Wednesday, December 24

The Israeli Elections and Violence

All the political parties have had their primaries and will be going into the field to capture the votes of their supporters. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the Likud and its potential right wing partners will win these elections. This will be detrimental to Israel and Palestinian interests in the movement towards peace. Now, the peace process has stalled and this is what the right wing block wants. It means that they will leave the situation as it is. This also means the settlements will remain and the tension between Israel and the Palestinians will increase.

Benjamin Netanyahu will be the next prime minister. All we seem to get are lack luster leadership in the main political parties. The cease fire between Hamas in Gaza and Israel ended on 19th December 2008. It remains to be seen whether there will be an increase of violence in the near future. As the situation is now, Hamas has been firing Qassam rockets into Israel and it will be a matter of time before the situation deteriorates further.

It is hard to understand what Hamas is trying to achieve by escalating the violence. They are inviting an Israeli Army action which will be disastrous for the Palestinians. Their actions are suicidal and the threat to the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is real. If the Israeli Army decides to enter Gaza with all its forces, Gilad Shalit’s life could be placed in jeopardy. Hamas is the Gaza Palestinian’s choice and this is the group with whom Israel has to negotiate. While Hamas has no interest in negotiating with Israel as it does not wish to recognize Israel, the difficulties of negotiating under these circumstances makes it impossible.

Hamas is playing with fire. They have no interest in peace and coexistence with Israel. Even democracy for the Palestinian people in Gaza is not in their lexicon. It is a matter of time before they get what is coming to them from the Israeli Army. The closures in Gaza, the economic squeeze on the Palestinian population is not going to help to improve the situation. Hamas must be held accountable for the untold suffering of the Palestinian population in Gaza. Their intransigence and violence towards Israel and their own opponents in Palestine are factors that prolong Palestinian suffering in Gaza. The message of Hamas is clear. They are a selfish, power hungry group of terrorists who can only survive by ensuring that the suffering of the Palestinian people continues. Economic hardships and Palestinian suffering somehow is Hamas’s strength. They initiate violence and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel in order to provoke an aggressive Israeli response which they would turn into a victory by accusing Israel of aggression. They also hope that they can get improved conditions for a cease fire from their point of view. It looks as if they are on the road to brinkmanship. They are trying their luck to the point where Israel may be on the eve of a massive air strike of which they might stop short at the last minute once a renewed cease-fire is declared with Egypt’s mediation. There is no doubt that Hamas is a cancer in Palestinian society that rules Gaza by tyranny. In the coming days there will be an acceleration of Qassam rockets into Sderot and other areas in Southern Israel.

There has been further firing of rockets into the south of Israel – 18 rockets in all. There does not seem to be a cessation of this terrorist activity at all. Following the ongoing rocket fire, Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the defense establishment to cancel the planned transfer of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, Israel decided to allow the delivery a limited amount of humanitarian equipment at 11 am Wednesday 24th December 2008, but the crossings are now slated to remain closed.

Meanwhile, Israel is carrying out limited air strikes against the Qassam launchers but this is not going to make any dent in the Hamas ability to carry on the violence.

While this is going on, the main political parties in Israel are gearing up for the elections in February 10th 2009. As I said, the trend is towards the right; the Labour Party will be trounced like never before in its history. Kadima will take second place and after the elections, it will be part of the Likud coalition and so will the Labour Party. Ehud Barak, the Labour leader may even retain the Defense portfolio under the Netanyahu Likud government that is on the cards, according to statistics. Those Israeli citizens who have the vote must be made to realize that a vote for any of these 3 parties is a vote for a right wing coalition because that is what we are going to receive.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the rejuvenated Meretz Party which has attracted quite a few well known Labour Party celebrities who have left the Labour Party, which over the last decade or so has lost its direction and is prepared to sit in coalitions with right wing parties that are theoretically diametrically opposed to Labour Party ideology or what is left of it. The Meretz Party’s performance in the last Knesset has been poor, it had not been outspoken on many issues like the peace process, and social issues as it had been in the past. It is doubtful if the new Meretz Party will gain more support than what it has now. It may gain an extra seat or two in the Knesset.

The Shas Party will as usual resort to religious extortion as they have done in the past. They will be part of the right wing coalition after the elections.

The rest of the parties are marginal. The environmental parties will not gain any seats in the Knesset and a vote for them will be futile if not a total waste.

The serious voter will remain confused for whom to vote. A vote for the right wing is a vote for the settler movement and the continuation of the occupation. Hamas provides the right wing with the ideal fuel for that! While Hamas maintains its anti-Israel stance, the right wing in Israel will be pleased and will score a victory in the elections.

The coming elections will, unfortunately, be another wasted opportunity – an exercise in marking time to continue the occupation. This will be further emphasized as election fever heats up and the right wing of Israel becomes the next government.

Saturday, December 6

The Violence Goes On with Israeli Elections in the Offing

The last week we all witnessed the terrible tragedy that occurred in Mumbai, India. The attack on the Taj Hotel, Oberoi Hotel and Chabad Centre left in its wake 173 people dead. This heinous terrorist act was ghastly and needs to be condemned by all peoples no matter from where they come. It was an attack on Western civilization as well as Jews. This occurred at the weak economic underbelly of India which was so unprepared. Let us all hope that these terrorist acts will never occur again and that Pakistan and India will work together to destroy this evil that is threatening the peace between the two states. Pakistan has a history of intelligence services that went rogue and worked against the interests of Pakistan. This was a tragic case in point.

It would be a grave mistake if people condemn Islam because of the terror that was perpetrated by Islamist extremists. Certainly accusing the Palestinians of being part of the terrorist groupings is not constructive and it is not the case here.

