Israel introduced the biggest dispossession plan of Palestinians since 1948

Originally posted on Jnews.

Last week the Israeli government approved a new plan to displace 30,000 native Bedouin Arabs of the Negev/Naqab from their homes.[1] “The Program for Regulating Bedouin Settlement in the Negev” is the biggest dispossession plan of Palestinians issued by Israel since 1948. It would forcibly relocate about half of the Bedouin population from their existing villages, which are older than the state of Israel itself, into existing small towns or townships, designated specifically for the Bedouins by the state.

Historically, there have been only two other Israeli plans of forced-migration of Palestinians on a mass scale since 1948: the banishment of refugees fleeing during the 1967 war, and the ongoing revocation of residency status and civic rights from native Palestinians of “East Jerusalem”.[2]

In the first case, about 300,000 Palestinians fled to Jordan during the 1967 war, after Israeli forces either drove them away, or less often, directly “transferred” them to the east bank of the Jordan river. Many of them thus became refugees for the second time: they had already lost their homes and lands in 1948, and were obliged to live in refugee camps in the West Bank until the 1967 war displaced them a second time. Like in 1948, the new refugees were not allowed to return to their property, most of their houses and villages were quickly demolished by the Israeli army,[3] and their lands were confiscated in violation of international law and treaties.

However, unlike in 1948 (and early 1950s), this time it was hard for Israeli security forces to claim the exodus had occurred voluntarily, “in the fog of war”, or “to allow the Israeli State to exist.” Prominent Israeli leaders also explicitly expressed, prior to the war, that another war would be an opportunity to “complete the unfinished work we started in ‘48”. Following UN resolutions and an agreement with Jordan, Israel agreed to facilitate their return, but due to the arbitrary conditions it later set, in practice only 40,000 were readmitted to the West Bank. Israel recently anchored their expulsion (together with that of 1948 refugees) in “The Law for Securing the Denial of [Palestinian] Right of Return 2001”.

The second mass-displacement is an ongoing effort to reduce the number of Palestinians with the status of “Permanent Residency” in Jerusalem. The status was given by Israel to the Palestinian residents of what is often called “East Jerusalem”, a large territory annexed to Israel from the West Bank after the 1967 war.[4] However, Permanent Residency can be considered anything but a permanent status, as it is continuously revoked from Palestinians who cannot demonstrate that their “Centre of Life” is in municipal Jerusalem – even if they still reside in Israel or the West Bank, or left for a few years to study or work and wish to return home. According to official Israeli numbers, more than 11,000 Palestinians have already lost their legal status since the confiscation policy started in 1995, a number which continues to grow. They in fact lose the right to stay in the country, their property is often confiscated, and their families often also consequently leave.

Admitting ethnic dispossession

Unlike previous plans, the current plan for the displacement of the Bedouin will not deny its victims the right to stay in the country, but it will still confiscate their lands and demolish dozens of existing villages, in order to confine their residents to a smaller territory.[5]

Officially, Israel denies this is its purpose, insisting that the program aims to enforce law and order, and improve construction, planning and housing in the Negev desert in southern Israel.[6] But the mayor of the Regional Council of Ramat Ha-Negev recently disclosed the true essence of the ongoing efforts to evict residents from existing Bedouin villages. In the Israeli documentary “Blue ID Card” he admitted on camera [7] that the regional planning efforts have nothing to do with law, planning, justice or security, but rather with the ambition for ethnic domination on the ground:

“I want the Negev to be Jewish […] The Jewish settlement must grow, must continue. At the same time we must develop the Bedouin settlement, because if we don’t make it permanent now, we will find ourselves in 20 years, not with 45 [Bedouin] settlements, but with 90 settlements. […] What do you mean by “they also deserve”!? You know what – after all this, it is no longer possible to conceal the core problem, which is the struggle over land. Who does this land belong to – us, or them? Time will tell.”

“Us or Them”

Time indeed is key for Zionism, but it doesn’t necessarily work to its advantage. Despite Israeli governmental hopes and efforts to settle the desert with Jews, Israeli-Jews were never keen on living in the desert, to put it mildly. The first Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion even went to live there, trying to set an example for others; but, with the exception of (mainly Mizrahi) immigrant communities, forcibly sent to the dessert and often leaving it later, and a few self-styled ‘cowboys‘, Jews rarely choose to live in the Negev.

The more Israel failed to bring Jews to the desert, the more their efforts to “minimise” the presence of its other residents grew. Jews voted with their feet, and their leaders with bulldozers, channelling their growing frustration of Israeli-Jews towards indigenous residents.

In recent years, the voices calling for Bedouin rights grew stronger, finding partners among egalitarian Israelis, and gradually became more present in Hebrew public discussion. This process ran parallel to a general trend that enabled Palestinian history and narratives to be heard more clearly in Israel. As a result, the will of governments to subordinate the Bedouins became more urgent and determined, as expressed in the toughening force, frequency and cruelty of expulsion efforts.[8]

Despite the fact that there was and is no problem of population density in the Negev, this year alone the unrecognised Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was violently demolished 26 times(!), leaving women, children and men without a roof, in the middle of the desert, usually at night and in extreme weather conditions, and often using illegal methods (including false and violent arrests, shooting, damage to personal belongings and to water sources, despite court orders to the contrary).

