Saturday, May 30

The Cat and the Mouse

Israeli settlers under the protection of the Israeli army started on Monday morning to install homes on lands that belong to villagers from Bil'in, located near the central West Bank city of Ramallah.

Israeli trucks installing the mobile homes at Mitetyaho Mizrah settlement on Monday

A group of men from the village were staying over night in there land managed to come close to the trucks installing the mobile homes of the settlers and stopped them by standing infornt of them, Burnat stated. He added that the men will continue to block the trucks way in an attempt to stop the destruction of the villagers lands. ( Ghassan Bannoura of IMEMC News 26 May 2009)

The Knesset has introduced a draft law to ban Naqba commemorations. At the same time a cat and mouse game is being played out in the occupied West Bank.

Youngsters of the right wing persuasion have arrived en masse and began building illegal outposts on Palestinian lands each time the army vacates them. These youngsters are adorned with the symbolic trappings (kipot, fringes and ear locks) of their faith including their fanatic zeal.

They are treated with kid gloves by the Israeli Authorities. The hilltop youths are not averse to fomenting violence against the Palestinian people living there. Their motivation for constructing make-shift homes is high. The response by Israel is mild. They are cajoled rather gently not to carry on their illegal activities. Punishment is seldom meted out.

However after their illegal activities in building in the occupied territories is stopped by the authorities, they return to continue settlement activity when the coast is clear. A true cat and mouse game has been going on for some years now. As expected, no arrests were made.

One cannot miss thinking of what would happen to Palestinians who carry out similar activities in East Jerusalem. Their homes would be demolished immediately and arrests would be made.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made an "amazing profound" statement. He said that dealing with Iran takes priority over evacuating West Bank settlements. In other words, the innuendo is to turn a blind eye on these illegal outposts and let the illegal settlers carry on undisturbed. After all Iran is priority number one - an excuse for overlooking settler activity and therefore the conflict. By being soft on illegal building of outposts, his right wing coalition partners will not threaten to bolt the government.

Palestinian building without permits is treated more seriously. The tractors move in and demolish the new homes in the guise that these homes are illegal. Many families find themselves without homes. What is illegal for Palestinians is legal for Israelis in the occupied West Bank.

The outposts that are demolished are those that are insignificant and not controversial. These are cosmetic moves only which is not a start to ending of the occupation.

It seems that the right wing kippa-cladded fanatics will be apologetically removed by the Israeli Police or Army. They will receive delicate treatment and praise by Netanyahu's right wing anti-Arab coalition partners. It seems as if Israel subscribes and prides itself on the rule of law whenever it is in the interests of the right wing as far as illegal settlements are concerned.

This cosmetic removal of illegal outposts to confuse the US and the World will not alter the fact that Israel is enlarging existing settlements on the West Bank because of "natural growth". New settlements are still being established by stealth.

Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who is not considered devoid of anti-Arab sentiments, has given this lawlessness his blessing as it coincides with his racist world view. Lieberman and his Israel Beiteinu Party were elected to the Knesset on a racist ticket of superiority over the Arabs. His brand of racism is popular amongst a large proportion of the Israeli electorate including many Russian immigrants. As far as Lieberman and his ilk are concerned the Arab citizens of Israel are temporary sojourners. The Naqba (catastrophe) commemoration is only one example of what will be declared illegal in order to deny the Arab minority the right to commemorate it. His ilk will dictate what is legal for the Arabs to commemorate.

The Israeli Government prides itself in the rule of law. In practice this rule of law is flawed when it comes to dealing with illegal settler activities. It is amazing how flexible the law is when illegal settlement activity is addressed so lightly. The moment an illegal outpost is demolished within hours it is re-established and the criminal zealots are not even punished apart from a mild reprimand.

If Palestinians were to behave in this manner and build illegally, the full weight of the law is brought down to bear on them by means of demolitions and expulsions. Is this equality before the law Israeli style? The right wing Government with its settlement policies leaves no doubt that they wish to maintain the occupation and increase settlement activities in the West Bank. The facts speak for themselves. Illegal settlements are symbols of the fulfillment of Zionism today which is the monopoly of the right wing and its pseudo-religious zealot allies.

An unfortunate development in Zionism today is the rigor mortis of left wing Zionism. The latter has lost its identity as the Labor Party has become an amorphous mass of spineless MKs in Netanyahu's coalition of macabre specters. Meretz - the scion of left wing humanistic Zionism has become irrelevant as illustrated by their dramatic loss of support to only three mandates.

