Saturday, December 31

Religious Extremism in Israel

BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 25: (Israel ou...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 25:  (Israel o...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
What next?

A direct line
Leads from
The anti-democratic legislation
In the Knesset,
Through the violent rampage
Of the settlers
In the West Bank,
To the fanatical hooliganism
In Beit Shemesh.

What next?

Published in “Haaretz” - Gush Shalom, December 30, 2011

The past few weeks we have all witnessed the specter of religious fanaticism in full force in Israel. We are all aware of the return to religion in Israel as the Israeli Electorate move further to the right.

The despicable discrimination against women based on religious grounds, justified in the guise of “modesty” based on Torah teachings on the one hand, as well as desecration of mosques and destruction of IDF property on the other.

In my previous article, I discussed the "Price Tag" violence by religious "hill top" youth - the offspring of the loutish settler movement which became an embarrassment to the Netanyahu Government coalition. The official reaction was that this is not "mainstream settler ideology just a small minority". The point was missed entirely. These religious right wing hooligans got their education from right wing rabbinical indoctrination in Yeshivot in the occupied territories. The teaching of fundamental Judaism and hate for the Arabs became part of their education curriculum in these Yeshivot.

The last few weeks we were witnesses to discrimination against women by Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) in East Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. It started getting ugly and violent.

The Mea Shearim Quarter in Jerusalem is the home of various Haredi groups such as Eda Haredit, Toldot Aharon and various other sects that refuse to recognize Israel.

These religious fanatics breed like flies and their numbers burst beyond the confines of the Mea Shearim Quarter. They found a new home in Bet Shemesh - a town that is pluralistic with modern Orthodox, moderate Ultra-Orthodox and secular people. 

These religious fanatics decided to take over and coerce the citizens of Bet Shemesh into adapting their life-style. They started demanding discrimination against women on the sidewalks, buses and public places. They cursed women, who in their eyes, dressed immodestly. They even spat at women who did not abide by Haredi "rules of modesty". The situation in Bet Shemesh became unbearable and even little pre-teen schoolgirls were threatened by Haredi violence and abuse.

The handwriting was on the wall for many years. However, under the Netanyahu Government coalition, hell and brimstone broke loose. It is obvious that the phenomena of right wing "Price-Tag" violence against Palestinians and Haredi violence against women share much in common. It seems a coincidence that both groups created violence more or less at the same time.

Both groups believe that what they are doing has the blessing of the Almighty, they have been given a large leeway over the years for their brand of Judaism which is akin to hooliganism and intolerance intermingled with a despicable racism unknown in Jewish history.

The blame for these negative religious trends must be laid at the door of the Netanyahu Government with its extremist right wing coalition partners. These partners are Torah Judaism, Shas, Yisrael Beitenu, Ichud Leumi, and a host of other splinter parties that are illegal settler- oriented.

They have created a monster that has gone out of control. Even the police do not have the power to bring order to a situation that is becoming unmanageable.

I cannot help thinking of the Pledge of Allegiance Bill initiated by Israel Beitenu demanding an Oath of Loyalty be sworn by Israel's non-Jewish citizens that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish State in order to become citizens. The Haredi religious fanatics and the "hill top youth" are damaging Israel's world image. Why are they are exempt from the Oath and get away with this loutish behaviour? Hardly anyone has been arrested. The Eda Haredit does not even recognize Israel's right to exist! Their ally is President Ahmadinajad of Iran! The reaction of PM Netanyahu over these despicable incidents has been weak in order to maintain his coalition at all costs. It has almost been apologetic. Arrests have been rare in both cases.

This is hardly surprising bearing in mind the many bills being discussed in the Knesset that are threatening Israel's once healthy and vibrant democracy. Maintaining Israel's identity as a Jewish state takes priority over maintaining Israel's democracy.

Israel's citizens are becoming more religious and right wing and this will erode democracy even further. If elections were held tomorrow the elected government with its religious partners will be more right wing and paranoid than the present one.

Israel stands a chance of increased isolation in the world. The "hill top youth" and Haredi violence share a common denominator and that is their hooliganism and the impotence of the present government to come to terms with the religious monsters that they have created.

Lip service against these trends is not enough. Action speaks louder than words!
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Sunday, December 18

Israeli Illegal Settler Hooliganism


Palestinian demonstrators
Are being shot.

In face of rampaging settlers,
The army did not make
Even a single arrest.