Bedouin ownership in the Negev

There is no dispute over the historical presence and ownership of the Bedouins in the Negev. They have lived there for generations, long before Zionism. The map at the head of this post, sketched by the Ottomans in the late 19th century, shows arrangements of ownership among tribes over the Negev, when the majority of Bedouins had already settled in permanent settlements. The Ottomans, and later the British Mandate generally respected these arrangements, and the Zionist movement recognized them de-facto by occasionally purchasing land from them for settlements. Following the 1948 war and its exodus, most Negev Bedouins became refugees. According to Israeli sources, only 13,000 of 76,500 Bedouins remained in the Negev following the war.[9] An ethos often nurtured among Zionists, is of the Negev as an ownerless wasteland, epitomising slogans like “a land without a people awaiting a people without a land”, and “make the [empty] desert bloom”. But the land was not empty, but emptied, and Zionists, on the whole, did not come.[10]

Following the war, Israel restricted the remaining Bedouin citizens to a relatively small territory called “the boundary region” (‘Siyag‘), in order to better impose military rule on them,[11] and confiscated most their lands. A second map (right) shows the area into which they were corralled (Please take a moment to appreciate the difference from the first map).

Interestingly enough, unlike most Palestinians, Bedouins overall waived their claim for the land thus grabbed, and no longer struggle for it. For over sixty years Bedouins in Israel desperately tried to prove that they have cast their lots with the Jewish state, but apparently phobias and the fantasies on making the Negev “Jewish” are stronger than reality. Bedouins gained nothing from their pact with Israel. Israel has persistently refused to “recognise” or provide any service to dozens of Bedouins villages, and the current plan will evict the remaining Bedouins from the small area they are already confined to.

NOTES
1. Israeli Bedouins are Palestinians according to the most common definition of Palestinians: “Permanent Arab Residents of Mandatory Palestine, and their decedents”. Many of them adopt this identity (in growing numbers probably), but many of them reject it, seeing themselves as Israelis, and considering Palestinians and Israelis to be binary identity categories that void each other, and that cannot coexist in one.
2. The plans for eviction of Jews were only from settlements, mostly in the Gaza Strip, which is outside the official borders of Israel. Another mass displacement of Palestinians was carried out by Jordan, partially due to Israeli threats
3. Demolitions included villages in the Golan Height, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the Jewish Quarter was evicted, and the houses in front of the Wailing Wall were demolished (one of them on an old Palestinian woman), while using illegal orders.
4. East Jerusalem – This term refers to the areas annexed to Israel (and Jerusalem) following the 1967 war, of which only 8.5% was indeed part of Jerusalem (i.e. 1 km2 of the old city, and 5 km2 of adjacent Jordanian municipality areas); whereas the majority of the annexed land (65 km2) is of 28 proximate villages.
5. Israel hopes to make their lives unbearable enough, for them to leave “voluntarily”.
6. It should be mentioned that since the establishment of Israel, hundreds of new towns and cities were established for the benefit of Jews, where as for Arab citizens, whom are 20-25% of Israeli citizens, only 7 failing and backwards small forced-migration Bedouin towns were ever built. These towns suffer from severe lack of resource for decades, and are now designated to receive the evicted Bedouin population.
7. To watch him (in Hebrew), choose “Program 2”, and go to 03:14-04:40. Before the quote the film shows a demolition of the village, and a movie produced by the Israeli Lands Administration, animating Bedouin settlements growing like cancer, taking over the Negev.
8. This tendency is most similar to the demographic efforts in Jerusalem, since the 1970’s, where policies and practices have been growing stronger as Israeli-Jews emigrate from the city, despite governmental hopes and efforts.
9. Consequently, they had neither the ability nor the need to cultivate all of their agricultural lands. The State of Israel which is now not recognising their ownership, did recognise it unofficially when it was used during the food shortage of the 1950’s.
10. Prior to the Israelis, Ottomans also failed their efforts to encourage residency in Be’er Sheba.
11. The Military Rule (1948-1966), was a military regime applied to the Palestinians who became Israeli Citizens. It is similar to the Chinese regime in Singapore, the Indian rule in Pakistan, or the Israeli occupation today, only it was imposed on Arab citizens of Israel. Living under military rule, these citizens needed a permit for every daily action, from work, to publications, to study textbooks, to travelling to the next village. Military rule was lifted after about 18 years.
Posted in History vs. Hasbarah, Practices on the ground | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Middle Class Rage

Originally posted on Jnews.

Rage, distress and protest

About a month ago an Israeli, outraged at the cost of cottage-cheese, started a Facebook group calling for consumer boycott. Within days, thirty-four thousand members had joined, and the group made it onto the evening news. Netanyahu quickly promised to ease the import of dairy-products to increase competition and decrease costs, but he failed to see that cottage-cheese was merely a symptom. Cottage-cheese is perceived as an elementary must-have Israeli product, and the boycott symbolised to many something much bigger than just cheese: the growing inability of the middle-class to sustain itself financially. Indeed, while shop prices in Israel are usually similar to (or even higher than) those in the UK, the average Israeli salary is 60% lower. This small and successful consumer boycott was a sign of what was to come. About a week later, a group of young Tel-Aviv residents decided to start living in tents pitched on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, in protest at the exaggerated and disproportionally high cost of housing and rent. Within days hundreds, then thousands, had joined, as dozens of tent camps quickly appeared in many Israeli towns across the country.

