Wednesday, November 30

The Settlers and Palestinian Olive Trees

There have been increasing reports in the Israeli Press about the uprooting of olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers. The perpetrators of these disgusting acts are settlers who had established illegal outposts and seem to get away with impunity (or is it immunity from punishment by the Israeli courts?).

There always seems to be some sort of self-righteous attitude by many settlers that allows them to do everything in order to prove that they are the owners of disputed territory. The Israeli authorities treat them with kid gloves.

If this is the case, one can understand Palestinian animosity towards settlers living beyond the green line, establishing illegal outposts according to their whims and twisted ideological fantasies. If these settlers behave in this manner, it is not conducive to peace and understanding with the Palestinians.

How can anybody justify this kind of behaviour? Olive trees are very much part of the Palestinian farmer’s livelihood. How can these illegal settlers lay claim to Palestinian lands and some how get away with it?

There is no reason to justify these abuses and it would be in Israel’s interests if these settlers were brought to justice and made to pay the price for the damage caused.

This is a result of the occupation of the Palestinians! Many settlers view the Palestinians as sub human and once they have demonized them, they take the liberty to vandalize Palestinian olive groves without any conscience. This hideous, inhuman attitude does not serve anybody. It is not surprising that this kind of violence towards simple Palestinians will create more violence and hate towards Israelis.

Monday, November 28

Should Israel release Marwan Barghouti?

Marwan Barghouti is a mixture of almost everything required to give him the charisma and support of many Palestinians. He is a natural born leader who is very intelligent. He has mastered English and Hebrew with a fluency gained while serving in an Israeli prison during the first intifada. This leader, prior to his arrest, was considered a possible successor to Yasser Arafat.

On April 15, 2002 Israeli security forces arrested Barghouti in Ramallah, part of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield. Israeli courts tried him for a series of murders and there was evidence linking him to other crimes. In May 2004, the Israeli court convicted him of the murder of five civilians and involvement in four terror attacks. On 6th June 2004, he was given five consecutive life sentences plus an additional 40 years in prison (20 years for attempted murder and another 20 for membership in a terror organization).

As time moves on and with election fever heating up in Israel, the future of peace negotiations with the Palestinians is bound to be part of the Israeli election campaign. Parallel to the Israeli elections is the Palestinian election campaign as well. Marwan Barghouti has shown increased support amongst the Palestinians even though he is imprisoned. Perhaps this could be due to the “martyr effect” of imprisonment. His people view him as a freedom fighter that has paid a high price for his activities in the name of achieving freedom for his people.

Political prisoners are freed when negotiations for a peace agreement get under way, even prisoners who have been involved in terrorist activity and murder in many instances. This is a very problematic issue for those who had suffered at the hands of terrorism. It is understandable that families who have lost family and friends in terrorist attacks would oppose the release of Marwan Barghouti. We cannot judge their reactions to a possible release. Even if one were to view Marwan Barghouti’s release from a legal point of view, it is no less problematic.
However, if an agreement is reached with the Palestinians and Palestinian terror is curtailed successfully, Barghouti’s release must be brought up for debate. He is a potential negotiating partner and he is no less guilty of murder than many leaders who were involved in the struggle for freedom of their people. The Irish para-military leader, Gerry Adams, was responsible for many murders as well before he laid down his arms and adopted a peaceful approach resulting in the disarming of the Irish Republican Army. Arafat is another example who was granted legitimacy when the Oslo Accords was signed. What about Israel’s leaders, who were involved in the struggle for the establishment of Israel? Lehi, the Sterne Gang, and the Irgun who were fighting for the freedom of the Jewish people, had also killed many on the opposing side whether Arabs or British. Yitzchak Shamir, who was PM of Israel in the late 1980s until the election of Yizchak Rabin in 1992, is a case in point.