Back home, the violence in Hebron continues between right wing Jewish extremists and Palestinians. In this case, the Jewish religious extremists are to blame for the violence against the Palestinians. They flouted the law, and remained in the House of Contention in Hebron, wreaking havoc on the Palestinians. They maintain that this House of Contention belongs to them by right and they refuse to evacuate it. They also caused damage to Israeli Army property and injured soldiers carrying out their duty in maintaining law and order. Eventually the army succeeded in evacuating them. The army blames the settlers for instigating clashes with Palestinians, which led to the injury of 18 Israeli security personnel and settlers Tuesday 2nd December 2008, including a 15-year-old boy whose skull was fractured after he was hit in the head by a rock. Twenty Palestinians have been hurt in the clashes since Monday, the Palestinian Authority said.

The Israeli Border Police continue to treat these settler extremists and their supporters with kid gloves and as expected, no arrests were made. Why are these youth not punished? They have caused so much damage to property – Israeli as well as Palestinian. It all boils down to education. The so-called extremist rabbinical educators of the yeshivas where these kids study “firebrand” Judaism – the Judaism of hate not the authentic Judaism of love and tolerance should be blamed for the violence that these religious extremists commit. It is people of the likes of the racist Rabbi Dov Lior that foments hatred and is a catalyst for the settler youth violence. Other rabbis of this ilk preach the same.

The following is a quote from an article “Rabbis who bring shame to Judaism” by Khaled Amayreh:

“Religious extremism is very dangerous. It means that every thinkable vice under the sun can be committed, “sanctioned” and “justified” in the name of the Almighty. In Israel, rabbis with hundreds of thousands of followers, many of whom serve in the Gestapo-like Israeli occupation army, openly teach that non-Jews are only human in form but animals in substance. These racist teachings can’t be dismissed as “innocuous” or “esoteric.” Very often, they constitute “a manual for action” for many Jewish settlers roaming the hills of the West Bank, searching for an Arab prey to kill, or attack or tie up to a power pole.

The teachings also serve as a direct inspiration to numerous Israeli soldiers (by no means all the soldiers. It is NOT the policy of the Israeli Army to indoctrinate the soldiers with religious teachings. I have served in the Israeli Army and this statement is NOT true! The Israeli Army is NOT a racist army. It is concerned with the defense of Israel. While the methods it uses may be questionable, this does NOT make it racist or responsible for the ideology of various right wing extremists. The “hill top” youth have NOT served in the army because of their age. S .Z. Klein) operating in the West Bank who, thanks to the racist indoctrination they receive from their rabbis, have come to view the estimated 3.7 million Palestinians living under Israel’s military rule, not as real human beings, but rather as animals walking on two feet. The often barbaric treatment meted out to the Palestinians in the occupied territories testifies to the rampantly racist indoctrination soldiers and settlers receive at the hands of religious Zionist rabbis. Last year, a Jewish immigrant from France, who murdered an Arab taxi driver after luring him to his home north of Tel Aviv, told police interrogators that he didn’t kill a human being; he only killed an animal.

“Merkaz Harav”

Merkaz Harav (the Rabbi’s Center) is the ideological and theological central nervous system of religious Zionism in Israel. Established in honor of Rabbi Abraham Kook, Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, the center, which is actually a religious college, teaches students that God Almighty created the entire universe for the sake of “the Jew,” and that all non-Jews ought to be slaves laboring for the “chosen people.” As to the Palestinians, Merkaz Harav teaches that “non-Jews living under Jewish law in Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) must either be enslaved as water carriers and wood hewers, or banished, or exterminated.”

Some rabbinic authorities associated with Merkaz Harav have been preaching the view that Palestinians are descendants of the Amalek, or Amalekites, whom the Bible says must be exterminated. Such hateful views are actually espoused by hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. This is the religious doctrine of religious Zionism. This is the theology taught in hundreds of Yeshivas (religious schools) throughout Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Settlers as well as the increasingly Settler-dominated Israeli army (This is untrue! The Israeli Army is NOT dominated by settlers – S. Z. Klein) may very well act on these doctrines in a more wanton manner if the world goes into a slumber. They are only awaiting the opportune time to do it.

According to Rabbi Kook, “The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews-all of them in all different levels-is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the soul of cattle.” The late Israeli philosopher, Yisrael Shahak, pointed out that the teachings of Kook were based on the Lurianic Cabala, one of whose basic tenets is the absolute superiority of the Jewish soul and body over the non-Jewish soul and body “so much so that the world was created solely for the sake of Jews.”

Religious zealots of the right view it as their privilege to settle the West Bank (Judea and Samaria as they call it). They demonize the Palestinians and their hate for them knows no bounds. The violence directed towards the Palestinians is a logical outcome of the occupation. These hooligans, attired in the traditional attire of religious Jews, are the offspring of the religious rightwing settler movements. After years of occupation that resulted in the usurpation of Palestinian lands, justification of violence against Palestinians and the Security Forces has rendered the government powerless against them. Successive Israeli governments since the June War of 1967 are responsible for this cancer in Israeli society. This cancer manifests itself in the warped teaching of religious right wing rabbis residing in the territories who goad their students to commit acts of violence against the Palestinians as well as the Israeli Security Forces entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining law and order.

The extent of the violence recently exhibited by the settlers has been "nearly unprecedented" over the past few days and could spark Palestinian revenge attacks, IDF sources said. They called on educators in West Bank yeshivas and high schools to restrain their students, adding that most of the settlers involved in the fighting were young people from the territories.