At the same time, other protests have been taking place: doctors and specialist registrars escalated their months-old strike (protesting at their incredibly low pay); thousands of parents joined several pram-marches in protest at overall costs of raising childcren; privatised teachers declared their support; more consumer-boycott groups formed on Facebook; student unions joined in, and later the main settlers organisations; and the entire country flared up in protests. What had started as a protest about housing, quickly moved to the cost of living, the lost benefits of the good old welfare state, and the government’s general unwillingness to protect the public. Last Saturday saw 150,000 Israelis marching in towns all over the country, appropriating Tahrir Square’s famous slogan and shouting: “The People Want Social Justice!”

Economic and political background

There are several reasons for the current crisis of costs and of housing. The first is the radical liberalization of the market. Many outside Israel imagine it as relatively socially equitable, remembering the socialist ethos of Labour Zionism. The reality is that since the Likud took power in 1977 all Israeli governments have adopted neoliberalism to varying degrees. The most radical amongst them have been Kadima and Likud (which have governed Israel for almost 15 of the past 16 years). They and Liberman’s party, Beiteinu Yisrael, explicitly support and impose a very extreme version of capitalism. Among other things, they have simultaneously reduced taxation on the most wealthy and the benefits of the very poor, and have shrunk from any regulation to protect the public. As a result Israel’s GDP and the strength of the shekel have grown massively – as has the gap between rich and poor, is now among the widest of OECD countries . The only OECD country with higher poverty rates is Mexico.

Most importantly, salaries have grown significantly slower than prices. People now work harder for much less. The younger generation of the Israeli-Jewish middle class, who usually live in the Greater Tel Aviv metropolitan and coastal area, are generally well educated. But despite having several jobs , they are sinking into debt, and see no real hope for improvement. They no longer enjoy the generous support and responsible supervision of the state as their parents had done, and they are left to survive under the brutal forces of “nature”, exploitation and greed, while financial tycoons may do with them as they please.

The sharp increase in the cost of housing is one of the most important results. In two decades (from 1990 to 2011) housing costs have risen six-fold as the result of government policies: selling the government construction-company, which had helped to regulate prices of land and housing; selling of land strictly to the highest bidders; waiving taxation on owners of several houses; and leaving “the market” to regulate itself, even in times of massive purchase of real estate as a safer investment. While Montreal, Sidney, Amsterdam, Berlin, and in Paris, regulation is of all rent, in New York of about 50%, and in London about 25% through public housing; the comparable figure for Tel Aviv is about 2%. (1)

Internal migration

Nevertheless, Israeli governments have sometimes invested in development, where they have perceived a threat to Jewish demographic dominance and presence in the periphery. Given the ongoing internal immigration towards the coastal region, (mostly to cities and Greater Tel Aviv), Israeli geographers predict gloomily that the presence of Jews in most other parts of the country will reach an all-time low within decades, and bring about a de-facto two-nation geographical divide, with Jews voluntarily confining themselves to the coastal area.

The reason for this slow internal immigration is, in general terms, that Israel’s peripheral areas suffer from neglect, lack of resources, and poor infrastructure and transportation. As a result, for decades, Israelis have slowly moved towards both the center, accelerating the price-rise there even more. Several Israeli governments have tried to challenge this trend, but unsuccessfully, as they have not been willing to invest enough in the unpopular northern and southern regions of the country.

Over the green line

There is another area which is a popular destination for internal migration, but more importantly – where governments have consistently invested much more, and succeeded to encourage migration to it. As Prof. Shlomo Svirsky puts it: “the free market ends when you cross the Green Line”. When it comes to efforts to populate the West Bank with Israeli-Jews, the government does invest – big time. Between 1994-2009 close to 50% of the construction in the settlements was government-initiated and funded, while in the entire country (including the settlements) it was less than 21%, and in the Tel Aviv District 3%. (Between 2006-2009 – not a single government housing-unit was built in the that district.)

Clearly, government investment in the settlements comes at the expense of poor Israelis. Efrat settlement, for example, where the average income is almost NIS 8,800 a month, was defined as a Priority Zone and was given precious benefits, while places like Ramle, with an average income of NIS 4,400, were not. The “settlers first” policy affects not only the lower class, but also the middle class. The government spends about 40 thousand shekels a year on the average Israeli, but 93 thousand a year on a settler. After all, it was not for no reason that Rabin’s successful election campaign in 1992 (after other popular protests) chose the slogan “Money for Education, Not Settlements.”

The middle class awakens

The current wave of protest is an authentic popular movement. It is not led by organisations and political parties, but by street parliaments (and attempts by main opposition parties to join the protests have failed). The protests vary from place to place, and are often arranged through Facebook groups. Tzvika Bsor, a 34 year old middle class Israeli, started a group where he announced that he intends to strike on 1st August. “I’ve had it!” he started his text, describing how he and his wife work hard, but still can’t afford to plan a second child. Within four days tens of thousands had joined his promise to strike, and the workers’ union was soon to follow with threats.