For 44 years, the IDF
Has pampered the settlers
And enabled them
To mistreat the Palestinians.

Now the golem
Turns on its creator.

Published in “Haaretz”, December 16, 2011 Gush Shalom

The "kippa, peyot and tzitzit" hooligans are at it again! They have attacked Palestinians and destroyed their olive trees without even a single arrest by the Israel police or Security Forces.

However, when their vandalism destroyed and damaged IDF property as well as injuring two IDF officers, then words of condemnation and promises to arrest these louts were made by PM Netanyahu.

The religious, extremist louts, who damage mosques by committing arson are seldom arrested if ever. All this violence and hooliganism began when there were rumors of illegal settlements being dismantled by the Security Forces.

Right wing religious hooliganism swept out of control. Religious louts attacked an IDF base. They attacked the very institution that protects them in the occupied territories. Two army officers were injured by stones thrown at them during the attack.

The army hardly responded. It is still unclear as to whether the soldiers were in a state of shock from the attack or just never had the tools to deal with the Jewish louts.

As if this was not enough, these hooligans continued on their journey of hooliganism by burning and destroying mosques as well as stoning Palestinians. The reaction of the police was slow and cumbersome. What would have happened had it been Palestinians on the rampage doing the same thing but instead of mosques they had destroyed synagogues? The IDF would have been merciless in their reaction and it is reasonable to expect a massacre of the perpetrators.

The hill-top youth hooligans are a result and a creation of the illegal settler movement which has gained greater legitimacy by the right wing Netanyahu coalition with its racist ideology. They have encouraged hatred for Arabs, Palestinians and the left wing. They even pass laws threatening human freedom, freedom of the press, and the independence of Israel's Law Courts. The government wishes to interfere with the election of judges, giving preference to judges with right wing views.

The right wing religious louts who attacked the IDF base and destroyed mosques as well as spraying racist slogans on the burnt mosque walls inherited this loutish behaviour from somewhere. They received their idealism from racist rabbis who are heads of bigoted yeshivot in the occupied territories. The louts suck the hate from these racist rabbis like a newborn baby suckles from its mother's breast. The hatred is built in the twisted Halacha of these abominable rabbis. The Ministry of Education ignored this hate and by not doing anything must bear part of the responsibility for this racist violence that ran amuck.

There does not seem any end in sight. The settler movement is in denial by stating that it is a small minority of youth engaged in this racist hooliganism. This is not the case at all! This dangerous violence is on the increase because of the indifference of the government to Jewish violence against Palestinians. If one denies the existence of a reality then that reality boomerangs on the deniers. Nobody is immune to it.
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me”.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

The authorities have made some arrests but it is only the tip of the iceberg. These hooligans' faith is Judaism and not Islam and they will be released shortly. They are not Palestinians and for this reason these incidents will soon be forgotten until the next time.

Jewish terrorists are “kosher” but not Palestinian terror. The proof of this will be seen within the coming weeks.

This is not the first time that Jewish religious louts have destroyed mosques. It has happened many times in the past. It would have been another blip on the TV screen soon to be forgotten had they not attacked an IDF base.

There is even doubts expressed by spokesmen of this loutish Netanyahu coalition as to whether these hooligans should be defined as "Jewish terrorists" rather than wayward youth. Present at the scene of terror as usual is the patron of these youth - non other than the honorable Knesset member, Michael Ben Ari of the extremist National Union Party whose platform is close to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

These hooligans are a disgrace to the Israeli people and they are legitimizing terror that could cause a knee jerk reaction by Palestinian extremists. This could create a situation that will go out of control.

While the right wing louts of Yisrael Beitenu, Ichud Leumi and a host of other extremist racist parties and their racist rabbinical allies continue in their systematic destruction of democracy, it only adds fuel to the fire of hill top youth violence which has been going on for some years. Nobody until now has ever been arrested. Only when the IDF base was attacked did the authorities do something and made some arrests.

Israel's electorate is becoming more apathetic and right wing. The Avigdor Lieberman and Vladimir Putin ideology is taking root and is becoming more active in delegitimizing Israel's non-Jewish minorities whom they regard as potential terrorists acting against Israel. Their warped ideology must also bear some of the blame.
The emaciated left wing has been conspicuous by its silence because it has been cowered into a corner by the government. The left wing as represented by the Labor Party is a sop to the right. Meretz barely exists. It is left to NGOS like B'tzelem, Gush Shalom and Shalom Ahshav to condemn this Jewish terror.
When this ugly cancer of the offspring of illegal settlers is not halted by existing laws but and not carried out by the appropriate authorities, we are doomed to further isolation and estrangement by the world of nations. This right wing hooliganism is more widespread than the government believes.