Perhaps one should view the release of Barghouti within the context of the history of Israel’s struggle for independence. Barghouti was involved in the struggle of his people against the Israeli occupation no less than Israel’s past struggles for independence. All struggles for independence results in tragic bloodshed on both sides.
If one were to examine the various interviews that Barghouti had given, he had never denied Israel’s right to exist. He also spoke out against terror. However, he does view those who live in occupied areas as occupiers against whom terror activity is justified as part of the Palestinian struggle for independence. There are certain parallels in his struggle for his people’s statehood and Israel’s past struggle for independence. This is where the tragic problem lies. However, as difficult and problematic as it is, Barghouti must be seen as a leader with whom Israel can negotiate in the future. The fact that he has massive support would mean that his release would be a counterbalance to Hamas and would also improve Israel’s stature in the world and her Arab neighbours.

Wednesday, November 23

What will happen if Sharon is re-elected?

It is never easy to speculate what will happen if Sharon is re-elected. It is a guessing game of “If…….what?” Nevertheless, one can only speculate based on the history of trends in elections in Israel. One thing is certain -much depends on the character of the coalition that he will form which will determine his future strategy assuming his party wins the election. No party will win an absolute majority and there will be much compromising because of post election negotiations.

It would not be surprising if the Labour Party under Amir Peretz becomes part of the Sharon coalition after the elections. Peretz has not ruled out that possibility. Peretz has had a problem being in the Likud coalition but now the situation has changed. The Likud is split and its chances of winning the elections poor.

It is doubtful whether there will be return of territory to the Palestinians as was the case of the disengagement from Gaza. This time much will depend on the ability of the Palestinian Authority to rein in terror. One must remember that the Palestinian elections are due in January 2006 and this in itself is a very important factor that will determine the future of negotiations with Israel under a new Sharon Government.

There may be some cosmetic disengagement in the West Bank with security arrangements. It will not satisfy the Palestinian leadership and there is a strong possibility of a continuing stalemate under the Sharon Government. The economic policies of Sharon will not differ much from the Likud. There may be some policy change towards the weaker sectors as part of a coalition agreement with the Labour Party. However, dramatic change in that area will not occur.

There are two basic issues facing the electorate today:

  1. There must be a return to negotiations with the Palestinians, which includes the establishment of a Palestinian state.

  2. Internal economic and social problems must take priority.

Positive movement towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is important for Israel’s future. If there is no movement towards that end, it will not take long before the area becomes embroiled in violence. The Palestinian elections are also on the horizon and if extremists in the Palestinian camp are elected to the Palestinian legislature who is not pragmatic towards Israel, it will be very bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The latter issue is dependent on the former. If there is no peace, there will not be stability and slowing of economic growth. Both peoples will not be able to progress. Israel’s budget will be tuned toward military expenses and this will not serve anybody’s interests.

If Sharon’s new party list is elected, negotiations with the Palestinians will be postponed indefinitely, especially if the new Palestinian Authority does not do more to halt Palestinian terror. The signs that this will occur is far from hopeful. Even if the Palestinians do get their act right on terror, it is unlikely that Sharon will do anything that is imaginative or bold towards peace. The Gaza disengagement was a different kettle of fish. There were relatively few Israeli families living in the strip and they became a severe economic and security liability as a hostile Palestinian population surrounded them.

The policies of the Likud led coalition had resulted in economic strife for the poorer members of Israel’s population. Netanyahu who was finance minister under the Likud had targeted the poor rather than the wealthy. The improvement in Israel’s economic situation had largely been artificial because of his policies.

Ariel Sharon is still the same Ariel Sharon. He is pragmatic up to a point and he will not carry out anything drastic to improve the climate between Israel and the Palestinians nor can we expect anything revolutionary in improving the situation of the weaker sections of Israeli society. Amir Peretz’s commitments on both the basic issues mentioned seems to be more convincing. However, if the Labour Party wins the elections, he will also moderate his position when it comes to forming a ruling coalition and all that it entails.

Israel will be in a very similar situation after the elections as before no matter who wins.

Monday, November 21

The Israeli Pre-election Earthquake

After Amir Peretz’s election as leader of the Labour Party, he had managed to shake up the political parties with his energy that reverberated right across the political spectrum. He had managed to get all the parties to agree to elections to clear the air. This controversial politician has breathed new life into the Labour Party. As Haaretz had reported, he had achieved his goal of pushing forward early elections and getting all the parties to agree on that.