The unbearable financial distress of the growing lower Israeli classes is not new (especially among the ultra-orthodox, residents of the ‘periphery’, and Arab citizens). What is new is the fact that the middle class has also reached rock bottom. In fact, for more than a decade we have seen a growing apathy among secular middle-class Israelis, who chose to avoid politics (and in particular the existence of the occupation). Once, their protest vote was big enough to grant an unknown pensioners’ party 6% of the parliament’s seat; now many no longer bother to vote.  As long as their condition allowed it, they focused on their immediate, individual wellbeing. Now, all of a sudden an eruption occurrs.

On one hand, this seems just like Marx’s recipe for a revolution: when the middle class joins the lower classes’ struggle, he believed, a potential revolutionary moment is created. On the other hand, given the erosion of the status, influence and resources of the previously dominant class of secular and pluralist Israelis, protests are also an expression of their frustration, of their attempt to restore some of the lost old order, rather than fighting for a new one.

It is still too early to predict the results of this protest. On the one hand it is larger, more comprehensive, unified and long-lasting than any previous popular socio-economic protest in recent decades. The media is also very supportive of it, and the distress is real. However, the platform of all the big political parties (Kadima, Likud, Israel-Beytenu and Shas) is in direct contradiction to the protestors’ demands. Moreover, there are no signs of escalating the protest into causing any serious disobedience, so it is possible that it will fizzle out with a few small reforms, as protestors tire and have to return to work (similar to the way the anti-cuts movement in the UK eventually lost its momentum). Others suggest it will dissolve with the next wave of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Skeleton in the closet

The last word must be reserved for the unspoken skeleton in the Israeli closet: the cost of the occupation. For decades Israel used to profit from the occupation, but this is no longer the case. Since 2001, due to the combination of the sharp increase in the security cost of controlling the West Bank , and radical neoliberal policies, the balance had  changed drastically. Massive privatisation has led most of the profits to go to private companies and individuals, while the Israeli public has been left to foot the bill. Now the cost is already estimated in about $9b p.a., three times the size of the US aid. In 2007, the Israeli government spent almost ten percent of its budget on settlements in the West Bank. Expenditures include the price of settlement security, construction of expensive infrastructure (such as tunnels, bridges and walls), and incentives and benefits for settlers – let alone lawsuits, divestments, Hasbarah and diplomacy).

This cost keeps growing, because settlers and their benefits keep growing. Considering that the Israeli budget grows at 2.3% p.a., and the settlement population at 8% p.a., (compared to a 2.2% p.a growth rate in the general population including settlements), it is clear that the settlements, which are already more than Israelis can afford, are an increasing threat to the Israeli economy. The growing gap in the figures above suggest a silent killer-disease at work beneath the surface of Israel’s fiscal economy.  Are we now witnessing the middle class cracking under the financial burden of the growing problem its members strive so hard to ignore? If so, then the Israeli economy, which presents itself as stable and prosperous, is nothing but a bubble about to burst.

Note:
(Another reason, some say, is empty flats in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, bought by European and North American Jews, whom use them for holidays, but keep them empty most of the year. As a result, demand grows, supply decreases, and costs rise. Moreover most Israelis cannot compete with the financial ability of Jews from abroad, who end up offering higher prices for the houses, and thus also affect the market’s prices. However, I have no figures on this phenomenon, but my guess is that it is true at least to specific luxurious neighborhoods).
Sources:
Dror Etkes, “If only Rothschild were a settlement”, Ha’aretz (2011, Hebrew)
Prof. Amnon Frenkel, “It’s not the real-estate, stupid”, ynet (2011, Hebrew)
Tamar Godzansky, Socio-Academic College, ynet (2011, Hebrew)
Shir Hever, The political economy of Israel’s Occupation (2010) & an interview to Ha’aretz (2011, Hebrew).
Prof. Shlomo Svirski, (CEO of Adva Centre). The Cost of Arrogance (2008, Hebrew) & “Double Faced Country”, ynet (2011, Hebrew).
Tani Goldstein, “It’s not the prices, it’s the salaries”, ynet (2011, Hebrew)
Posted in Culture & Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Domination

Originally appeared in Hebrew on 20/11/2010. English translation by Hava Oz. Where possible links were atltred to point to English sources.

Abstract

The ideological right in Israel is currently bringing to its culmination an inclusive takeover, which has been in the deteriorating and maturing for the past ten or twenty years (at least).  The ultimate goal of the takeover is now more clear; it is to deny the right to express alternative political positions, firstly by redefining what is permissible public discourse, and secondly through legislation and regulations, as I show. I do not proclaim to be an “Institute for Zionist Strategies” neither do I apply the title “comprehensive study” or “report” to the following selection of data. This information is not accompanied by press releases or expensive street advertisements with demagogical slogans, as right-wing organisations did. However, the information below provides a picture, supported by numerous examples, of the manner in which individuals who support peace, equality, human rights, and the curtailing of militarism and warfare in Israel, are made “threatening traitors”. It portrays how the resources of the entire public are confiscated to serve the interests of the far-right activists, and how the left is being shoved quickly outside the perimeter of the law.