We Israelis must go out in the street to condemn this racist settler violence in the strongest possible terms. This violence is a result of the occupation and the deligitimization of the Palestinians and their rights to an independent state. It is an evil ramification of over 45 years of occupation since the June 1967 War.

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Saturday, December 10

Something is Rotten in the State of Israel

RAJAR, ISRAEL - AUGUST 5:    Israel's Foreign ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Something is rotten in the State of Israel! Are there raised eyebrows? Yes, maybe among Israel pundits in Israel and maybe in the Diaspora.

The rot is the threat to democracy as the Netanyahu ruling coalition with its undisciplined cartel of right wing extremists are coming out of the cupboard by introducing anti-democratic bills which are far from the spirit of Israel's historic Declaration of Independence.

The excuse for the introduction of these bills is to protect Israel from its enemies who are bent on delegitimizing Israel's right to exist. The definition of Israel’s enemies is becoming wider in its quasi-legal interpretation by right wing Knesset members.

NGOs (non governmental organizations) which are the watch dogs of human rights in many democracies are now under threat. There is talk of curtailing their overseas funding by limiting it to an unrealistic amount that will force them to close down.

There are a lot of new anti democratic bills in the pipeline that are threatening Israel's democracy. Discrimination against Israel's Arab population and non-Jewish citizens has already begun. The settlers in the occupied territories are gaining more and more protection by the government as the illegal settlements encroach increasingly on Palestinian lands. It has become more legitimate to make land grabs for illegal settlers. All is done in the name of maintaining the immoral occupation at all costs.

Essential organizations such as Adalah, B'tzelem, Peace Now, Mahsom Watch and many others involved in human rights activities, safeguarding minorities including Palestinians who have suffered great hardships and human rights abuses, are in danger of having their activities severely curtailed.

Over the years I have tried to avoid saying that Israel is an apartheid state with similarities to white South Africa of the past as the two situations are not the same. Today, however, it is becoming more difficult to avoid that comparison as the similarities are becoming less subtle.

Oh yes, numerous articles have been written refuting that claim. I myself had even written an article on that some years ago. However, I cannot say the same today. The articles always state that Israel's Arab citizens have their own representation of their choice in the Knesset, no segregated public amenities, equal opportunities, medical services, including hospitalization, and the list is almost endless. In white South Africa, racial segregation in public amenities and services was known as "petty apartheid". In reality, this is a misnomer because anything that is degrading racially cannot be viewed as "petty". In Israel, there is growing cancer of racism that is raising its ugly head. It has its origins in the nebulous neo-Kach factions in the Knesset of which Michael Ben Ari, Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu, Danny Danon (He attacks leftist politicians and is responsible for closing down the Radio Station All For Peace), Tzippi Hatovelly, Ofir Akunis of the Likud are representatives. Accompanying these "bastions of virtue", are a growing number of religious extremists who hate Arabs and a large number of right wing Israeli nationalists who spread venom against the left up to the point of death threats and "price tags".

When senior rabbis, who are respected leaders of their communities, make statements against renting apartments to Arab citizens and non-Jews in Tel Aviv, Safed, and other centres what more can we say? We have the ingredients that are the antithesis of Israel's claim to be "the only democracy in the Middle East". The problem is that there are no democracies in the Middle East. The Israel Government has the “chutspa” to criticize the Arab uprisings in their direction when they themselves are introducing anti-democratic and neo fascist legislation. There are even twinges of religious orthodox and ultra nationalist extremism that is a danger to democracy.

It is sad that Israel is slipping into the grips of fascism. It will not take long before anybody who criticizes Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and the exploitation of foreign workers will be accused of anti-Semitism and treason.

If an Arab Israeli family wishes to buy a home in a Jewish settlement within the green line, this is followed by an outcry by the majority of residents against the family and they have to appeal to the law courts to grant them the right to live in the same town with Jewish neighbors. Even one Likud Knesset member praised Senator Joe McCarthy who began a witch hunt for communists - imaginary and otherwise in the US.