Rabbis and principals are "turning a blind eye to their students' skipping school to go to Hebron, and some are even encouraging them," an IDF source said.

"We're sorry about the boy who was seriously wounded Tuesday," a military official added, "but the truth needs to be said: He is not a resident of Hebron and there was nothing for him to be doing there, in the heart of the riots. He should have stayed in school."

Right wing extremist rabbis are goading the youth to take the law into their own hands from the roof tops of the so called House of Contention to throw rocks at the Palestinians.

Nearby, a Palestinian youth walking home from school keeps his eye on the rooftop of the building. He knows a stone may be thrown at him from there at any moment. Mohammed al-Jabari, 46, who just finished praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs, said the youths on top of the building throw stones at every Palestinian passing on the street below.

Munwar al-Jabari, 62, lives down the road from the building. Her arm is covered with blue marks she said were caused by stones thrown at her by Jewish youths.

"They called me names. Whore, prostitute," she said. "Then they threw stones. One of them hit me and I haven't received medical treatment since."

Her sons later confronted the Jewish youths but three of them were arrested by police. A Red Crescent ambulance was called to treat Munwar, but Jewish youths threw stones at it too.

The word "vengeance," daubed by settlers on the door to the al-Jabaris' backyard can still be seen underneath a layer of white paint. Three weeks earlier, settlers wrote "death to Arabs" on another wall.

Hate graffiti and stone-throwing recur repeatedly. Such incidents have become routine for Palestinians living near the "House of Contention."

Youths at the building seem determined to make their neighbors' lives a living hell. Seven Palestinians were wounded from stones thrown from the building yesterday, and another seven the day before. However, for some unknown reason, the police's reaction has been very soft.

Amjad al-Jabari, a photographer for the human rights organization B'Tselem, complained to a police officer on Saturday about the constant stone-throwing.

"I asked the officer to place police officers on the rooftops," he said. "He said he could not do such a thing. A few minutes later I was hit with a stone." He takes off his hat and reveals a bandage placed on his head in a way that resembles a skullcap.

"Three days ago I caught a youth who threw a stone at me," he said. "I took him to the police but they let him go after ten minutes."

As Amjad spoke, a police vehicle approached him. The officer stuck his head out the window and shouted angrily toward him: "Tell them, tell them everything." Almost all the Palestinians living near the "House of Contention" have been attacked by settlers.

A few settler youths play the guitar near the entrance to the building - an almost pastoral scene. A youth carrying a backpack gets off a bus at the bus stop set up right outside the building for the settlers' convenience. He enters the building and joins the ranks of those inside. Outside, two women sit in a vehicle keeping an eye on the traffic and warning against unwanted visitors.

Basam and Nabil al-Jabari are renovating their home opposite the Peace House. "We aren't interested in politics," Basam said. "But you are occupying us, so protect us. They attack people randomly, men, women and funerals. What do they want from us?"

The behaviour of these youths is shocking and needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The right wing rabbis are no asset to Israel and certainly they are a great obstacle for peace. These rabbis are so full of hate for the Palestinians and it reflects in their interpretation of Judaism which they teach to the yeshiva students under their tutelage.

Their Judaism is violent and their rabbinical teachers encourage these hooligans to attack Palestinians. According to a Haaretz report of 5th December 2008, a pogrom was committed by the Jewish settlers against the Palestinians:

“An innocent Palestinian family, numbering close to 20 people was surrounded by a few dozen masked Jews seeking to lynch them. This could best be described as a pogrom in the worst sense of the word. First the masked men set fire to their laundry in the front yard and then they tried to set fire to one of the rooms in the house. The women cry for help, "Allahu Akhbar." Yet the neighbors are too scared to approach the house, frightened of the security guards from Kiryat Arba who have sealed off the home and who are cursing the journalists who wish to document the events unfolding there.

The cries rain down, much like the hail of stones the masked men hurled at the Abu Sa'afan family in the house. A few seconds tick by before a group of journalists, long accustomed to witnessing these difficult moments, decides not to stand on the sidelines. They break into the home and save the lives of the people inside. The brain requires a minute or two to digest what is taking place. Women and children were crying bitterly. They had fear on their faces. Stones land on the roof of the home, the windows and the doors. Flames engulf the southern entrance to the home. The front yard is littered with stones thrown by the masked men. The windows are shattered and the children are frightened. All around, as if they were watching a rock concert, are hundreds of Jewish witnesses, observing the events with great interest, even offering suggestions to the Jewish wayward youth as to the most effective way to harm the family. The police and the army were nowhere to be seen.

Ten minutes prior, while the security forces were preoccupied with dispersing the rioters near the House of Contention, black smoke billowed from the wadi separating Kiryat Arba and Hebron. For some reason, none of the senior officers of the police or the army was particularly disturbed by what was transpiring at the foot of Kiryat Arba. Anyone standing hundreds of meters away could notice the dozens of rioters climbing atop the roof of the Abu Sa'afan family home, hurling stones”.

The settler youths who committed these ghastly acts have the audacity to accuse the Israeli Army of being Nazis. If anything their loutish behaviour and the destruction of Palestinian property and injury they caused illustrates who are the real Nazis and racists in the territories.

The apologetic attitude of the right wing Likud and its further to the right allies towards the settlers is appalling. While admitting that those “hill top youth” ought to be punished for their hooliganism towards the Israeli Security Forces, they did not condemn the violence towards the Palestinians. This is the party destined to win the Israeli Elections in February 2009 and has no desire to make peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbours. The settlers in the occupied territories will remain with the religious hooligans under the influence of their right wing rabbinical mentors in the bigoted, racist yeshivas in the territories.