Index

Introduction
Part I – Redefining the Discourse: De-politicisationTopsy-TurvyDe-legitimisationDe-Officialising
Part II – Infrastructure Control: Above the lawPoliticisationEconomic EntrenchmentDe-legalisation
Forecast Continue reading
Posted in Culture & Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

So now they say Iran will have WMD…

No one, not even intelligence agencies, can know everything about the enemy. It would have been understandable if the Israeli intelligence had got a few things wrong about Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam Hussein actually possessed. But to tell us that WMD existed “in very high probability” when in fact they had no evidence, suggests anything from negligence to deliberate collusion. So how should we respond to what we’re told about Iran’s WMDs? And shouldn’t we be concerned when intelligence agencies say estimates are exaggerated?

Published on JNews.

I. Baghdad – Tel-Aviv

As I watched UK’s ex-PM Blair testifying in January to a national committee investigating the war in Iraq, I was reminded of my childhood traumas in greater Tel-Aviv during Gulf-War-I. To this day I miss a heartbeat every time the sound of a passing motorcycle reminds me of the wailing war sirens that urged us from our beds, in the middle of the night, to take refuge, like all Israeli families at the time, in our anti-chemical shelter. Ours was in my parents’ bedroom, where we waited anxiously for hours for the unknown.

When Bush-II dragged the US and the UK into another war in Iraq, I – by then an officer in the Israeli Army – shared most Israelis’ fear of Saddam and was also deeply affected by the horror of 9/11. Since Bush and Blair confidently stated that Saddam’s WMDs threatened us, and Israeli intelligence said the same, I didn’t care too much that the UN did not support military action, or that some intelligence officers and agencies (mostly in the Air Force) had different views. I just feared the return of the horror. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, I was angry when we learned – together with the rest of the world – that Iraq had no WMDs. It did not even have any long-range ballistic missiles that could have reached us.

II. Israel’s involvement in Gulf-War-II

At the time, Israel was not merely an onlooker. I don’t know to what extent our intelligence services influenced the pro-war agenda, but I remember clearly that friends, who were intelligence officers, were instructed to devoutly seek proof of the existence of WMDs and feed it to our international partners. Our military officials argued passionately to the Knesset and the public that Iraq surely had such weapons. “With near certainty” the Israeli media quoted them repeatedly as saying, encouraged of the prospect of Western forces attack.

As late as April 8, 2003, three weeks into the four-week-long war, when the Coalition forces were in almost complete control of Iraq, the Israeli Chief of Intelligence was still asserting to the members of the Knesset’s Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defense that, “In a very-high probability, there are WMDs [in Iraq]”.

The ‘experts’ also told us things would be much better for Israel after the war, with “the dictator at the heart of the system forcibly replaced” (the same model they had in mind when they led us to the fiasco of Lebanon-War-I). And our media did nothing to challenge them.

Today we know that these confident assertions were based on no evidence.¹ They were wishful thinking used to justify the Coalition investing an immense amount of money and people in an unjust war, resulting in a bloodbath of hundreds of thousands of dead and millions wounded, and it’s not over yet.

III. Israeli Intelligence legacy of wrong estimations

Once the truth became known, the Knesset appointed a Committee of Inquiry (click to read the nonconfidential section of its final report, in Hebrew, in PDF format) to investigate the origin of the WMD assumptions. Why had our intelligence services advocated mass defensive operations in Israel and supported US misconceptions and military actions? The committee found that long-standing excessively confident assessments based on almost zero evidence were simply taken for granted. It also made recommendations which have been ignored, according to Reserve Colonel Dr. Shmuel Even, an ex-intelligence-officer who is currently a researcher in the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel-Aviv University (Hebrew, PDF).

Dr. Even describes many previous confident but false strategic assessments made by Israeli intelligence, which resulted in huge expense, thousands of Israeli deaths, mass hysteria, and ended with several investigations, such as those following the war in 1973, the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, Libya’s nuclear program, and Hezbollah’s capabilities in Lebanon-War-II (2006). Time and again investigations pointed to serious misconceptions and organizational flaws, but their recommendations were never implemented. Other errors included failing to understand that neighboring countries were ready for war with Israel in 1966 and in 1973, or to predict the outbreak of the first Intifada (in the latter, preconceptions were so strong that when the uprising did eventually occur, it was mistakenly believed to be merely a “transient wave of protests”). In addition, they did not anticipate the Hamas victory in the PA elections, nor its takeover of the Gaza Strip.

And if this is not enough for someone for raising skepticism about their unbased asseriveness, most recently Israeli intelligence totally misread Egyptians’ (and others’) gathering political anger and democratic aspirations. The stereotypes that shaped these estimations were dramatically undermined and exposed by the crucial role of women and moderates in these uprisings. The possibility of such developments never crossed their minds despite several defiant voices that pointed to them as a possible scenario. (I too mentioned this possibility ten months ago in my Hebrew blog, not aware then of astudy that had predicted it two years earlier). Even during the sixth day of demonstrations in Egypt, three days after the Egyptian army had already chosen not to stop the protesters, Israeli ‘experts’ still believed that “the Mubarak regime is not lost”.

IV. Iran’s WMDs

This is why I am now worried that my government may not be telling the (whole) truth about Iran. This time I want to hear and examine alternative views, particularly as these are being voiced not merely by conspiracy theorists, but by IAEA specialists, and most importantly, by some intelligence agencies themselves. This is particularly crucial at a time when Wikileaks has revealed details about some regional leaders (leaders note, not citizens) who push to attack Iran.

