as drama-free as humanly possible. He’s made it abundantly clear that he wants no leaks, no rumors, and nothing that might give the naysayers a chance to pull the process down before it even gets to its feet. Having American Jewish leaders over to the White House a week before talks are meant to get underway was a very astute move, giving those leaders a slice of ownership in what Kerry’s doing, while possibly mollifying those who might support the Just Say No crowd. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: John Kerry knows a thing or two.

Whether or not AIPAC’s leaders have changed their spots and are suddenly on board with all that a two-state agreement will entail (national boundaries based on the 1967 borders; a shared Jerusalem; and a mutually-agreed resolution of the refugee issue) is still, clearly, up in the air. I rather doubt it myself.

But if John Kerry can keep AIPAC quiet, I don’t need it to shout support from the roof tops. Saying one thing while signaling another and then perhaps saying something else again is how many, many stakeholders will be playing things in the coming months, and AIPAC and its rejectionist backers have never represented this American-Israeli Jew in any way, shape, or form.

All I need from AIPAC is for it to not aid those who are trying to destroy what may well be Israel’s last chance for peace. Because my home and my people deserve that peace, and they really need it.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

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.

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.