The losers will be the Israelis and the Palestinians as the Likud and its right wing allies will lead Israel towards a true apartheid society resembling the old, detestable regime of White South Africa.

Saturday, November 22

The Upcoming Israeli Elections and Peace between Israel and the Palestinians

The Israeli General Elections are in the offing and soon the parties will be campaigning in order to win. One does not have to be a genius to realize that no party will gain an absolute majority. The idea of peace between Israel and her neighbours, especially her Palestinian neighbours, will be regarded as a hot potato by the triumvirate (Likud, Kadima and Labor). This will not be given high priority as it should. The party that makes peace as part of its agenda will not gather much votes. Making peace means compromises and this means land exchanges and withdrawals. This is not the stuff of winning in the Israeli Elections. Paying vague lip service to peace is desirable without being specific as to how peace can be achieved.

In a previous article I discussed the dilemma that faces the serious voter in making his choice. There does seem to be a realignment of the left under the Meretz Party banner. It remains to be seen what party line they will take when the election campaign heats up. The performance of the Meretz Party over the last 4-5 years has been disappointing. They are not even the shadow of the party they once were under Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni.

The past week has been a week of vicissitudes. Yakov Alperon, one of the crime gang leaders was assassinated. The stock exchange continues to plunge to new low depths. The “hill top” youths, cladded with the trappings of holiness and religiosity – the kippot (head covering), tsitsit (holy fringes) and peyot (ear locks), went wild, hitting and injuring soldiers who carry out their duty as well as desecrating mosques in Hebron by painting slogans of “Mohammed is a Pig”. They also did tremendous damage to Palestinian property as well as Israeli Army vehicles. Their behaviour has been more than disgusting; I thought to myself, that had these Jewish hooligans been Palestinians, the army would have shot them. They were hardly punished! The excuse – the Israeli Police Force and Army do not have the tools to deal with them! However, they seem to have the tools for dealing with Palestinian lawbreakers. These hooligans seem to be left to their own devices with minimum punishment while the Israeli law authorities gently convince them of their naughtiness and plead with them to stop. No arrests have been made despite the fact that it would be relatively simple to arrest them and make them accountable. There are those who say that they were under age and the law does not provide for their punishment. However, the law does seem to provide for the punishment of under age Palestinians who break the law which often ends in severe injuries to these children if not in death.

This behaviour is the result of their upbringing within the framework of the extremist right wing, despicable settler movements. The settlers make land grabs by stealing Palestinian lands and destroying Palestinian olive groves. Their offspring learn from their parents – goaded by their right wing rabbinical mentors. In order to understand the behaviour of the settlers, it would be a good idea to have some idea of Jewish Fundamentalism. It is not the purpose of this article to go into details about this mutant of Judaism except to say that "Gush Emunim rabbis have continually reiterated that Jews who killed Arabs should not be punished, [e.g.]...Relying on the Code of Maimonides and the Halacha, Rabbi Ariel stated, 'A Jew who killed a non-Jew is exempt from human judgment and has not violated the [religious] prohibition of murder'...The significance here is most striking when the broad support, both direct and indirect, for Gush Emunim is considered. About one-half of Israel's Jewish population supports Gush Emunim." "Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky's "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel"

This unfortunately is the basis of their belief in the Greater Israel concept.

"The state of Israel has become the enemy of the people and the land of Israel," settler Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe said Tuesday 18th November 2008 during an emergency meeting on the state's plan to evacuate a house in Hebron whose ownership has been at the center of a bitter dispute for over a year. When religious leaders make statements of this nature then there are those right wing settlers who take them seriously thus taking the law into their own hands. This opens the door for right wing settler anarchy and violence towards the Palestinians as was witnessed a few days ago.

What does one expect? If the Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, allows for the expansion of existing settlements and he is supposed to be the head of the left wing block, then his utterances of peace is cynical and hypocritical. How could one make peace with one’s neighbours while at the same time grabbing their lands or being instrumental in passing laws legalizing theft of Palestinian land for illegal settlements? When the pace of land grabs is not rapid enough for the settlers then they send their children to do the job by taking over outposts and creating havoc against the army and the Palestinians. When one creates a monster to benefit one’s own interests that monster eventually turns against the creator and becomes uncontrollable. Why the outcry when the settlers attack the army that tries to prevent settler violence? The right wing settler rabbis support

Israel is showing signs of becoming an apartheid state. The proof is in the pudding when it is clear that the Jewish hooligans and their siblings in the territories are treated with kid gloves while their innocent Palestinian counterparts are treated more severely when stuck at check posts crossing over to visit their families or attend to the harvesting of their crops where their lands are divided by the security fence.

No government coalition has ever addressed the land grabs by settlers. Instead they pass laws legalizing it and then telling the world that Israel seeks peace. Land grabs, illegal racist settler movements and right wing racist rabbis who are given the green light to be spiritual mentors of the settlers are incompatible with Israel’s desire for peace. This leaves a large question mark as to Israel’s credibility amongst the world of nations. Israel is becoming an expert in double talk.

The biggest obstacle to peace between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours is the settlers. They are creating a situation on the ground making the two state solution more difficult to attain. This leaves the only alternative – a one state or binational state solution. The latter is NOT the creation of anti-Semites as many Israeli supporters maintain, but the creation of facts on the ground by settlers occupying Palestinian lands making the two-state solution more and more unattainable. Today there are more and more forums that are discussing the binational state solution and if there is no total withdrawal, this will be the only game in town as far as solving the conflict is concerned.