Apartheid is alive and kicking in the occupied territories where Palestinians are second class citizens at best and treated as animals at worst by "Gods Chosen People" who believe that they are superior and are the parents of the loutish "hill top" youth who destroy Palestinian property and destroy their olive trees. They believe that they are carrying out God's will by settling the whole of the West Bank calling it “Judea and Samaria”. PM Netanyahu supports a two state solution in theory but he knows that it will never happen as that state is already “Judea and Samaria”.

After all, what is apartheid? It was the domination of a white minority over a black majority in South Africa of the late 1940s to the mid 1990s when Nelson Mandela was released from imprisonment.

All these undemocratic bills with their fascist overtones are isolating Israel and creating a national paranoia within Israel. The move to the right with its dangerous consequences of a growing Zionistic religious extremism will be Israel's deterioration into self righteous totalitarianism for the sake of self-preservation out of fear.

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Saturday, November 19

Democratic Erosion in Israel

As the winter rains approach with the weatherman's forecast of snow on Mt Hermon, the winter cold has not cooled many right wing Knesset members who are doing their fair share to destroy Israel's already jaded democracy with a plethora of anti-democratic bills.

The Netanyahu right wing government coalition of many racist extremists are making their voices heard in their desire to change Israel's democratic face into a face more grotesque and intolerant towards those who are left wing in thought and deed as well as the non-Jewish minority who are citizens of Israel.

We are witnessing a steady downhill trend towards abysmal darkness as Israel's democracy is chipped away by the right wing.  The left wing that is weak and ineffective which will weaken further as they wallow in the murky darkness of the extreme right.

The various racist laws and restriction of personal freedom when it comes to matters of religion are becoming more common place. The Israel Rabbinate has the monopoly on marriage ceremonies. The Rabbinate is run by an ultra-Orthodox hegemony of rabbinical bigots who make a lot of money marrying couples. Civil marriage is not available in Israel for people who are not recognized as Jews according to their intolerant interpretation of Halacha (Religious Jewish Law).

Israel is contravening Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "men and women of marriageable age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family."

Countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran do not have civil marriage either. This places Israel in league with these undemocratic regimes in Jewish religious marriages. The reason is the iron clad grip of the narrow ultra-Orthodox hegemony in the Rabbinate. Money also plays a great part. Imagine their loss in income from marriage services if Reform and Conservative Jews were allowed to marry in non-Orthodox marriage ceremonies as well as the availability of civil marriage services.

If one asks questions about the non-availability of civil marriage in Israel the answer is always the same: Israel is a Jewish country and there is only one Halacha - the Orthodox. Any movement away from that is a danger to the survival of the Jewish People in the Jewish State." The real reason is the desire of the Rabbinate to have the monopoly of a very lucrative marriage business.

Even in the Israeli Army, religious extremism is becoming more common place. Some extremist rabbis who are heads of the various hesder yeshivot (institutions of learning Judaism and doing compulsory military service) are telling their students that it is forbidden to listen to women singing. Presently we are surprised by a new and more intolerant interpretation of Halacha, which is becoming more common place. New rules of Halakhic modesty are rising from God knows where.

Now I am tempted to make some comparison with Halacha as interpreted by right wing Zionist rabbis and the apartheid policy of White South Africa.

In Israel, one's birth certificate states one's religion. If a child is born in a union between a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother the child is stuck with the mark of Cain which is "without religious affiliation." In order to give the child a name, the father must undergo a DNA test to prove that he is the father of the child. This is done at the father's expense. Surely this is macabre! In apartheid South Africa this is reminiscent of the Immorality Act which forbade marriage between whites and blacks. DNA testing was practiced there to prove paternity and the punishment was a prison sentence.

A person officially labeled "without religious affiliation." cannot marry a Jew in Israel where he/she was born. They are not treated as equal citizens.

The Knesset passed a law in 2010 known as the Spousal Covenant for Persons Lacking Religious Affiliation as a solution. It solved nothing! This is a disgrace to any country claiming to be democratic. This law allows couples with no religious affiliation to marry but they must avoid marrying Jews. Here we can see latent racism in order to preserve "Jewish purity" thus avoiding assimilation. This attitude contributes to the mantra of Israel moving forward (or backward) depending on whether one is religious or not to an apartheid-style society.