Amir Peretz had succeeded in getting his party out of its “political hibernation” in the Likud coalition. He is a catalyst for change even in the Likud. This was overdue. If the Labor Party remained in the Likud coalition, the electorate would view them as a partner to the blunders made towards the economically deprived. Many shudders have occurred in the Likud.

Ariel Sharon has decided to leave the Likud and start a new party called (rather clumsily) the National Responsibility Party. This has created a precedent as a prime minister resigned from the party that he led. It remains to be seen whether it will strengthen his support or not. At this stage, it is difficult to say. Fourteen Likud MKs have left the Likud and joined Ariel Sharon’s Party. Some Labour party members are not happy about Amir Peretz’s election as leader and could bolt the party to join up with Ariel Sharon at a later stage. Chaim Ramon, a Labour cabinet minister without portfolio, has decided to join the new party. What is amazing is how a new leader of the Labour Party has caused such political rumblings. Israeli politics prior to that had reached a new low of pettiness and ineptitude. However if we look back on Israel’s electoral history, small breakaway parties have disintegrated into the mainstream party blocs. It is true that in this case the situation is more complicated in that most Likud cabinet ministers supported Sharon in his disengagement move. Despite that, the opposition by many members in the Likud to his policies made his situation in the Likud untenable and this had prompted Sharon to leave the Likud that he had established.

The situation now is very unclear politically and it is doubtful if elections will alter anything. Superficially, there does seem to be a political earthquake. However, when the dust settles it will be back to business as usual. No political party in Israel has ever gained an absolute majority and relies on gaining the most votes in order to form a viable ruling coalition. The future elections will be no different! Every election over the past two decades have made the situation worse politically and more difficult to form coalitions. Strange bedfellows, with opposing ideologies, joined coalitions that had become unwieldy in the past as well as unstable. There was competition in the wheeling and dealing after the elections as to who was going to benefit the most from the victory crumbs of the largest political party for the narrow interests that many smaller parties represent. Shas is the biggest culprit in this game. They are only interested in their own religious communities. Shas will join any coalition that promises to finance their yeshiva and pseudo-educational systems. The right wing parties will also demand state financial aid on the expanding of settlements beyond the green line as well as establishing new settlements as a condition for entering a coalition. History will repeat itself as the political corruption and blackmail will rear its ugly head in the aftermath of the elections.

In practical terms, elections will solve nothing. The Israeli electorate will vote in many different directions and the small parties will have the balance of power whatever happens. The electoral system of proportional representation as it stands is in dire need of reform. There are too many parties involved which renders the so-called winners unable to gain an absolute majority thus resulting in the chaos of forming a ruling coalition as already mentioned earlier in this article.

Monday, November 14

The Histadrut Dinosaur of Irrelevance

The election of the Histadrut head to director general of the Labor Party is an incredible achievement and has many positive elements. However, one must bear in mind that the Histadrut under Amir Peretz is not much different to the Histadrut under his predecessors as far as looking after the interests of the workers are concerned. The private sector workers have no true representation in the Histadrut. Their problems are very seldom addressed.

If one were to view the various strikes with Histadrut backing, it was always the strong public sector workers that went on strike. The Dock Worker’s Unions, Ministry of the Interior, Telephone Companies, banks as well as many other strong and, in many cases corrupt, workers unions were roped in for organizing strikes. This made tremendous press coverage and was wonderful for the ego of the Histadrut leader, Amir Peretz, who flexed some muscle when it came to negotiating with the government in improving worker’s salaries and conditions as well as keeping to the contracts signed. The press hype created was successful for Amir Peretz.

What about those exploited workers in the private sector, many of them being members of the Histadrut? They were unaffected by all the strike hype and remained exploited and ignored as before. They were not an investment press-wise and were largely forgotten. A case in point is the Dead Sea Potash Works whose main share holders amongst others are the brothers, Yuli and Sammy Ofer, amongst the richest people in the world who are even mentioned in the famous Forbes Magazine.