Also thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that American officials have joined the departing Head of Mossad in the belief that the Israeli sense of urgency is an exaggeration. After all, in 2003 they foresaw a nuclear Iran in 2007, in 2007 they said 2009, and later they said 2011. Now they’re saying it’s actually 2015. So, is it really always that urgent, or are they crying wolf because, like in any other country, in Israel too some have other intentions and interests?

Furthermore, Prof. Avner Cohen reminds us that, according to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli Intelligence too is not at all sure that Iran has a military nuclear program.

But maybe most conclusive so far is this:
According to the unanimous estimation of all separate American intelligence agencies, there is no evidence that Iran produces, or plans to produce, nuclear weapons – a view supported by UN experts in Iran. President Bush-II described in his recent book how this assessment by US agencies enraged political partners. Another source reported that political pressure was applied behind the scenes to delay and even alter such professional assessments.²

Maariv, Dec. 2007: IDF send urgent delegation to the US to persuade that Iran is working on a bomb.

Now, this reminds me far too vividly of the Iraq saga. Here too, we have no evidence to support the claims we hear about Iran. The same Israeli officials and “experts”, in the military, media, and the political system, who spoke so confidently about the situation in Iraq then, continue to comment in the news, to serve in the Intelligence and to lead our army. Never mind that they never apologized for promising us, without batting an eyelid, that we would find smoking barrels in the heart of Baghdad, or that our regional situation will significantly improve; and never mind that they showed no regret for the countless people who died or lost their health, love-ones, or homes, simply for the greed of some Americans; but to hear the same individuals who deceived us about Iraq then, saying today that Iran will have WMDs, suggests that we citizens must be suspicious about things that the government and media insist are self-evident.

Naturally, as an Israeli, the Iranian question bothers me greatly, but when only last month I learned that the Israeli PM rebuked the leaving head of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad for daring to tell reporters that “Iran will not reach a bomb in the next few years”, and that “an Israeli attack would be disastrous”, I could not avoid wondering – how short can our memory be?

V. Iranophobia?

Finally, we should honestly ask ourselves: Will we ever believe Iran, even if they agree to all our demands? Because if we are going to insist on action whatever Iran does, then this is not about them but about our own fears. Maybe they have already made that decision as many already assess, and our war-mongering – and possibly theirs too – is based on old, false intelligence.

Are we sure that this time it’s really different, or is it once again the west’s Orientalist imagination and our phobia of calamities?


NOTES
[1] Some have tried to place the blame on the lies of one Iraqi defector, but we all know that a single source is never sufficient to support intelligence, and was certainly not enough to sustain “with almost certainty” the specific claims of various types of weapons allegedly possessed by Iraq.
[2] Last week a new estimation was finally reported, and it is indeed less conclusive this time. Haaretz was quick to publish the story in Hebrew with a misleading headline, reading “American National Intelligence Estimate: Iran returns to its military nuclear program; an opposite assessment of the one from three years ago, which then ruled that Iran halted its military nuclear project in 2003”. Sadly, this was the product either of amateur journalism or of an attempt to attract Israeli mainstream readers, since the text itself paints a completely different picture, almost the opposite. First, as The Washington Post writes, the 2007 report is not reversed: “The new assessment does not entirely refute the 2007 report’s most controversial finding, which held that Iran’s leaders had halted nuclear weaponization research in 2003”. Moreover, as the Washington Post and South Africa’s Times Live note, the new report is inconclusive (to say the least) regarding the very existence of a nuclear military program,: “The current assessment says that Tehran likely resumed some nuclear weapons research, but does not conclude that it has a full program to build an atomic bomb”; it even notes that “the slow and scattered nature of the effort reflects renewed debate within the government over whether to build a bomb”.
Posted in Diplomacy & Criticism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Another blind eye

Originally posted in Hebrew on 15.11.2010.

About two years ago I witnessed the assault of Mikhael Menkin of “Breaking the Silence” by Noam Federman (a Kahane activist), whilst on a peaceful tour in a public place. The tour was part of an important project of Israeli veterans who served in Hebron. They take Israelis and others and show them the reality that soldiers face in Hebron, a reality that is supported by public resorces. The tour guides, however, are repeatedly and violently targeted by the Hebron settlers, who are doing their outmost to prevent the tours from taking place. They are terrified of the prospect that Israelis and human rights activists alike may actually gain an understanding of what they are doing to innocent Palestinians. They go to great lengths to conceal the fact that most of their Arab neighbors are subjected to cruel, continuous violence, to the point where their everyday lives become so unbearable, that many eventually decide to leave their homes “out of their own will”, thus creating a virtual ghost town [in Hebron].  The settlers show little mercy for anyone attempting to reveal their secret.

While violence towards the Jewish tour guides is negligible in comparison to the violence exerted on the Palestinians, as the tour gives testament to (it includes the sight of children with broken teeth, broken windows, graffiti, garbage, and atrocious videos). The attacks are nonetheless a clear case of violence, and at that a case that one may confidently assume that the authorities would not remain indifferent to. Remarkably enough though, complaints against settlers in Hebron seldom lead to investigation. In fact, the police do not even collect evidence upon complaint. At one instance the police even deleted a video, before our very own eyes, that we had handed over as evidence of violent misconduct. It seems like the police are plainly afraid to confront the terrorist-settler-bullies, as they have at times even cooperated with the settlers pursuit to limit and cancel the political tours to Hebron conducted by the left (while the settlers’ own tours continue without any disruption).