Many new bills are being discussed in the Knesset that is a threat to human rights. Details of these bills can be found in the above link. It makes for very worrisome reading:

With the conclusion of the summer 2011 Knesset session, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) believes it must warn against disturbing trends prevalent in the current Knesset and the promotion of legislation with severe repercussions for human rights. During this just-completed Knesset session, we have witnessed a slew of bills which, if passed, would infringe on the entire range of human rights and, with them, the very foundations of Israeli democracy.

These bills will harm (amongst other basic rights) freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of dissent of Israeli citizens and residents, especially those whose opinions are currently viewed unfavorably by the political majority. Additionally, the current Knesset session saw numerous attempts to harm civil society organizations, primarily human rights groups, which are an integral layer in the social fabric of any democracy. See, for example: the Anti-Boycott Law, the proposed committees of inquiry to investigate certain NGOs, a variety of bills limiting donations to and the activity of these organizations, new anti-libel legislation, and so on.” 

Thank goodness we still have ACRI (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel).  The government has been going for NGO’s and trying to limit their activities. We have every right to feel concerned as to the anti-democratic trends that are in the fabric of Israel’s human rights record. Somehow whether one likes to admit it or not, the similarity to South African apartheid cannot be whitewashed anymore.

The greatest human rights violations are found in the occupied territories where the illegal settlers cause great damage to Palestinian property and are not even punished. The destruction of Palestinian olive trees and agricultural lands are notorious examples of damage of Palestinian property. While there is no solution to the conflict and the occupation continues, the loutish behaviour of the settlers in the occupied West Bank will be a great threat to democracy.
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Saturday, November 5

The Whisperers

The well worn cliché: "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East" is showing signs of erosion. More and more evidence of NGOs involved in human rights abuse investigations are becoming known.

What is Israel's response to these accusations? The predictable automatic response that "anti-Semitism and attempts made to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist which plays into the hands of Israel's enemies".

However, instead of investigating these accusations, a blanket excuse is always given - "security reasons" - and a swift denial. Some cases are even dismissed as "not in the public interest".

These cover-ups are not only confined to security issues or torture of Palestinians who are in captivity by the security services to extract information, but also in various government departments concerned with the running of the country's services for its citizens. The latter has nothing to do with "security reasons" but the formation of cartels protecting the interests of those in the various ministry hierarchies.

The insensitivity displayed towards the abuse and exploitation of foreign workers as well as contract laborers with no chance of salary increments above the minimum wage. A form of slavery is becoming common place in the hands of heartless contractors who are responsible for maintaining cleaning services in hospitals, public buildings, and shopping malls. This extends to the security guards who stand at entrances to public places looking after public security. The democracy Israel-style ignores the employees who are not even considered human beings but cogs in contract labour cartels. They have no decent terms of employment. The list in the contract labour cartels is endless. These workers have no employment benefits at all. In this democracy it is legal as these employees are numbers and are barely considered human with feelings and desires.

If there are complaints against the civil service hierarchy, depending on the senior position of civil servant, the availability of a body to redress complaints of inefficiency, defamation of character and slander accusations is very difficult if not impossible even though there is a law making provision for this. The demi-god in the position of responsibility in the hierarchy is never available - always at some meeting and the complainant is left high and dry. There is no address for slander accusations in the work place as the "impartial courts" only deal with this if important public figures are involved. In some cases the judge can even decide against the complainant for "wasting his time" even if there is a case morally, but legally, it is a different matter.

Many Israel pundits will say "that it is not only Israel, but all democracies have a problem with slander cases against the common citizen”. Appeal to a court of law is an expensive business - a gamble, depending on the moods of the legal clique of judges in the cartel where the disease of nepotism is dominant.

Sometimes there are whispers of truth that leaks out much to the shock of the establishment and if the stink is too great then promises of investigations are released to the press and that is where the matter remains unless a well known public figure with loads of money is involved. Money buys justice and excellent lawyers. Those unfortunate people who are not wealthy and are treated unjustly have very little recourse to justice. This is not only applicable to Palestinians but to Israelis as well. There are a few exceptions but these are rare and when they occur they are reported.

There are work places in Israel where it is forbidden to organize a workers committee in order to look after the interests of workers and where they can redress their complaints against their employers. In some institutions the clause against holding a strike is in the personal contract. In many cases the management ignores legitimate complaints about working conditions or an unreasonable superior who slanders his or her team of workers.