These workers work under the most intolerable conditions for salaries close to minimum wage. Many of them live under intolerable conditions in Dimona near the Dead Sea. Special overcrowded buses transport them like cattle to work in the Dead Sea Potash Works. They start work at 4.00 a.m. in the morning and end their work day late at night. Their conditions are intolerable. In summer they work in the searing heat with no air conditioners to relieve them. The salty chemical dust that they breathe is hazardous to their health. Nobody cares – not even the Histadrut! They do not have the minimum of security in their jobs nor decent workman’s compensation if they are injured. They are expendable and replaceable when their health fails. They are doomed to a life of poverty with no future for their children whatsoever. Their Worker’s Unions are corrupt and their work leaders are paid higher salaries in order to keep the working underdogs quiet. The main shareholders of this project are not interested in their workers’ welfare. When they were questioned by Ilana Dayan of the Israeli Second Channel in her programme “Uvda” some years ago about the inhuman working conditions there, they denied any knowledge of the workers’ problems and showed no concern whatsoever.

Where was Amir Peretz when these unfortunate Dead Sea Workers needed him the most? Their problems were safely swept under the Histadrut carpet for many years. Their lifespan was shortened by these intolerable inhuman sweatshop conditions and yet nobody cares. It does not make good press for Israel so who knows who is responsible for the great “cover up” there?

There are many employees, who pay fees to the Histadrut so that their working rights are insured and cared for. However, when they approach the Histadrut legal department when they have a work contract problem, there is no address. There are various inefficient clerks who answer the phones and give information which is not helpful; or leave messages which are never answered. I once had a problem and it took two and a half months before I even received a reply to a question and that was only after much nudging and phoning. The responsible (or irresponsible) person in the legal department was never there. Eventually I received a terse answer that was neither here nor there. I happen to be a card carrying member of the Histadrut which does not represent my interests at all as my attempt to get information from them had proved.

The Histadrut is a redundant dinosaur that furthers the interests of those who are able to make political capital in high places. Those workers who are not part of the huge public syndicate that is subsidized by the state have nothing to gain from being members. It is an unwieldy, inefficient organization of technocrats, political hacks of pseudo-socialistic ideals and “jobs for pals” burocrats. Its strength lies in the ability of its leaders to organize strikes sanctioned by strong, corrupt public workers unions which have made little inroads in genuine workers’ rights in the private sector.

Sunday, November 13

The New Leader of the Labor Party

Politics in Israel had reached a new low over the last few years. The Labor Party under the leadership of the veteran leader, Shimon Peres, had lost its direction and identity. It had lost heavily in the previous elections and its power base was close to obliteration. The sop, that the Labor leadership had fed the public, to justify its tagging on to the Sharon Likud Government as part of the coalition, was its acting as a facilitating  watchdog for the momentum towards peace with the Palestinians. It ceased to be interested in social issues and it had supported the Likud line adding its weight in increasing poverty and divisions between rich and poor. It had become Likud B under Shimon Peres whose justification for remaining in the Sharon Government is clear.

Most people were becoming disillusioned with the Labor Party which had resulted in the left of centre in Israel becoming disunited and losing its confidence in the future. The idea of the Labor Government remaining in the coalition in order to support Sharon in carrying out the disengagement from Gaza has now become superfluous and, despite that, it still remained even after the disengagement. Apparently they received such tasty crumbs from Sharon’s plate that they were prepared to turn a blind eye to the dismemberment of Israeli society by creation of the “haves” and the “have not’s”. Even before the disengagement, Labor could have supported Sharon without being in his coalition on the disengagement issue. While in the coalition, they became partners with the previous Finance Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, in eroding salaries of public employees including supporting the so-called Growth and Support Tax which were lopped off our salaries without any accounting whatsoever. Ministerial positions are comfortable for incumbents and even sacrificing one’s ideals is worth it. This was done in order to save Israel’s limping economy. Not a word was mentioned by the Labor Party to oppose Netanyahu’s draconian policies which hit the poor people, pensioners and employees more than the wealthy and strong elements of Israeli society. The Labor Party was on the road to becoming an irrelevant dinosaur!