Israel’s democracy is being threatened by the right wing forces. It starts with the blind eye to increasing settlement activity and ends in the banning of the Naqba commemorations.

Israel with its occupation policies cannot prove to the world that it does not wish to rule another people apart from the sterile lip service it pays to the contrary. Facts on the ground prove that the occupation continues and with it settlement expansion so that new facts on the ground make it more difficult to reach a two-state solution. It is obvious that the more settlement that is established on the West Bank, the less land will be available for the establishment of a future Palestinian state.


Many settlers
Would like to leave
If they could get
Fair compensations.

The settlers’ children
Must be told:
You cannot build homes
In occupied territory.
Look for a future
In Israel.
Your parents will join you

Gush Shalom Ad published in Haaretz, May 28, 2009

Sunday, May 24

Netanyahu-Obama Meeting

As expected, apart from some understandings between the two leaders no progress in any direction was made. Netanyahu's world view, especially regarding Israel, is one sided and not conducive to change. He does not give any indication that he will accept the two-state solution.

The undertones of the meeting with President Obama were Netanyahu's attempt to steer away from the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and discuss the danger of Iran's nuclear weapons program. It is obvious that this tactic is to postpone discussions on this issue as much as possible.

The meeting between President Obama and PM Netanyahu was cordial but a failure. Netanyahu's obsessive harping on the Iranian nuclear issue rather than focusing on a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict was so shallow and annoying. He failed to see the importance of a settlement to the conflict as strengthening the US hand in getting an agreement with the Arab states who also feel threatened by Iran no less than Israel. If Iran succeeds in her plans of developing nuclear weapons, the Palestinians will be under nuclear threat as well. Their proximity to Israel makes this obvious. Unfortunately, the enemy of Israel is a friend to the Palestinians and this is the case of Iran in its attitude to the Palestinians, especially to Hamas.

However Netanyahu has other priorities - the denial of the Palestinians' right to an independent state alongside Israel as well as continuation of the vile occupation. The removal of tiny one-horse settlements by Defense Minister Ehud Barak is cosmetic - a sop to Obama and the world. It is a mask for continuation of the occupation. Defense Minister Barak and his two-faced Labor Party are full partners because they are an integral part of Netanyahu's right wing coalition. Labor has lost its scruples and has destroyed humane left wing Zionism. This party is ceasing to be relevant and has become insignificant. Zionism is the monopoly of the right wing occupation protagonists today. Solving the conflict is the key to forming a wide coalition against the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. It would strengthen the formation of a US-Arab-Israeli coalition against the danger of Iran and its brand of colonialism. The Saudi Peace Plan with Israel would be easier to implement and is in the interests of all who seek peace in the Middle East. Netanyahu has failed to grasp this. He is keen to satisfy his macabre racist right wing coalition partners and hold on to power rather than serve the wider interests of peace in the Middle East.

The occupation weakens Israel's position and while this continues, Iran’s Ahmadinajad will have an excuse to continue his nuclear program. None so blind as those who will not see. This is obvious and Netanyahu is putting the cart before the horse by punting for neutralizing Iran's nuclear threat without solving the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict by maintaining the occupation. This is bound to fail and will blacklist Israel as the polecat colonizer of Palestinians by maintaining the occupation and usurping Palestinian lands. This will carve up the occupied territories, creating a situation that declaration of an independent Palestinian state will be a logistic impossibility.

Netanyahu has his right wing coalition partners to satisfy in sticking to his guns by not even giving a thought to the two-state solution. According to press reports, it was not even discussed in talks with Obama.

Obama is no Bush. He is using different tactics and this could lead to cooling off of relations between Israel and the US. Bush was apathetic towards the conflict during his term as president apart from a late awakening towards the end of his presidential term and his contribution to ending the conflict was close to ground zero.

Meanwhile Netanyahu will be marking time in order to avoid the prickly issue of a possible uprooting of settlements to make way for the establishment of a future Palestinian state. By playing the game of postponing the inevitable, Netanyahu has achieved two purposes:
No decisions made on ceasing settlement activity in the occupied territories thus avoiding a coalition crisis in his government.
By avoiding final decisions that would jeopardize Israel's relationship with the US.

It is always easy to decide not to decide and this Netanyahu tactic achieves what Netanyahu wants - a continuation of the status quo. It also allows the right wing coalition to continue settlement activity with relative little interference from the US. In this way new facts are established on the ground making the establishment of a future Palestinian state impossible to achieve.