The conditions of foreign workers and contract laborers are almost akin to slavery. The cover-ups are alive and kicking in Israel. Exploitation is a common practice which is overlooked. It is not going to improve until the whisperers turn into screamers making their voices heard rather than adopting the attitude of "I'm all right Jack and I close my eyes to the rest".

The indifference of Israeli society to the occupation, the injustices to foreign workers and contracted laborers is a disease that needs to be cured.

In many cases pay is poor as we have witnessed in the doctors strike, where young doctors who are specializing, work long hours with hardly any break. There is still no progress to find a solution.

The establishment is becoming insensitive to its citizens as the obstacles before the average citizen in seeking justice is almost insurmountable. The cartels are prospering and the wealthy remain powerful.

You may ask - What has this to do with the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Plenty - if there is no desire to solve the conflict as Israel remains a colonial power, the exploitation of Israel's foreign workers and contract workers will never be solved. A colonialist power thrives on cartels and insensitivity to its citizens. This is the root of the problem.
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Thursday, October 20

A Catalyst for Peace?

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 12:   Noam Shalit (...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
This past week has been an exciting week for both Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides were ecstatic. Both claimed a victory.  This is a rare occurrence.

Crowds gathered in Gaza and Ramallah celebrating the release of Palestinian prisoners. The streets were decked with green Hamas flags, interspersed with Fatah flags. Cheering crowds gathered and Hamas leaders delivered speeches of victory. Many even vowed to create another Shalit until all Palestinian prisoners are freed from Israeli prisons.

In Israel, there was great jubilation. After more than five years in a Hamas prison, Gilad Shalit was freed and returned home to his parents in Mitzpe Hila in the northern Galilee. The crowds that gathered there were whooping for joy. For more than five years, many had volunteered to pressure the Israeli Government to reach this incredible day.

Both Israelis and Palestinians claimed a victory; both sides felt that something was incomplete.

Many Israelis, who lost loved ones through acts of Palestinian terrorism -suicide bombers on busses, shopping malls and in the main centres, felt that the price for Gilad's release was too high - 1028 Palestinian prisoners, who were given life sentences for their part in organizing terror attacks and murdering innocent people-Jewish and Arab Israelis-in cold blood were now released. All this was achieved for the exchange of one Israeli soldier - Gilad Shalit.

As one Israeli (who had lost family through Hamas terror) said that keeping these Palestinian murderers in prison would not bring his loved ones back - releasing them would save the life of one Israeli soldier whose life was endangered. This says it all!

I speak as a father whose daughter escaped injury in a suicide bombing in a shopping mall in Netanya during the second intifada. I feel that the exchange deal was a bold move and the correct decision. Both sides are satisfied albeit with reservations, each for their own reasons.

We all wish Gilad Shalit a rapid recovery from his nightmarish ordeal and that his rehabilitation will be successful.

Is it justified that Gilad Shalit was cut off from his family for over 5 years? Is it just that the Red Cross was not all allowed to visit him during his time of captivity for so called "security reasons"?  

The Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, while not living in luxury, were granted visiting rights, visits by the Red Cross and were even given facilities to study if they wished. They were also not held in solitary confinement. Most of these prisoners were neither "freedom fighters" nor "fighters for democracy". They were heartless killers who carried out the cruel bidding of Hamas and even Hezbollah.

Had Hamas promised to deliver their people from Israeli occupation and concentrated on that cause without killing innocent people including Palestinians, the prisoners would have had sympathy even from Israel. This is clearly not the case! Even in war, the Geneva Convention in the treatment of prisoners-of-war must be observed by the warring sides. Hamas never adhered to that. They are a terrorist group who has done nothing for the Palestinian cause for freedom from Israeli occupation. Terrorist groups abide by their own rules and the Geneva Convention does not apply to them.

Hamas are cruel to their own people. They torture Palestinians who oppose their rule, even shooting them. Documentation of this is available on the net and not only from Israeli sources. It is a miracle that Gilad Shalit survived his nightmarish ordeal in Hamas captivity.

He survived because Hamas knew that Israel would eventually bargain for Gilad Shalit’s release.  He was isolated in an unknown cell as a bargaining chip for the release of Palestinian prisoners many of whom had received life sentences for cruel terrorist acts resulting in deaths of many innocent Israelis - Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Many will say that these prisoners were "Freedom Fighters" carrying out a legitimate struggle against the occupation. As much as I despise the occupation and the illegal settler movements, including the despicable violence against Palestinians, their property and mosques, Hamas terror is not for the betterment of the Palestinian people but for the destruction of Israel. There will never be a “Palestinian Spring” under Hamas rule. Any belief in that is illusionary. Their record of human rights is dismal.

