Saturday, September 27

Rosh Hashanah and Some Thoughts

As the New Year approaches, it is customary for many of us to take stock of our situation. This is done on a personal level as well as on a national level. Individuals make New Year resolutions which are forgotten once the holiday spirit subsides. Here in Israel, the holiday spirit is very often non-existent because of the stress of family obligations and in the case of many married couples there is an argument as to where the first night will be spent – at which in-laws. The stress of cooking and hosting is the order of the day and for those who are non-observant, it is a trial of nerves.
When we think of what was achieved over the past year from a national point of view, there are many disappointments. The peace process is stumbling and there does not seem to be light at the end of the dark tunnel. The incumbent prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has resigned because of suspicions of corruption contained in envelopes of money that were given to him by a wealthy businessman (or philanthropist – make your choice) Morris Talansky. The new leader of the Kadima Party, Tzippi Livni, has been given the task of forming a new government and replacing Olmert as prime minister. The Likud is waiting in the shadows for an opportunity with Bibi Netanyahu to trip her up so that new elections will be declared which means a certain victory for him and his party.
While we dip our apple slices in honey and eat until satiation, will there be many of us giving a thought to the plight of the Palestinians under the “humane occupation”? The abuse of Palestinians by the settlers in the territories over the years has somehow escaped the attention of the Israeli authorities. This definition of “humane occupation” is a contradiction. NO OCCUPATION IS HUMANE! This is an archaic Zionist concept and the proof of this is the behaviour of the illegal settlers and the soldiers at the check posts towards the Palestinians carrying on their daily lives.
The settler violence against innocent Palestinians is despicable. The perpetrators of this violence are right-wing Zionist Zealots who go about stoning Palestinians and destroying their crops whenever they have a chance. Most of these settlers see the legitimization in violence against Palestinians in their Judaism! The settlers have no right in settling on Palestinian lands under the “humane occupation” and taking the law into their own hands. They build illegal settlements on Palestinian lands and expect the Palestinian population to accept them.
This week we witnessed President Shimon Peres Speech to the UN General Assembly. It was a great speech and filled with much logic and sincerity as to Israel’s desire for peace. History will judge it one of President Peres’ greatest speeches. The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gave a speech to the UN General Assembly filled with racism and anybody reading into his address can see that this dictator is no democrat or a man of peace. The world’s attitude towards Ahmadinajad is one of appeasement. He should never have been given a platform to sprout his evil words of hate to the world.
Having mentioned this, I think that we should also view Israel – not only within the context of Shimon Peres’ speech but also in the reality on the ground – the “humane occupation” where there is an abuse of basic human rights of the Palestinians. These abuses do carry on and not much is reported. The crimes of the right-wing Zionist, religious settlers are very often overlooked and they are not held accountable for their harassment of Palestinians. While Israel is overlooking all these incidents and hardly any settler has been charged for these criminal acts, Israel’s position in the world as a “democratic state – a light to the nations” is weakened.
Even during negotiations on an agreement with the Palestinians, there is no freezing of settlements in the occupied territories in practice – only in theory. It is truly Israel’s “phony freeze of settlements” policy. This makes a great dent in Israel’s credibility because it gives the Jewish settlers in occupied lands the right to be above the law and they know it.
The illegal settlers in the territories are cancer in Israeli society. Their behaviour is abominable and their violence spreads even within the green line as witnessed about two days ago when an attempt was made to murder Professor Ze’ev Sternhell. This internationally renowned expert on fascist movements in Europe, a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis, was not another victim of some "wild weed," but of Jewish fascism itself, which continues to extend its roots. The criminals who set the pipe bomb outside Sternhell's home come from the same "garden" as Yona Avrushmi, the murderer of Peace Now's Emil Grunzweig; Baruch Goldstein, responsible for the massacre in the Machpela Cave; Yigal Amir, the murderer of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; and the West Bank outpost hooligans, who abuse both Palestinians and the security forces. If Yigal Amir was granted the right to couple with his wife in a prison cell and have a child, this adds legitimacy to his ilk that sees him as a hero. Are these values becoming part of Israel? If so it is not surprising that those who oppose the occupation are doing so at their own risk.
"The attempt to hurt Professor Sternhell is the result of the lenient attitude and weakness of the law enforcement agencies towards the extremist and fascist Right and the settlers in the Palestinian occupied territories," said a Communist Party of Israel declaration following the attack. And more: "This thuggish, dangerous act is the result of closing our eyes to the violence against Palestinians, peace and Left activists and all those who disagree with the thugs of the extremist Right. Don't talk to us about 'fringe groups,' this is a growing phenomenon in the Right and the police must take care of it". It is dreaming if we expect the police to take care of these targeted actions aimed at those opposing the occupation and coexistence with our Palestinian neighbours.
Fliers were found in the streets near Sternhell's home promising a reward of 1.1 million shekels to anyone who kills a member of Peace Now. "The time has come for a state according to the Jewish Law in Judea and Samaria! The time has come for the Kingdom of Judea!" declared the fliers. This is how the settlers think and those on the right-wing spectrum of Israeli politics who condemn this Jewish terrorism really have the same ideology in soft serve.
If the occupation remains legitimate as it does today, all those who oppose it and wish to have peace with the Palestinians are on the firing line of the right-wing extremists. This endangers Israel’s democracy and must be condemned.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we need to reaffirm our belief in peace and coexistence with our Palestinian neighbours. We must condemn the settler movement that stones Palestinians and usurps their lands. Only if we do this can we eat our apples dipped in honey with satisfaction and with hope for a better world for all in the coming year?