On the Palestinian side, there is no unity between Hamas and Fatah. This works to Israel's advantage. Israel states that they have no negotiating partner on the Palestinian track. Hamas being a terrorist organization is not willing under any circumstances to negotiate with Israel or recognize Israel's right to exist. This suits the Netanyahu Government down to the ground and so the two-state deadlock remains unsolved due to lack of Palestinian unity on this issue.

Obama for his part has a broader world view than his predecessor Bush. He sees Israel as part of the solution to the conflict and that it is in the interests of the US to have peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Without this peace, the Iranian nuclear threat will remain.
Therefore it is essential that Netanyahu fall into line with Obama on this issue even to risk the right wing coalition crisis. If he fails in this, Israel will become the pole cat of the world and will continue to be viewed as an occupying and colonizing power.

Saturday, May 23

Will Naqba Commemorations be banned?

Friday, May 15, 2009 - Powered by RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party wants to ban Israeli Arabs from marking the anniversary of the Nakba, or the Catastrophe in 1948, when 700,000 Arabs lost their homes in the war that created Israel. The extremist Yisrael Beitenu party said it would propose legislation next week for a ban on the practice and a jail term of up to three years for violators. "The draft law is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel...
The Naqba (catastrophe) is commemorated at about the same time of the year as Independence Day in Israel. Israelis celebrate Israel's establishment in various ways. They hold barbecues in public parks, family gatherings at home or visit military camps and they may go touring.

The Palestinians commemorate it as a day of mourning and disaster that befell them in 1948 when Israel was established. The time has arrived to come to terms with Naqba recognizing it for what it means to the Palestinians. Many Israelis deny that the Naqba occurred. Many Palestinians ran away from the war situation in 1948. It even reached a point whereby they refused to recognize the Palestinians as a people. Israel has no right to decide whether the Palestinians are a nation or not. This right to recognition as a nation is determined by the group of people themselves who view themselves as a nation with a common identity. The Israelis are also a nation no less than are the Palestinians. The Israeli nation is composed of Jews, Moslems, Druze, and Christians. Palestinians born and living in Israel view themselves as having two identities. A parallel situation exists in the Diaspora where Jews are citizens of the countries where they were born. However many maintain their identity as Jews. While the non-Jewish groups form only 20% of the population, this does not mean that they are not Israelis. The majority group determines the character of the state and it is superfluous to demand recognition of that for political purposes. I have enlarged on that in a previous post. The banning of the Naqba commemorations is not in the interests of the Palestinians nor Israel. A state such as Israel must protect the interests of all its citizens including the right to commemorate various memorial days peculiar to their own group identity.

The Palestinians also have their national days of mourning. Can one imagine if a law would be passed in the Diaspora forbidding Jews from commemorating the Holocaust because of pressure exerted by Holocaust deniers who claim it to be a provocation against the national interest? There would have been a severe reaction and cries of anti-Semitism would have been heard in the Jewish world.

The Naqba is a trauma for the Palestinians no less than the Holocaust is to the Jews. We must accept this as such. If the Naqba is commemorated peacefully and viewed as a day of mourning without violence or racial incitement then there is no reason to ban its commemoration.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's right wing Foreign Minister and his party, Yisrael Beitenu, wish to introduce a law forbidding the commemoration of Naqba. Those who organize Naqba demonstrations will be sentenced to imprisonment up to three years. This should be opposed by all those who believe in peace and coexistence.

If the government takes away the rights of Palestinians to observe their causes peacefully they will be forced underground and this will endanger democracy. It will also increase Palestinian hate for Israel and the violence against Israel.

Every nation has its identity and this identity is emphasized by its symbolic traditions whether it is religious or national. National tragedies as well as their achievements common to the nation in question is the glue that binds a nation together. This is true of both Palestinians and Israelis.

There is a tendency by the right wing in Israel to deny or belittle the existence of the Palestinian people as a nation. They also view them as being dysfunctional. After all, a nation is defined as such by the identity of the people who view themselves as a nation with a common identity and aspirations. This is true of both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has no right to deny the Palestinians their right to observe their national day of mourning.

It would be desirable if both Israelis and Palestinians could discuss the Naqba and Israel's establishment and recognition whereby both sides could learn and understand each other better. Mistakes have been made by both sides which have cost a lot in terrible bloodshed.

The Naqba should be a day of reconciliation and introspection. The intransigence of both sides to come to terms with each other's rights to a state has resulted in unnecessary loss of life because of futile wars.