According to David Kimche, former director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, and president of the Israel Council for Foreign Relations and a member of the Israel Policy Forum's Israel Advisory Council, says in a recent article in the New York Times that “the concept of a negotiated two-state solution - a Jewish state of Israel living in peace and security alongside an independent, economically viable Palestinian state - that has been widely accepted for more than 15 years is disappearing before our eyes”.

If the contesting parties in the upcoming Israeli Elections do not address this issue of the occupation and withdrawal to the 1967 pre-Six Day War borders, the only conclusion reached will be Israel’s desire to rule over another people using the settlers as a means to achieve that end. This is incompatible with peace. Israel will also continue to remain a colonial, apartheid state with all the dangers entailed.

Saturday, November 8

The US Elections, Israel and Palestine

Ehud Barak

Tzippi Livni

The US Elections have come and gone. Many of us are pleased that Barack Obama had won these elections. For us in the Middle East and especially for Israelis and Palestinians who are desirous of a solution to this conflict that has plagued us for so long, there is perhaps a tiny light at the end of the dark tunnel of frustration. There are no guarantees of course, but there is some hope of a new order.

Israel, on the other hand, is also at the threshold of elections which will be held on 10th February 2009. While the American people voiced their opinion at the polls, showed their disgust with the Bush Administration and viewed John McCaine, the Republican candidate, as a vestige of the hated Bush Administration which explains his defeat and Obama’s landslide victory. The American people deserve the credit for voting for change. They put aside their race prejudices and this was no factor in determining the result. The Stock Exchange crash that occurred was also a factor in determining the result. Economic problems always take precedence over political considerations in determining the winner in this case.

I wish that the optimism for serious change and reform would occur after the Israeli Elections but there is no chance of that. Israelis are not that bold. The best they could do is having two failed prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud, Ehud Barak of Labor and lack luster Zippi Livni of Kadima somewhere in between. She has no achievements to her credit apart from honesty and a clean slate. This seems to be more important these days than having any policy especially in Israel. Policy wise and a direction of true reform and peace with the Palestinians are not in the lexicon of any of the candidates – let alone the pathetic political parties that they represent. The result of the pathetic Israeli elections is a forgone conclusion – a crippled coalition of the 3 main parties with the religious parties tagging on in order to gain financial benefit by extortion. No party will get an absolute majority as usual and there will be a myriad of small parties resulting in much wasted votes.

This coalition will have a right wing slant even with the tacit support of Labour who will cling to the pickings of the coalition after much bickering. Labour will be relegated to be an insignificant political factor with no ideology at all. Ehud Barak, the past prime ministerial failure is more concerned in warming his bottom as prime minister. He and his party will blend into the spineless, jelly fish-like coalition that will be unable to make any decisions for the promotion of peace with the Palestinians and to make the economic reforms that are overdue in Israel. Meretz will all but disappear or may gain at best 4-5 seats which render it ineffectual and weak especially now that it lost two of its senior members in the Knesset, Yossi Beilin and Ran Cohen.

As the situation is now in Israel, there are no Zionist parties worthy of any support. Left wing Zionist parties have lost their direction. They are in total disarray and are virtually moribund. The only viable Zionism that remains today is the ideology of the Likud, Kadima and right wing. This is settler-oriented Zionism and its racists from the pseudo-Kach movements under Noam Federman, the Zionist racist, who are even prepared to fight the Israeli Army to maintain their settlements and abuse the Palestinians even further. These loutish, kippa-cladded hooligans are handled with kid gloves and are detained for a few days at most or released after a few hours by the Israeli Security forces while Palestinians who are involved in similar violence get heavy prison sentences. All this occurs under the auspices of Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defense. This loutish behaviour will drive the two-state solution even further from attainment.

If the Labour Party wishes to improve its chances, it must rid itself of Ehud Barak who is a liability and not an asset. Under Barak’s leadership, Labour will not undergo any revival. The way the settler movement has been handled and the increased theft of Palestinian lands for Jewish settlement under his auspices proves that Barak has no scruples or ideology. He takes the road of pandering even to the right wing. His actions will ensure that the Labour Party gets a thorough drubbing after the elections. Today there is hardly any difference between Labour, Kadima and Likud. Labour has been reduced to a party of wimpish has-beens and pathetic party political hacks. Thanks to pompous Barak of wealthy Kierov Towers in Tel Aviv, he will be credited for destroying the Labour Party’s so-called social democratic fa├žade.

President Bush did very little to facilitate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He was embroiled in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan which had weakened the US as an honest broker. Now with Obama being the future president, he does not carry this baggage and has the potential to be more successful.

The time is overdue for Israel to get a charismatic leader with foresight that will unite the nation and move it towards peace with the Palestinians as well as make the necessary reforms that are so overdue. The power of extortion of the ultra-Orthodox religious Parties need to be curtailed in order to get there. This will not occur and we shall have the nauseating coalition negotiations to produce a lame, no direction coalition after the elections. There are no signs that the Israeli Electorate will assure that a more dynamic and imaginative leadership will arise after the elections. Israel will not follow the example of the US in moving towards any positive drastic changes after the elections. The idea of a Barak, Livni, and Netanyahu triumvirate is also a pathetic possibility if one throws one’s vote away on one of these three main parties.

Sunday, November 2

The Upcoming Israeli Elections

After a period if relative instability because of Prime Minister Olmert’s legal problems, the dye is cast and the country is moving towards general elections. The prime minister-designate, Tzippi Livne, was unable to form a new coalition because of the religious Shas Party’s extortionist tactics and the price they demanded to be included in the coalition. When Shas saw that their tactics did not work, Eli Yishai, the Shas leader, decided to let the racist genie out of the bottle and accuse his negotiating partners of blatant racism against the Sephardim. As illogical as this is, it somehow does bring more of his supporters and potential voters to the fold. The whims of Shas – the narrow and bigoted partisan party – created the fall of the Israeli government.

Now the country will be thrown into an electoral campaign that will not clear up anything. The results will be just as pathetic as in the past elections. No party will gain an absolute majority. One need not be a prophet to predict that.

No matter how one votes one is going to get a shocking coalition – a coalition that will be no credit to anybody and certainly will not advance the peace process with the Palestinians. We are due to have a coalition that is impotent and will move nowhere.

If we look at the choices at the Israel electorate’s disposal, the choices are poor. They are Hobson’s choices.

Kadima is a hotch-potch of ideas – from the moderate right to the moderate left and can take on any political party under its wing. It is a party with no principles. It is an amorphous mass of ideas which will tag onto the Likud, Labour, Shas even the extreme right wing if it serves their interests in getting into power. They are not deserving of the support of the serious voter.

The Likud is more right wing than centre right in its ideology. It does not have what it takes to make peace with the Palestinians. It is hooked on peace with all the settlements intact. It will not offer any compromises with the Palestinians territorially and will ensure that there will never be any peace with the Palestinians for a long time.

Labour has lost its identity. It will be further weakened to being an amorphous mass of has-beens with a miniscule number of Knesset seats. Its ideology has been compromised and it has no direction. It is not social democratic but a shadow of the capitalist-oriented ideology of the Likud and Kadima. It is a bankrupt party. Ehud Barak, the leader, has had a turn at being prime minister and failed. The same can be said of the Likud. Benjamin Netanyahu has also failed as prime minister. Both men have a cheek in having another go at being prime minister. Neither are deserving of support.

Meretz has lost its backbone and has become an irrelevant left of centre party while its core members are leaving in droves. Within the last few days, Yossi Beilin has resigned and following in his footsteps is Ran Cohen, a veteran Meretz Knesset member has announced that he will not be standing for re-election to the Knesset. This party has ceased to be relevant and voting for it is a non-starter. Its ability to fight injustices in the system and to influence the peace process will be further weakened as a result, not that it had much influence anyway.

This leaves the right wing parties and the religious Shas and Torah Judaism Parties. These two parties are not democratic and wish to install a system bound by Torah law. They feather their own nests by tagging onto future coalitions to provide funds for the eternal yeshiva students under their wing that live in poverty and are dependent on state aid and charity. These parties survive on the eternal cycle of poverty of their own creation. They do not wish to give their yeshiva students a broad based education to make them ready to compete for jobs on the open market. The strength of these parties lies in the perpetual poverty and poor education that these students receive. If their supporters and their children benefitted from a broad education these two parties would have no chance of existence. Their strength lies in the poverty of their supporters which they maintain in many ways by stealth, cameos, pseudo-charity institutions, and if I may use the term – spiritual lies! They potentiate poverty for their own benefit. The true leaders of these two parties are bigoted rabbis who make the decisions and their puppets (their Knesset members) carry them out without question.

What is left behind in this pathetic mass of amorphous political parties? The Arab Parties, which are considered taboo and a potential fifth column, are not even considered as potential coalition partners under any circumstances by the mainstream parties.

The Zionist Parties are way off track because Zionism has become irrelevant. The idea of Progressive Zionism is a contradiction in terms. A Zionist is a nationalist and a nationalist is not progressive in any country. The proof is in the pudding. The right wing settler movements claim to be Zionist. The left wing Zionists are in total disarray and this is reflected in the political parties that represent them.

The analytical and thinking voter is left with one of two possibilities. To abstain by placing a white paper in the ballot box or voting for a party that has a clear cut programme such as Hadash, the Arab – Jewish Communist Party. It is a party with no partisan ideology and it is a party of all Israelis – Jewish as well as Arab. This is a party with a reasonable ideology, and although this may be a shocking choice for many people, it certainly deserves serious consideration. The alternative is even more shocking – no movement in any direction in a crippled coalition the day after the elections. This will not create the conditions for a two-state solution. If there is no two-state solution there is only a binational state solution. There is nothing in between.

Saturday, October 25

The Olive Harvest in Occupied Palestine

During the autumn months of each year, Palestinian olive farmers are getting ready to harvest their olive crops which are the main source of their livelihood. One would expect that this should go smoothly and without any incidents. However, this is far from the case, many Palestinians are attacked by the settlers, and they are harassed during the olive picking season for no reason.

This is appalling and there is no justification for this loutish behaviour by the occupying settlers in the West Bank. Is this the direction that Zionism is moving? As it is those settlers living in the occupied territories are also very right wing Zionists, and the justification for their hooliganism against their Palestinian inhabitants even gets support from their right wing fanatic rabbis who somehow goad them on in violence against the Palestinians.

Today, even the Security Forces turn a blind eye towards settler violence against the Palestinians and even if these hooligans are caught breaking the law (which by the way, is not enforced in the territories the way it is within the green line) they are treated very leniently and are released without much problems.

This was no less evident than during the Sukkot (Tabernacles) holiday when tens of thousands of Israelis accepted the Jewish National Fund's invitation to take their families to visit olive groves across the country. Many participated in the harvest celebrations and heard the tale of the olive tree, the symbol of peace. And as happens every year when the olive harvest begins, dozens of youths set out from the settlements and outposts to the olive groves of the West Bank to confront their Palestinian neighbors. They also threatened human rights activists who volunteered to help the harvesters and beat a photographer who came to document the Sukkot riots.

The Torah - focus of Simchat Torah - the holiday celebrating the conclusion of the annual reading cycle and its renewal, reminds the people of Israel that they were foreigners in Egypt, and prohibits them from exploiting foreigners, orphans or widows. But enlightened religious laws like these are themselves, foreign to the spirit of the hooligans who wear large skullcaps and dare to call themselves Torah-observant Jews.

These “Torah – observant” Jews – the zealous God-fearing religious Zionists have been stealing Palestinian agricultural lands since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank. They also steal the produce of these poor Palestinian farmers. Is there any wonder why the Palestinians are not enamored of Israelis when this type of behaviour is even sanctioned by their rabbis? These rabbis have remained silent and have not even condemned the shocking behaviour of their followers. The occupation has resulted in increased violence and theft by the illegal religious settler fanatics and there is no doubt that this represents the most sinister aspect of Israel’s “humane occupation” as the Zionists call it. Israel has failed in its duty to protect the Palestinian people from the hooliganism of the settlers who move around beating up Palestinians and even attacking the Israeli Security Forces who occasionally come to their (Palestinian) aid from these marauding, bestial settlers. Most of these attacks on Palestinians have occurred in Areas B and C which according to the Oslo Accords have placed the responsibility of security of the Palestinians on Israel’s shoulders. However, if the Palestinians were to behave in this fashion towards these settlers, the Israeli Security Forces would be out there ready to defend them. However because they are not Israelis but Palestinians, they are not entitled to the same protection as the loutish settlers.

Where are Israel’s religious leaders – the Rabbis who are the source of strength for the zealously observant in the occupied Palestinian lands? Silence is golden! By their silence they are also guilty of injustice by the result of the violence against the Palestinian olive harvesters.

Lately there has been an outcry because of the proposed beatification of Pope Pius xii, the reigning pope during the Hitler years. He had shown insensitivity towards the extermination of the Jewish People by Nazi Germany. He preferred to remain silent for the sake of expediency. Surely these rabbis are behaving in the same way by remaining silent while the settlers beat and abuse the Palestinian farmers while they are harvesting their crops, not to mention the theft of their lands and the total anarchy that exists in the southern Hebron Hills, Tel Rumeida and central Samaria. The Israel Police and Shin Bet security service also should not tolerate settlers' shameful attacks on olive harvesters and not only protect the settlers.

Wednesday, October 15

The Akko Riots

Rioting in Akko

It all started on Kol Nidre Night (Eve of Yom Kippur). An Arab driver, Jamal Taufik, 48, of Acre's Old City, drove through a Jewish neighbourhood. He said he recognized the fact that he had made a mistake but denied speculations that he was drunk or was driving with loud music. This incident sparked off the most horrifying violence between Jews and Arab with chants of “Death to the Arabs”. Homes, shops and cars were burned and the whole incident blew out of all proportions.

I wonder if a Jew had driven a car through a Jewish neighbourhood in Akko on Yom Kippur it would have caused the same reaction. The Jewish driver would probably be stoned and that would be the end of the story. There would not have been a rampage against Jewish residents. Many Jews in Akko are racists. They used this opportunity to take the law into their own hands to carry out violence against their Arab neighbours.

Jamal Taufik should not have driven through the Jewish neighbourhood on Yom Kippur. He was in the wrong. The reaction to this was also wrong. It further proves how fragile relationships are between Arabs and Jews in Akko and possibly even further afield. Riots would have occurred anyway, but because of the sensitiveness of Yom Kippur, a precedent for violence was created.

The virulence and the hate of Arabs have become pathological amongst many Israeli Jews from poor neighbourhoods

There are many reasons that created the tensions between both Arab and Jewish communities in Akko. In fact, these tensions go beyond Akko and it will only be a matter of time before ignition of a fuse will send both communities down the path of violence.

Israel is a country that is in total denial of discrimination of its Arab citizens. Arab citizens of Israel are identifying more and more with their Palestinian brethren in the occupied territories. Why the surprise? Is Israel giving its Arab citizens a feeling of identity with it? The answer is a very clear “No!” Israel has prided itself on the Jewish character of the state. How can we expect the Arab citizens of Israel to be able to identify with that? They are a non-Jewish minority. They form about 20 % of the Israeli population and this is a considerable minority whose feelings are not considered by the Israeli establishment. At worst, there is a paternalistic attitude in Israel’s relationship with its Arab citizens who, theoretically, have equal rights on a par with Israel’s Jewish citizens. In practice this is not true.

Israel’s Arab citizens, today do not wish to be referred to as Israeli Arabs but rather as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. I have travelled through Arab villages on Independence Day and I noticed the complete absence of flags and joyous crowds in the street. Is this due to the memory of Al Naqba – the Catastrophe because of Israel’s establishment – which is a tragedy to the Palestinians? After asking them that question, I received an answer in the positive. The problem starts from this point. Israel has not given its Palestinian Arabs a sense of belonging. The national anthem, which supposed to reflect the aspirations of all Israel’s citizens, is very partisan when it comes to Israel’s Palestinian population.

Discrimination against Israel’s Arab population starts at school when children are the most impressionable. Human Rights Watch has published some rather disturbing findings and even though these findings are from the year 2000, nothing much has changed since then.

Nearly one in four of Israel's 1.6 million schoolchildren are educated in a public school system wholly separate from the majority. The children in this parallel school system are Israeli citizens of Palestinian Arab origin. Their schools are a world apart in quality from the public schools serving Israel's majority Jewish population. Often overcrowded and understaffed, poorly built, badly maintained, or simply unavailable, schools for Palestinian Arab children offer fewer facilities and educational opportunities than are offered other Israeli children.

The Israeli government operates two separate school systems, one for Jewish children and one for Palestinian Arab children. Discrimination against Palestinian Arab children colors every aspect of the two systems. Education Ministry authorities have acknowledged that the ministry spends less per student in the Arab system than in the Jewish school system. The majority's schools also receive additional state and state-sponsored private funding for school construction and special programs through other government agencies. The gap is enormous--on every criterion measured by Israeli authorities.

The disparities between the two systems examined in this report are identified in part through a review of official statistics. These findings are tested and complemented by the findings of Human Rights Watch's on-site visits to twenty-six schools in the two systems and our interviews with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and national education authorities.

Palestinian Arab children attend schools with larger classes and fewer teachers than do those in the Jewish school system, with some children having to travel long distances to reach the nearest school. Arab schools also contrast dramatically with the larger system in their frequent lack of basic learning facilities like libraries, computers, science laboratories, and even recreation space. In no Arab school did we see specialized facilities, such as film editing studios or theater rooms that we saw as a sign of excellence in some of the Jewish schools we visited. Palestinian Arab children with disabilities are particularly marginalized, with special education teachers and facilities often unavailable in the system, despite the highly developed special education programs of the Jewish school system.

The widening gap between Israel's Jewish majority and the Arab minority is worrying and poses many questions as to the country's Arab-Jewish coexistence. Nearly every day statements are heard from senior figures concerning the legitimacy of Arab citizens, and unbridled attacks have become routine: MK Israel Hasson of Yisrael Beiteinu talks about a second War of Independence against the Arab citizens in Israel, MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima talks about establishing task forces to examine the possibility of population exchanges and the head of the Shin Bet security service refers to the Arabs as a strategic threat. When statements of this kind are made how can we expect the Arab communities of Israel to love us?

When the Israeli Authorities are apathetic towards improving the relationships between the two peoples the results are plain for all to see. What happened in Akko was a spark and that set up a chain of tragic incidents. It could have been worse. At least, no lives were lost.

According to a report by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel:

A number of areas of discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens have increased over the past eight years:

Police violence toward Arab citizens: Since the events of October 2000, 34 Arab citizens have been killed by police, the most recent of which was the death of Sabri El Jarajawi, who died of his wounds in July 2008 after being assaulted by police. In most cases, no charges at all, or very lenient ones, have been pressed. The officers involved continue to work in their current positions. None of these officers was dismissed. The complete disregard of the police for the lives of Arab citizens, raises concerns proves that the police have blatantly ignored the findings of the Or Commission, which urged the police to adopt measures to reduce hostility toward Arab citizens.

Interrogation of political and social activists by Shin Bet: We have witnessed a growing trend whereby Arab social and political activists are interrogated by Shin Bet Security Services about lawful social and political activities. This trend limits legitimate public activity, and severely infringes on freedom of expression and thought and the right to political organization.

Planning freeze in Arab communities: Israel's planning authorities continue to disregard the development needs of Arab towns, thereby harming residents' living conditions. Due to lack of official planning procedures, thousands of houses have been built without the necessary permits. The families living in houses built without permits are deprived of basic services by the State such as water, electricity, etc. Similarly, because of the lack of planning, these communities suffer from a shortage of buildings to house public services such as health, education, and culture.

House demolition in Bedouin villages in the Negev: Each year, the State demolishes dozens of houses belonging to Arab-Bedouin families in unrecognized villages in the Negev. Each time this happens, dozens of families, including children, are abandoned, left without shelter. This ongoing policy breaches the Bedouins’ right to dignity, privacy, and security. Moreover, the government has recently stepped up its official policy of removing entire Bedouin communities from their lands in the Negev and moving them to a smaller area, forcing them to give up their traditional lifestyle, culture and economy.

The events of October 2000 were one of the most pronounced manifestations of institutionalized racism and discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel's history. The mindset of the police - the belief that they were facing an enemy rather than Israeli citizens during the demonstrations that day - led to the deaths of 13 people.

In a democratic country, the protection of minority rights is in the interest of both the minority and the majority. Racism and discrimination directed at one minority group undermines democracy and risks affecting other groups and society as a whole.

As we can see, Israel has not done enough to ensure that it is a country for all its citizens irrespective of their race, or religion. The emphasis of Israel being a Jewish state alienates a large non-Jewish minority who do not feel part of the country.

More needs to be done in the sphere of human rights to ensure that the Arab minorities feel part of this country, and not just “temporary sojourners” subjected to the racial whims of the right wing in the Knesset, who wish to follow the late Rehavim Ze’evi’s legacy of transfer of Arabs to the neighbouring Arab countries.

There should be more projects financed by the Ministry of Education to raise the standard of Arab education and encourage integration of Arab pupils and Jewish pupils in the same schools. Both Arab and Jewish pupils could learn together and each side could learn about the other’s culture and history within the school curriculum. This does not have to come at the expense of study of Torah in the case of Jewish pupils or the Koran in the case of Arab pupils.

A common patriotism held by both peoples as does exist in most countries of the world that have a heterogeneous population would go a long way in the promotion of coexistence which ought to start from an early age. Israel should be viewed as a secular state with a Jewish majority rather than a Jewish state. Obviously, the character of Israel is determined by the majority of its people which in this case is Jewish.

When there is a common patriotism held by both Arab and Jewish Israelis, riots would not occur and let us hope that the day will come when this will be achieved for the benefit of all Israel’s citizens. This would also go a long way to establishing peace with our Palestinian neighbours and an eventual open borders policy with cultural and worker exchanges.