Some Palestinians say that Israel had murdered innocent people including children during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. While the taking of innocent human life whether Israeli or Palestinian is to be condemned, one must remember that the use of human shields by Hamas, whose reverence for human lives is poor if non-existent, played a great part in the loss of innocent Palestinian lives. I have written about this at length in previous articles.

Hamas will never be the saviors of the Palestinians. Human rights, democracy and equality are not part of their lexicon. They are a cruel, autocratic group of despots who live by the mantra of Israel's total destruction. A separate Palestinian state alongside Israel is not their aim. They have stated that ad nauseam.

It is unlikely that the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit's lease will change the atmosphere. We must remember that this deal was signed between Hamas and Egypt and between Israel and Egypt. From this aspect we can see that direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas never occurred - certainly not on an official basis. There have been unofficial direct contacts between Israel and Hamas but this was played down.

If we see this prisoner exchange as a catalyst for peace negotiations and an improvement in the atmosphere between the two sides, the chances are very remote.

This exchange has raised the support for Hamas substantially at the expense of President Mahmoud Abbas. Even the latter’s declaration of a Palestinian state is on the back burner. While his popularity rose for a short period, it is not so today. Hamas has come out of the cupboard in Ramallah. This was never the case before as we saw from scenes of Hamas flags there.

The release of Gilad Shalit is a great morale booster for future IDF ballotees and their parents as well as the citizens of Israel. They will see that Israel will never abandon a single soldier in captivity. It is unfortunate that Gilad sat for such a long time in captivity until his release. Perhaps this could have been achieved earlier. Anyway, it is better late than never.
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Saturday, September 24

Unilateral Declaration of a Palestinian State

United Nations General Assembly hall in New Yo...Image via Wikipedia
The frustration of the Palestinians was enacted at the UN General Assembly on 23rd Sept 2011.  Most countries of the world support the bid to declare a Palestinian state. The Israeli Government and the US are against it. The US has no power of veto in the General Assembly.

It will not be surprising if the unilateral declaration reaches the UN Security Council where the resolution will reach a dead end because of the US veto. This will dampen things for the Palestinians. At the same time it will isolate Israel even further and will harm US credibility in the Palestinian world. It remains to be seen whether Israel's strong public relations exercise at explaining their perspective will persuade some countries to support its stand, is questionable.

However the ramifications are important for the Palestinians for a number of reasons:
  1. It is a great morale booster for them psychologically.
  2. It can isolate Israel even further from the world of nations.
  3. The world status of the US is weakening, because of its economic woes and its costly involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  4. Israel sent PM Netanyahu to plea its case against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. This may be viewed as a futile automatic reaction because of panic.
  5. Netanyahu delivered his speech to the UN General Assembly bearing the illegal settler stench on his back which means no end to building of settlements in the West Bank and the continuation of the occupation.

Continuation of the occupation is incompatible with a two-state solution and it behooves Netanyahu to explain his support of a two-state solution without giving up the settlements in occupied Palestinian lands. Logically this seems impossible.

Israel cannot be blamed for the changes in the Middle East because of various Arab uprisings. We can blame Israel for the lack of vision and apathy to ride the storm as if nothing has happened.
Both countries - Israel and Palestine have shown intransigence towards getting the peace process back on track. Israel has its right wing government and the Palestinian Authority signed a pact with Hamas in Gaza. The situation is very complex and the extremists in both cases are preventing negotiations for peace.

Perhaps the declaration of a Palestinian state will clear the air. Hamas will have to moderate its stance towards Israel. It is unlikely that this will occur because the General Assembly vote will be overwhelming in its support of a Palestinian state. This will serve the purpose of delegitimizing Israel even further. Much of the blame for this (not all) can be blamed on the Netanyahu Government with its settlement policy.

The visionless, unimaginative Netanyahu Government has done nothing to prevent Israel's deteriorating world image nor has it ever given a hint of the “painful concessions” that it is prepared to make for the sake of a true and lasting peace. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Foreign Minister has been making “Rambo-like” utterances against the Palestinians and the Arab World in the past. He is even on record as saying that Israel should blow up the Aswan Dam some years ago.