Denying the Palestinian people the right to commemorate the Naqba does not solve anything and will contribute to aggravate the volatile situation even further.

Saturday, May 16

The Pope's Visit to Israel

As expected, Pope Benedict XVI's visit was filled with much hype. The Pope made a gaffe against Islam about 3 years ago. He may not have the sensitivity of his predecessor. Many Jews were against the Pope's visit for a number of reasons. He supported the beatification of Pope Pius XII who did not take a strong line against the murder of Jews in the Holocaust during his papacy. As a young person he was a member of Hitler Youth. He was conscripted into the German wehrmacht. The Pope claims that he was conscripted as were many other Germans and that he deserted later on to study for the priesthood. The same applied to his membership of the former.

He received a warm welcome on arrival in Israel. Most Shas MKs boycotted his arrival. This was expected.

The Pope visited Yad Vashem-the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, where he made a speech condemning anti-Semitism and the "killing" of Jews rather than their "murder" during the Holocaust. He was criticized for his semantics. The speech was considered lukewarm and unapologetic by his critics. Some people in Israel usually right wing religious extremists seek to find anti-Semitism in every nuance uttered by the Pope. They did this during the late Pope John Paul II's visit in 2000 as well.

Those who had no argument with the speech are viewed as being anti-Israel - even anti-Semitic! What do people expect the Pope to say? It is expecting too much to dictate what the Pope should be saying and to expect him to apologize for the actions of the Nazis because he is German. Many Jews who came to Israel from the ex-Soviet Union and from repressive regimes such as apartheid South Africa were conscripted into the army of these countries. They were not expected to apologize for atrocities that these armies committed against people of different races. Why is this expected of the Pope? Is it because he is non-Jewish and German?

It is as if some Israelis, especially the religious extremists, seem to adopt a "holier than thou" attitude or they suffer from paranoia and view every non-Jew as a potential anti-Semite. They examine every non-Jewish utterance with a fine tooth comb and are almost euphoric when they find a hint of what they are searching. This national paranoiac hysteria over what the Pope should have said or the lack of empathy illustrated by apologies unuttered was unjustifiable.
While it is true that Pope Benedict XVI may not be as warm in his approach to Jews as his predecessor, this does not make him anti-Semitic. He never had close contact with Jews as his predecessor who had many Jewish friends murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. If he were an anti-Semite, he would not have agreed to come to Israel or visit Yad Vashem.

Most of his speeches during his visit to Israel were devoted to reconciliation between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Peace, brotherhood and coexistence have been the basic message of all his speeches. The Pope is diplomatic and correct in his approach as well as unemotional in sharp contrast to his predecessor. This gives a feeling of being disconnected from the people to whom he is supposed to reach. People forget that the Pope is a human being no less than anyone else. His intentions are good despite his gaffes or the things that have remained unsaid during his visit in Israel. Future history will judge his legacy.

The Pope is a German - part of the generation that was in Germany during the terrible Nazi terror years. Maybe this is the reason why he will always be suspect of being a part of the Nazi regime by many concentration camp survivors. This could also explain the antagonism towards him. Despite this, there were concentration camps survivors present at Yad Vashem during his speech delivery who had no objection to what was said or the so-called omission of not having sought forgiveness from the Jewish People for the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust.

The Pope also visited Bethlehem and conducted mass at the Church of Nativity. Here he made similar speeches of reconciliation as well as reiterating the justness of the Palestinian cause of two states for two peoples. He made a great effort to be fair to both sides of the conflict while both sides emphasized the justice of their causes. It is obvious that the Pope tried to please all sides to the conflict by saying the right things that would not cause controversy. This balancing act can only be played in the volatile Middle East where the wrong word could set the whole area alight.

The Pope did lack charisma which could have at least brought both sides closer to peace negotiations. In this potentially explosive part of the globe with its peculiar mix of politics and religion makes a solution so difficult to attain

It appears that the Pope's visit was a big disappointment to many Israelis, Palestinians and Christians. Many had hoped that the Pope would pay greater lip service to their respective causes. Instead, he kept aloof from it all and made general statements.

Perhaps the visit could be summarized as a “missed opportunity” to all sides. Perhaps the main reason is the Pope’s inability to facilitate bringing the sides to the conflict together. He made general speeches that were good to hear but he no hint of ideas of building trust between Palestinians and Israelis.

Saturday, May 9

Israel - the Jewish State

Israel is now 61 years old. Its establishment was almost miraculous considering the odds. The murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis had created a world of sympathy for the establishment of a Jewish state. Jews were a persecuted minority for centuries in their adopted countries.

The holocaust and destruction of many Jewish communities in Europe by the Nazi armies was an impetus for support at the UN for Israel's establishment.

Despite all the odds and the hostility of Israel's Arab neighbors, Israel had achieved much during its 61 years existence.

Israel's main problem is the lack of meaningful progress to make peace with its Arab neighbors. The reasons were many. Many Jewish immigrants (many of whom were Nazi concentration survivors) arrived in Israel after World War II, were forced to defend themselves against hostile Arab armies who were opposed to Jewish immigration. These immigrants were ill-equipped to fight. They succeeded because they were enlisted into the Hagana- the fledgling Israeli Army on their arrival. They were trained in basic warfare, and were forced to fight for their survival. The determination not to fall victim to persecution once again was very high.

An unfortunate result of Israel's establishment was the displacement of many Arab people living there. Many ran away because of the War of Independence which was fought against the opposing Arab Armies. A severe refugee problem was created because of the hostilities which has not been resolved even to this day.

Since Israel's establishment many wars had been fought between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

Recently, moderate Arab states have declared their desire to end the state of war and recognize Israel's right to exist provided certain conditions are met. This became known as the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 which seems reasonable. The problem is that Israel rejected it outright because of the emphasis on total withdrawal from territories captured in the June 1967 War including return of settlers within the Green Line and the right of return of Palestinian refugees who ran away during the War of Independence of 1948.

An added obstacle to peace is the precondition set by PM Benjamin Netanyahu of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

This precondition is problematic. After all, it is understood that the majority of Israeli citizens are Jews or are of Jewish descent. About 20% of Israel's citizens are not Jewish. They are mostly Arabs who are Moslem, including a sizeable Druze and Christian community. The nature of a state is determined by the inhabitants who live in it. This means that ethnically the nature of Israel is Jewish because they form 80% of the population. This being the case, is it necessary to emphasize Israel as a Jewish state?

If we were to examine other countries in the world, we notice that no country is seen as being exclusively Christian or even Moslem (with the exception of the Arab states whose population is mostly Moslem). If we were to take the United Kingdom as an example, we notice that it is not viewed as a Christian state and its ethnicity is not a factor even though most of the population follows the Christian faith.

In Israel’s case, it is obvious that the majority of Israelis are Jews and this determines the character of the state. Why must the Jewishness of the state be made such an issue for acceptance by the Palestinians for peace negotiations? Surely it is sufficient if Israel is recognized as a state of all its peoples without any emphasis on the dominant ethnic group which determines its character.

The emphasis on the exclusiveness of the ethnic majority of the population could be interpreted as an insult to the minority groups that are an integral part of the population. After all, Jews are a minority in every country of the world where they live and they enjoy equal rights in most countries as citizens. It is sufficient that Israel be recognized as a state of all its peoples. Viewing it any other way does have racist and ethnic undertones. It creates an obstacle for the minority non-Jewish citizens to share a common patriotism for the welfare of their common native land.

The ramifications of this are many. An example of this is seen in the celebration of Independence Day. Most Arab citizens of Israel do not feel any sense of belonging and do not celebrate, nor do they identify with Hatikva - the national anthem. The Arab communities of Israel identify with their Palestinian brethren and Independence Day to them is "Al Naqba" - the catastrophe! It is as if Israel is divided into two ethnic groups - Jewish and non-Jewish. The latter does not identify with Israel and in practice does feel discrimination. Even in education there is discrimination between the Arab and Jewish educational systems and this can be seen in the rates of academic achievements in both communities.

Emphasis of Israel as a Jewish state, even though this is axiomatic, alienates a sizeable minority of its population apart from being problematic for negotiations with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu emphasizes the danger of Iran to the entire Middle East. He uses it as a digression from the problems of the occupation. He places obstacles on any meaningful discussions with the US on a two-state solution which he opposes. This does not mean that one should overlook or underestimate the Iranian nuclear threat. However discussions on this threat should not take the place of meaningful discussions on solving the conflict.

Surely the main priority for Israel is peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors even if this means forfeiting the adjective "Jewish" to describe Israel. In this case it is not relevant for peace. This does not mean that Israel needs to give up its identity and cease to exist as many Zionists claim would be the situation if Israel were not recognized as a Jewish state.

The dominant nature of the state is determined by the ethnicity of the majority of its citizens which should not affect the civil rights of the minority.