Amir Peretz has arrived like a breath of fresh air. Now that he has won the elections for leadership, it is hoped that he will steer the Labor Party to represent what it should really be. Tactically he has made the correct decision in leaving the Likud Coalition and ceasing to be Likud B surviving on Sharon juicy tidbits. There is no viable opposition against the ruling coalition and it is up to the Labor Party to get out of its lethargy and provide a viable alternative government with its foresight on Israel’s future in the Middle East and peace with its Palestinian and Arab neighbours.  

Shimon Peres has had an illustrious past in the Labor Movement. He may not have had what it takes in the mind of the Israeli electorate to win elections, but he has made many positive contributions to Israel’s stand in the world and would certainly be an excellent asset to Israel as an international elder statesman serving as a roving ambassador despite his age.

Amir Peretz is a charismatic leader and he seems to have the correct ingredients to kick start the Labor Party and give it relevance once more after its years of relative dormancy and loss of direction. Time will tell whether he will be able to deliver the goods. He will have to show more pragmatism towards the various sectors in Israel society including encouraging a free market economy apart from his almost total concern for worker’s rights in the old socialist mode.

Once his programme in the direction of peace and social democracy becomes clearer, it would be wise to create a broad political front, which would include Meretz-Yahad, in the future as an alternative to the Sharon Government.

Monday, November 7

The Palestinian Donation out of Sorrow

The fatal shooting of Ahmed Al-Khatib (12) by the IDF in error is a terrible tragedy beyond description. The fact that the parents had agreed to donate his organs to six Israelis, irrespective of their religion, is a noble deed that can only illustrate the greatness of the Al-Khatib family of Jenin in their moment of grief in their sad loss.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has played its part in demonizing both peoples in the eyes of each other. Yet, despite that, in the hour of their grief, the Al-Khatib family made an incredible decision in the name of peace which goes to prove that within Palestinian society there are those who still hold supreme - ideals of saving lives - despite all the hardships and adversity that this tragic conflict has created.

There is no doubt that Israel owes this Palestinian family an enormous amount of gratitude for their noble deed. The circumstances under which Ahmed Al-Khatib was killed makes their donation even more significant and praiseworthy than otherwise would be the case. The question that remains is whether, despite all the tragedy and loss of life, this could be a small start towards a lasting peace which both sides need so much?

Sunday, November 6

Sonic Booms as a Deterrent to Palestinian Terrorism

While the use of sonic booms to scare the Palestinians in Gaza may seem to be a rather extreme tactic, one must see its use in the proper perspective. It is the duty of the Israeli Security Forces to protect Israelis. Gaza has been returned to the Palestinians, the settlers have left and yet the firing of Qassam rockets into the green line continues almost unabated. The fact that there have been fewer successes and much of the terrorist rockets have backfired on the Palestinians themselves in many cases does not mean that this terrorist activity has ceased.

Would it be better if the Security Forces went into Gaza and made house to house searches for terrorists responsible for Qassam rocket fire? This would result in increased suffering for innocent Palestinians who may be coerced by Palestinian terror groups to hide them in their homes. Collateral damage to the Palestinian people would be far worse. Islamic Jihad has proved to be non-conciliatory towards Israel and have not accepted the cease-fire. Mahmoud Abbas still does not intend to curb the terrorist acts against Israelis within the green line, whether it is suicide bombings or firing of Qassam rockets.

So the sonic booms are not pleasant to innocent Palestinians neither are suicide bombings and Qassam rockets pleasant to Israelis. The former causes psychological stress to innocent people while the latter causes death to innocent people. Which is worse? If the Palestinian terror ceases, so will the sonic booms. The ball is in the Palestinian court.

Saturday, November 5

Yitzchak Rabin 1922-1995

Ten Years after the Assassination of PM.Yitschak Rabin

Having been present at the Peace Rally at Kikar Malchei Yisrael (renamed Yischak Rabin Square) in Tel Aviv on that fateful night of 4th November 1995 when PM Rabin was assassinated had left all of us traumatized and I will never forget that evening. It had started off on such an optimistic note. There must have been a crowd of about 450 000 people. How well do I remember my feelings prior to that rally! There was growing opposition to the peace process and I had a feeling that very few people would attend the peace rally.
There were violent demonstrations against the Oslo Accords by the right wing in Zion Square, Jerusalem about two weeks before Rabin’s assassination. Benjamin Netanyahu was also present at that demonstration as a passive supporter of the right wing rabble- rousers. Demonization of Rabin had started even prior to that. A placard was held up showing a photo montage of Rabin in SS uniform! I just felt that I had to go to that rally that night to show my support for the peace process. I never attend rallies or demonstrations but somehow I felt that this was an exception.
The crowd came from all over Israel. It was wonderful to be in the company of so many Israeli well wishers – Jews, Moslems, Christians and many other members of the public whose heart had a common desire for peace. We felt that this was a marvelous opportunity to show our solidarity for peace and not to be daunted by the various right wing movements in the country who had made vociferous statements opposing Rabin and the Peace Process. The slogan of the Peace Rally that night was “Yes to Peace, no to Violence”. How well I remember the massive gas filled balloons with slogans and the Meretz insignia hovering over the multitude that were present that evening. It was a warm almost summery evening – rather rare for November in Israel. The demonstration was peaceful apart from a very few right wingers whose presence was hardly felt. They were pushed very much to the side lines that night. My thoughts that evening were focused on hope that the left of centre government of Yitschak Rabin has a chance of moving the Peace Process forward. Many of us felt ecstatic that evening as the peace rally commenced. Many important guests were present and addressed the crowd. There were many Israeli artists who sang between the speeches made. The Jordanian ambassador at the time, Marwan Muasher (today Jordan’s Foreign Minister), gave a stirring speech, followed by Yossi Sarid the leader of Meretz, Shimon Peires and Shlomo Lahat – the ex Mayor of Tel Aviv, who was one of the organizers of the evening. P.M.Yitschak Rabin was the last guest speaker. He gave a rousing speech and the reaction was ecstatic. We all felt at one with him at the time. None of us had any idea that a few moments later he would be assassinated.

The climax of the evening, which left a lump in my throat, was the singing of Shir Hashalom (the Song of Peace) with Miri Aloni, the famous Israeli performer, leading the crowd. PM Rabin, who does not normally sing, was swept up with the emotion of that evening and joined in the singing with the crowd. All in all, the evening was a major success until tragedy struck Rabin down as we left the square to depart home. As we boarded the buses the tragic news broke out and we were left with an indescribable sense of shock.

The build up of hate for Rabin and the Oslo Accords of 1993 was a snowballing process which reached a climax with Rabin’s tragic assassination. In the aftermath of the signing of these accords and the famous handshake of Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn on 13th September 1993, I remember returning home from work and seeing a display of vicious anti-Rabin posters lining the Geha Highway. Right wing, religious Zionists of the settler movements were holding them up. The posters were frightening and disgusting in content. There were pictures of blood dripping from Rabin wearing an Arafat-style “keffiya”. The dehumanization of Rabin had begun! He was portrayed as a Jewish traitor! These settler supporters were there shouting and waving their horrifying banners. It was then that I felt that the danger to the peace process came from the right wing camp. Extremist right wing rabbis legitimized “Pulsa denura” ceremonies calling for Rabin’s death. These rabbis had great influence on the right wing extremists at the time. It was not surprising that once Rabin was considered “persona non grata” by his extreme right wing opponents, a fanatic assassin in that right wing camp would arise and murder him.

There is no doubt that the extremist right wing camp was responsible for creating the atmosphere for Rabin’s assassination. The violent demonstrations against the Oslo Accords and the Peace Process were viewed by the lunatic fringe in the right wing camp as justifiable. They believed that the Jewish people were in danger as the momentum towards peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbours would become a reality.

Today, there is a sudden plethora of conspiracy theories. The whole idea of these theories is to minimize the assassin Yigal Amir’s guilt. It is incredible that the idea of allowing Yigal Amir to marry in order to have children is diabolical. This monster does not have the right to exist let alone marry. If he is granted pardon for his crime it would be a disgrace on the judicial system of Israel! Israel is not the same country since that fateful night. Yigal Amir had destroyed the momentum for peace with Rabin’s assassination!