Saturday, September 20

Mafia in Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

On first observation, one would say that the two are not connected at all. However on examining this closer, there is more that meets the eye than what can be taken at face value. An Israeli-Arab friend was discussing this with me and I realized that what he said rang a chord with my way of thinking for whatever it is worth. Those who are involved in hit men operations on various crime families were more than likely also involved in cruel raids in Palestinian homes and being quick with the trigger.

The crime leaders seem to be having a field day in Israel as the gang wars continue unabated. There is no sensitivity towards the targets and hired hit men riding on scooters, armed with pistols take pot shots at crime leaders sitting in cafes without any consideration for those innocent passers-by who happen to be in the area at the time of the targeted shootings. It would not be surprising if these hit men had training in the Israeli Army putting down the intifada in the occupied territories.

They know how to break into Palestinian homes and kick Palestinian children out of beds in the middle of the night and conduct searches. Now they have been demobilized from the security forces. They are hired as hit men for the warring crime gangs in Netanya, Lod, Bat Yam, Jerusalem and other areas where opposing crime family syndicates are active.

The crime syndicates of Israel and those who support the continued occupation have one thing in common and that is lack of sensitivity for the human condition and an ambitious desire out of greed to increase their influence and extort others to tow their line. There is a number of opposing crime families and the police are only beginning to scratch the surface of the problem. Some examples of crime families cartels are: Abutbul, Alperon, Abergil and Ze’ev Rosenstein (who is at present serving a sentence for illegal drug trafficking). In the territories, it is the greed of settlers taking away Palestinian lands and building settlements in their place. This is done by stealth. Israel discusses peace with the Palestinians while at the same time a phony freeze on building new settlements is declared. This does not do much for Israel’s credibility in negotiating with the Palestinian leadership. If many Knesset members are corrupt and dishonest, how can we expect them to be honest when negotiating with the Palestinian leadership?

The moment one closes one’s eyes to the Palestinian side and justifies all kinds of draconian measures against the Palestinians in the name of security, then the abuse will land up in Israel as well under the control of lawless crime syndicates of various shapes and sizes. It is a part of the deterioration of Israeli society into indifference when it comes to injustices even if it is directed towards their own.

As if this is not enough, many members of the Knesset have also fallen foul of the law on suspected bribery and corruption charges. Head of this list is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.This is all part of a general deterioration in Israeli society because of a number of factors.

Meanwhile, Olmert’s Kadima held primaries and Tzippi Livne, the Foreign Minister - a rather mediocre MK with a clean record (you do not have to be great to succeed Olmert; you just need a clean record untainted by suspicions of crime and corruption not to mention toadying with wealthy people who hand out money in envelopes).

Under these circumstances, Israel has no leaders. The parties in the coalition have not resigned because of the various cartels of power that has become very much a part of the ruling Kadima coalition. Apart from threats of breaking up the coalition, nothing has come from Labour, the main coalition party or the other miserable parties that are part of the Knesset Cartel.

In practice, this means that apart from other internal issues such as education, economics, health services as well as salaries of employees are placed on the back burner. The peace process is almost non-existent and the occupation continues with all the insensitivities towards the plight of Palestinians. The Security Forces brutality continues towards pregnant women at check posts as well as other critically ill Palestinians in need of emergency care.

A society that is losing its heart gets the poor leadership that it deserves. The occupation is creating an insensitive, corrupt Israeli society. It is a catalyst for crime gangs of all kinds to prosper as well as an impetus for the continuation of a cruel occupation that encourages settler violence against Palestinians. Human values in Israel are being eroded and this is a true cancer in Israeli society.

Wednesday, September 3

A Visit to South Africa and Some Observations

Table Mountain - majestically overlooks Cape Town
and the cold Atlantic Ocean.