Consequently, when Mikhael was assaulted, he already knew that there would be little use in reporting the event to the police. This time however, both the bullying settlers who were denying any misconduct, and the lazy incompetent police, had gained knowledge of the assault being recorded on tape:

So, Mikhael filed a complaint to the police and also submitted the evidence recorded on tape. However, this was apparently not sufficient to convict a Kahanist in an Israeli court. The very same judge who had very recently sentenced Sheikh Salah for 9 months in prison for spitting, now acquitted Federman, as he claimed that “it is a minor incident, which did no harm”, and added that: “The circumstances and location of the incident, as well as the public interest, do not justify the conviction of Federman”.

To those curious of where this assault took place, you may note that it was by the tomb of Baruch Goldstein, a Hebron settler that killed 29 Muslims and injured 125 by shooting them in their backs while they were praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of Patriarchs, in 1994. In the days following the incident, the Israeli army proceeded to kill nine Palestinian protestors, and injured over 200, in addition to imposing a curfew over the Palestinians of Hebron (while the Jewish settlers continued to enjoy free movement). The local settlers built a monument on top of Goldstein’s tomb, which has since became a popular tourist location.

The Jewish terrorist attack in 1994 also had long-term implications to our lives in Israel proper. As soon as the ritual of 40 days of mourning ended, oppositional Palestinian organizations carried out a lethal bombing, the first of its kind orchestrated by Palestinians, which initiated the notorious chain of bomb-attacks of the 90’s, which we all remember.

Now you tell me, what could the public interest possibly have been, in the view of the judge? Was it that we should be free to push one another around in a threatening manner? Is it that Goldstein’s tomb should continue to serve the purpose of pilgrimage, as part of a culture of encouraging the killing of Arabs? Or is it simply to allow violent settlers to be above the law?

While you are thinking about it, let us not forget that this is not the first time that right-wing Jewish terrorists get away lightly in the Israeli (in)justice system. In fact, there is evidence of complete incompetence in law enforcement. Indeed, it is impossible to find even one case of sincere penalizing of Jewish terrorists, which has been completed without pardon. Even the report issued by The Shamgar National Committee of Inquiry, which was summoned to investigate the massacre in Hebron, has quoted in length several other previous reports, by other official committees, ruling that settlers’ violence and criminality has been met with placation and a blind eye, for dozens of years. Thus, it is not by chance, but with intention, that those who murder Arabs are glorified in Israel, and that violent settlers are walking free.

Nevertheless, despite the success of fear-activism by people of hate, there are a minority of activists working on the ground for coexistence, particularly in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills. Settlers, and often the army and government officials as well, portray them as “threatening” and as “provocateurs”. You may however, be your own judges in the matter. Take a tour with “Breaking the Silence” to Hebron or the South Hebron Hills, to see with your own eyes, or watch this fascinating short movie about activism in the south Hebron Hills. Unfortunately, it does not have English subtitles, but I am pretty sure you will get the point anyway.

Posted in Not so Far Right | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh no! He killed Arabs…

Originally posted in Hebrew, on 31.7.2010 | Translation by Dena Shunra

The Shabak recently released to the press the details of the capture of a man who claims to have killed several Palestinians (with a 12 year delay!) and declared its intention to bring him to justice. A while before that, the capture of another Jewish terrorist was announced; this one is suspected of having carried out several terrorist attacks over the course of 13 years(!), primarily against Arabs. In cases such as these, the Israeli press and politicians are quick to express their horror and astonishment, as well as their disgust with his actions, and go on to describe the existence of a Jewish terrorist as a surprising finding, as though it was a rare animal, in danger of extinction.

Anyone reading the coverage of these arrests in the Israeli press could get the mistaken impression that the phenomenon of hurting innocent Arabs is truly one that is rare and ill-thought of, and that when it happens the law is enforced with conviction and true horror. In fact, though, doing harm to Arabs is a most common phenomenon in Israel, especially in the Occupied Territories, and the Internet is full of media evidence. Moreover, the handling of such violations (when enforcement actually occurs) is negligent, forgiving, understanding, or non-existent (In fact, the Palestinians have long-since lost faith in the Israeli system, and most of them no longer even bother to file complaints.)

The arrest of two of the Jewish terrorists shows us, if anything, not the rarity of the crime and the extent of the horror of it, but rather the extent to which this was delayed, and the arbitrariness of the “catch”. Barely putting their hands on a terrorist or two (despite the abundance of testimony and opportunities to arrest miscreants, for example, during their frequent pogroms against Arabs) while in the Occupied Territories – with or without the “price tag” riots – settlers and soldiers engage in daily violence against innocent and helpless denizens. And it was proven time and again, that even if these terrorists were brought to trial, they will surely be given ridiculous sentences (if at all) and/or amnesty, as did every other such criminal, before them.

And The Earth Was Filled With Crocodile Tears

The Museum of the Lehi heritage (AKA "The Stern Gang"), on Yair Stern Street in the Tel Aviv. Their group acted against officials in the British administration.

The Museum of the Lehi heritage (AKA “The Stern Gang”), on Yair Stern Street in the Tel Aviv. Their group acted against officials in the British administration.