Lieberman's side-kick, Danny Ayalon,the Deputy Foreign Minister, behaved like a spoilt child with Turkey's ambassador at the beginning of last year. After that, the Mavi Marmara flotilla imbroglio and the false pride of not apologizing to clear the air have also received accolades from Israel's right wing.

It seems that the Israeli Government does not want to give up any settlements in the occupied Palestinian lands or make any movement towards peace. The illegal settlers are more important in the occupied Palestinian lands than peace.

23rd Sept 2011 arrived and ended. We must also bear in mind the incredible pro-Israel speech of Pres. Barrack Obama of the US in the UN General Assembly a on 21st Sept 2011. Such a “Zionist” speech could be a record of support of Israel's stand. Perhaps we could view it as a prologue for Netanyahu's speech. Whether Obama made this speech in order to regain Jewish voter support and US citizen support, which has been sagging, is a possibility. Both PM Netanyahu and Pres. Mahmoud Abbas gave their much anticipated speeches at the UN General Assembly. Both stuck to their original mantras and said nothing new.

Both leaders appealed to their respective audiences and said what their audiences wanted to hear. There were no refreshing new ideas or signs of any vision for a new deal or a move towards negotiations for peace.

Abbas gave a speech that evoked great applause from those supporting the Palestinian side. The applause for Netanyahu's speech was from the Israel side and from the US. The applause for Netanyahu was conspicuous by its absence. Many members even walked out.

Netanyahu even made a show appeal to Abbas to start negotiations for peace without pre conditions. He knew that this would not happen.

Netanyahu's emphasis on the "truth" that he came to reiterate was a cover for right wing Greater Israel and his settlement policies rather than any true desire for a true peace. We are all aware that the problems of the schism between the Israeli and Palestinian narratives of Israel's establishment since 1948 remains as wide as ever and is allowed to cloud any form of rapprochement between the two peoples.
The Netanyahu Government maintains that the settlement issue is not the reason for the deadlock in negotiations but Israel's establishment as a Jewish state in 1948. There were no Israeli settlements in the West Bank prior to June 1967 nor was there ever any peace between Israel and the Palestinians either. This, in Netanyahu's view, proves his point that Israel's right to exist was always denied by the surrounding Arab states.

In my honest opinion (for what it is worth), Netanyahu has made a valid point and the events that have occurred does prove this. The various terror attacks in the 1990s after PM Rabin's assassination and suicide attacks on Israel's civilian population also added to the belief in the impossibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

On the other hand, despite all the various nuances in Abbas's speech, there were no utterances of denial of Israel's right to exist or any desire to destroy Israel. If anything, there was a desire to renew negotiations for peace and recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in peace. Does this mean support for Israel's deligitimization? This was not apparent in Abbas's speech at all. So we must put both speeches in the correct perspective despite the wide gaps in direction because of lack of trust and goodwill on both sides.

There is no doubt that the occupation does not add much to Israel's credibility in its desire for peace due to illegal settlement activity. As I have mentioned many times in previous posts, illegal settlement activity with its destruction of Palestinian agricultural land for illegal building activity was a great error and no matter what Netanyahu says will ever justify usurping Palestinian lands.
Israel's security needs are important, understandable and justifiable. Israelis do not wish a Hamas and Hezbollah takeover of the West Bank, which could be disastrous for Israel. We experienced Hamas rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza since 2005 with great destruction to property and lives. If Israel returns the West Bank to Palestine rule and withdraws all the illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian lands, will there be peace and no threats from Hamas and Hezbollah? If missiles fall on Israel will be repeated as in the Gaza withdrawal, if a Palestinian state is established any reasonable person can understand Israel's fears.

Despite this, a Palestinian state alongside Israel should be the aim of peace negotiations without compromising the security of both sides and ensuring that the relationship between the two states be based on respect, coexistence, justice, human rights and democracy. Once there is trust between the two sides and a true desire to solve the complicated issues existing between the two sides, a Palestinian state could be a model for emulation. We need two Mandela-like leaders of vision that could achieve this. It is unfortunate that both Israel and Palestine do not have a Mandela.

What is clear from all the hype over Palestine's unilateral declaration of an independent state is that it is a non-starter without serious negotiations for peace with Israel to end the conflict. The continuation of the old mantras on both sides will not achieve this.
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