During the month of August 2008, my wife and I travelled to Cape Town to visit my mother, sister and family. While we were there, I could not help making certain comparisons between the way South Africa had handled her race problems and had solved many of them. Israel, on the other hand, has not made much headway in solving her problems with the Palestinians.

South Africa’s problems during the evil apartheid years were racial. The whites had dominated the blacks and they were without any address whatsoever. The situation in Israel cannot really be compared to apartheid South Africa. It is different. Nevertheless, the problem with the Palestinians can be divided into two:

  1. Security problems – Some Palestinians were involved in terrorist attacks against Israelis during the first and second Intifada years. This resulted in Israel taking retaliatory actions which unfortunately had also caused untold suffering amongst the innocent Palestinian population.
  2. Racial problems – there has been an increased emphasis on Israel being referred to as a Jewish State. The innuendo by this statement is that those who are not Jewish may not have the same status and if one were to read some statements by establishment rabbis this feeling is further reinforced. Maybe it is here that some parallels may be found similar to the apartheid system in South Africa.

I had written in a previous post about the differences between apartheid South Africa and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict and I shall not delve into this again.

However, the racial aspect does remain and this can be found in the way Israel is usurping Palestinian lands by forced removals of Palestinians from their agricultural lands in the occupied territories, clearing the way for Jewish settlement expansion. This continues all the time. There is an overlap of security and racial issues. The security fence whose purpose is to protect Israelis from Palestinian terrorist infiltration encroaches into Palestinian agricultural lands creating enormous logistic problems for Palestinian farmers to cultivate their lands which is interspersed with roadblocks and brutal body searches. Also Palestinian homes are demolished without warning in many cases to make way for illegal settlement expansion. This has nothing to do with Palestinian terrorist action but plenty to do with Israeli greed to usurp Palestinian lands for high class settlement expansion and the building of new settlements for Zionist zealots. All this is occurring under the guise of “freezing existing settlements, and halting the building of new settlements”. On the ground the situation is different.

Had the security fence been built along the green line and not crossed into the Palestinian lands the case for its necessity to protect Israeli citizens from terror would be stronger and justified.

While in South Africa, I noticed how the different races had integrated to form a common multiracial society. Blacks and whites are working shoulder to shoulder in executive jobs, factories, the professions and in all aspects of life. I never saw any hostility between the races at all. South Africa was blessed with one of the greatest leaders of the last decade of the 20th Century – Nelson Mandela! He had a tremendous influence in the relative peaceful transition from a tyrannical apartheid state to a multiracial democratic state.

Here in Israel/Palestine, a leader of the calibre of Nelson Mandela is lacking.

South Africa has many problems, but race is not one of them.

However, this does not mean that South Africa has created the perfect society. Crime is rampant and it has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Another excellent source of information is the South African Police Report on the Crime Situation in South Africa.

Another serious problem is the AIDS problem which was not addressed by President Thabo Mbeki in the past. Southern Africa remains the region worst-affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A combination of factors seem to be responsible for this including: poverty and social instability, high levels of sexually transmitted infections, the low status of women, sexual violence, high mobility (particularly migrant labour), and lack of good governance. South Africa has the sixth highest prevalence of HIV in the world, with 18.8% of the population estimated to be infected. The UNAIDS 2006 Global Report, estimated that 320 000 people died of AIDS related deaths in South Africa during 2005. South Africa is regarded as having the most severe HIV epidemic in the world.

Many South Africans won their freedom from apartheid but lost it to AIDS.

Despite all these serious problems, there is a feeling of a common patriotism shared by all South Africans, irrespective of their race, colour or creed. We, who live in volatile Israel/Palestine, could learn from the way South Africa had solved its racial issues and instilled a common feeling of “we are in this together and we owe it to ourselves and our children to move forward together for a better South Africa”. This feeling unfortunately is lacking in this part of the world and from this we can learn from South Africa’s experience on solving race problems.

On previous visits to South Africa during the past ten years, unemployment was so high and the large numbers of illegal immigrants entering South Africa to seek work had exacerbated the unemployment situation. Homeless people were found seeking shelter under bus shelters, park benches and just about every public place imaginable. There were also many street venders peddling products that were for sale in upbeat stores at cheaper prices. Today there is an improvement in the situation.

On my recent visit, there were fewer homeless and beggars. There used to be parking meters for those parking at the side of the pavements. These meters have been replaced by parking attendants who give out parking tickets for a nominal fee. This is one of the many ingenious ways to create jobs.

The shopping malls are very upbeat and are a real treat – very inviting to spend money! Wherever one goes one becomes more and more aware of how apartheid has collapsed being replaced by a multiracial society with an eye towards a better future.

The beauty of the Cape Peninsula is unsurpassed with the majestic Table Mountain greeting one on arrival at Cape Town Airport by plane.