It is hard to refrain from amazement at the over-acted astonishment and horror and faux-surprise, expressed in Israeli media and society at large, every time a new suspected killer of Arabs is apprehended. As if “the terrorist” had grown up in a society where “moral conduct” had not become synonymous with naïve “bleeding hearts” and “do gooders”, as if he had not been raised in a state which teaches the killing of innocent Arabs as a heritage of heroism, and as if the Israeli systems of justice and law enforcement actually extended the long arm of the law to lay hands on most of the murderers and rioters. If that was really the case, it would have been reasonable to expect that acts of terrorism against Arabs would not only be roundly denounced but that the state would also provide education and explain what it is that makes such acts unacceptable.

In practice, however, reality is entirely different. Testimony to this is the education of the Irgun Heritage (AKA Etzel) as something to look up to, a heritage which reveres and boasts of an organization which carried out a long line of terrorist operations (and still proudly boasts of them). Not only that the Etzel does not horrify the Israelis at all -it is also practically accepted as part of our national ethos and pantheon.

The Irgun emblem: Both Banks Are Ours, “The Only Way” (רק כך), a rifle - and of course, olive branches...

The Irgun emblem: Both Banks Are Ours, “The Only Way” (רק כך), a rifle – and of course, olive branches…

In contrast to common view of the Lehi being more extremist than the Irgun, it was the Irgun and not the Lehi that systematically targeted innocent Arab civilians. Remember the terrible attacks in the Jerusalem markets, in the nineties? Well, the fact is that the Etzel had invented the bringing of bombs to big-city markets (as a revenge, just like the “price tag” revenge operations, but even more violent). They did so with a series of explosive attacks, which they carried out in the markets of Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Haifa in the 1930’s. Each of the explosive attacks killed several or dozens of by passers, and wounded dozens or hundreds. Irgun members were also involved in other “operations”, such as the murder of Arabs in Jerusalem near Petach Tikva and near Safad, throwing bombs onto passers-by in Haifa, arson attacks on Arab homes in Jerusalem, attacks on the Kerem Hateimanim neighborhood between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, attacks of the train, and the massacres at Deir Yassin, Balad Alsheikh, at the village of Hittin and others – in quite a systematic manner. (This is not to consign to oblivion the fact that the Hagana and Palmach operations were also morally quite questionable.)

Caption: The Irgun headquarters, commemorated by the Tel Aviv municipality.

Caption: The Irgun headquarters, commemorated by the Tel Aviv municipality.

It is with complete hypocrisy that the “horrified” State of Israel invests so much money in ceremonies, museums, commemorative actions and education “in the spirit of the resistance fighters”, which present Etzel members as freedom fighters, with no limitation or reference to the fact that a significant part of their activity was clearly nothing more or less than terrorism.

Educational projects of the IDF bring many young people to the Irgun Museum (in the Jabotinsky Institute, AKA Metzudat Ze’ev), the Etzel Museum (in Manashiyya), the Irgun Headquarters, the Museum(s) of Underground prisoners, etc., all in order to bask in the glow of the pioneer-warriors, and learn that the Irgun has a place of honor in the national heritage of might. And not only soldiers are taught to glorify the murderers. A decision was taken recently to teach schoolchildren about the “Olei Hagardom” martyrs, who went to the gallows, and teenagers who do a good enough job of describing the murderers as heroes can win competitions and receive state-funded grants from the Ministry of Education.

If murderers of Jews were studied in the Palestinian education system, with prize-bearing competitions included, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have gone out of its way to put pressure on countries around the world to make any grants to the Palestinian Authority conditional on a cessation of the incitement. But here?… Streets have been named after the murderers, as though they were models of true heroism – and that’s before we even mention later murderers, and those who were granted amnesty.

A memorial public event, held about a week ago in the Etzel Museum, in the Menashiya neighborhood of Tel aviv. This is one of the museums managed by the Ministry of Defense, which glorifies the activities of the Irgun, and is situated, believe it or not, in a private home of a Palestinian refugee.

A memorial public event, held about a week ago in the Etzel Museum, in the Menashiya neighborhood of Tel Aviv. This is one of the museums managed by the Ministry of Defense, which glorifies the activities of the Irgun, and is situated, believe it or not, in a private home of a Palestinian refugee.

The Irgun is, of course, only one example of the Israeli forbearance toward murder and terrorism, as long as they are directed towards Arabs. While we complain about the unethical stance of the Palestinians and scold them, our national ethos is full of countless examples of murder and terrorism. And while we are horrified at the sick attacks of unarmed civilians, we have been maintaining a military regime for 43 years, a strangulating siege dedicated to starving the affected population, demolishing homes and whole villages, and ignoring the violence of settlers – all to apply political pressure by means of violence against innocent civilians. We persistently ignore reports and information presented to us, wave aside the testimony brought forth by soldiers, drop any mention of the various crimes from the curriculum (and finally, we shoot the messenger(s)). So truly, why would anyone be surprised that there are Jewish terrorists?

In fact, the role of the loud and overstated condemnation and the resounding astonishment is not to represent our disgust with the facts that we hear but rather, to let them remain unspoken. It is only in this way that the mainstream can appear cleansed and pure, in an attempt to clear the state and the public at large of the ignominy of the perpetration of hate-crimes which – to tell the full truth – is so very common among us.

Posted in Not so Far Right | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment