Sunday, April 13

"Final Solution" or "Voluntary Departure"

English: Passover Seder Table, Jewish holidays...
English: Passover Seder Table, Jewish holidays עברית: שולחן הסדר, Original Image Name:סדר פסח, Location:חיפה (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If this will raise eye-brows, so be it! Israel's Government with its insistence of recognition of Israel as a Jewish State has undertones that smell of a terrible era for the Jewish People - the Holocaust. I do not wish to compare the two scenarios as there is an unbridgeable difference. However, with Passover on our doorstep, we must be reminded of our tragic history and cease using euphemisms for forced expulsion of asylum seekers such as " voluntary departure". Nobody leaves a place of refuge for another place, where death and forced poverty is rife.

The Nazi bastards, as we know, were masters of euphemism. "Final Solution" in the early days of the notorious Nazi regime began with deportation of Jews. Later on it was deportation to death camps. Are we also becoming masters of euphemisms when it comes to asylum seekers? Israel's doors are open for Jews from the diaspora to come and settle. Some are in distress but most are not. That is ok! No problem! Israel is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This means that it has obligations towards them. In practice many of the conditions stipulated are overlooked.

The refugee situation in Israel is poor. When countries accept refugees they take the responsibility for allowing them to seek work and they also have to provide the refugees with conditions that are similar to what the citizens of their respective countries receive.

 On Monday 25 November 2013, the proposed amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law passed the first reading with 43 Members of Knesset voting in favor and 17 in opposition. The proposed legislation allows for one year of administrative detention of refugees and asylum seekers and their indefinite imprisonment in "open” centers to be run by the Israel Prison Service.  The bill has been met with strong opposition from human rights organizations, which believe the new amendment is even more draconian than the one overturned by the High Court of Justice on 16 September.

The government is moving with extraordinary swiftness to pass the bill before the expiration of the 90-day period set by the Court by which asylum seekers detained under the overturned amendment must be released. We may well see the amendment approved within a matter of weeks-- and possibly even days.

The proposed legislation comes in response to the recent High Court of Justice (HCJ) decision that overturned previous amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law. This Law had allowed for individuals that irregularly entered Israel to be detained for three years. In its decision, the Infiltration Law was called "a grave and disproportionate abuse of the right to personal freedom, which is a fundamental right of every human being, and deviates from the principles accepted in Israel and the enlightened world."

While the bill reduces the period of detention from three years to one, it also proposes indefinite detention in "open" centers without judicial review. The proposed legislation is in contempt of the recent HCJ ruling and continues Israel’s restriction of asylum seekers rights.

Pesach (Passover - the Festival of Freedom from Egyptian Bondage in Biblical times) somehow has lost its significance within today's context. It is supposed to convey a message on freedom for all people in the achievement of human rights, dignity and justice. In the Israel of today, unfortunately this is not the case. Foreign workers, contract labour guaranteeing minimum wages with no security, is all part of the pattern of abuse that is becoming more common in employer-employee relationships. 

While most of Israel is sitting at their Seder table reading the Pesach Haggadah, these unfortunate omissions on Israel's treatment of refugees and foreign workers will not be on the agenda. The Jews have their homeland but it is becoming insensitive to the plight of those who seek asylum from certain death. Another term that has become common place to describe these refugees is "infiltrators". The definition of "asylum-seekers", "refugees" and "infiltrators" is becoming all-inclusive, with the latter having very negative connotations allowing leeway for exploitation and abuse of these unfortunate people.

Israel, like all countries of the world, has the right not to accept illegal immigrants. However, once Israel accepts and grants asylum to refugees then it must take responsibility for their welfare. 

Kav Laoved is a remarkable organization that is working under very difficult conditions and has alleviated many problems peculiar to foreign workers. They are unable to assist them when their working visa expires and these people face certain deportation after many years of devoted service. The care-givers who look after our aging population with great devotion until they pass away is an example of a gross injustice. Many Israelis say "So what! They got paid for their job and the time has come for them to go back to their original countries".      

The continuation of the occupation and the desire to prolong it by increasing settlement activity in the West Bank also means that the Palestinians living there are denied basic human rights in many instances. Added to this, is the fascist, hooligan right-wing Price Tag movement that reaps destruction on Palestinian property as well as injury.The government is soft on that and the police have not arrested anyone to date. When some Yitzhar settlers attacked and destroyed IDF property, an outcry from the Defense Minister was heard, and some suspects were apprehended.

Israel has an excellent intelligence system which is effective against Palestinian terror but impotent against Price Tag, whose vandalism against Palestinians and their property has been very ineffective - so much so that no arrests have been made. Freedom should also mean freedom from acts of violence. This is only partial and exclusive.

Celebrating the Festival of Freedom (Passover - Pesach) is hypocritical when we deny freedom to others and "do not welcome the stranger" in our midst. There is no more apt time of the year than the celebration of Pesach to give a thought to the strangers in our midst.

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Tuesday, April 8

The Illegal Settlement Enterprise and Peace Negotiations Collapse

English: Mahmoud Abbas
English: Mahmoud Abbas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Knesset committee has approved $51 million allocation to WZO (World Zionist Organization) settlement projects. Freedom of Information Law does not apply to the settlement division. This must give course of concern to the taxpayer. Whenever there is lack of transparency and unaccountability which is not covered by Freedom of Information Law then our eyebrows ought to be raised to the heavens with a big question mark.(Freedom of Information Law  5758 -1998)

How the money will be divided will be partly transparent. We shall not know how much goes to the West Bank Settlement projects. This explains the acceleration of building settlements in areas designated for the theoretical establishment of the Palestine State thus making the reality of two states for two peoples even more remote.

The way that the taxpayer's money for these illegal settlement projects in the West Bank will remain clandestine. When Netanyahu pays lip service to the two-state solution, we cannot take him at his word as the reality on the ground is the opposite.

Israel is no less credible than their Palestinian partners in the stalled peace talks. Both sides are seeking an opportunity to blame the other for the breakdown of the John Kerry mediated talks. Both parties are not carrying out the wishes of their respective peoples for a peace agreement, each for their own partisan reasons. Kerry is on record blaming Israel for the failure of the talks.

The demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish State is insipid and childish. This has never been a condition for other countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Therefore it cannot be seen as a threat to the status quo of Israel.

The talks have reached a stalemate as expected. Even John Kerry, like his predecessors, is fatigued and frustrated. The blame game is on the cards and the tilt is not in Israel's failure for two main reasons which are:

  1. The continuation of building settlements in the occupied West Bank.
  2. Israel had not carried out its promise of the fourth phase of freeing Palestinian prisoners.

The peace talks have collapsed and John Kerry has given up. This really comes as no surprise. Both sides are to blame. However, it seems that both sides are not putting in enough effort to avoid the collapse. Israel had refused to free the fourth round of prisoners as they had promised and at the same time the illegal settler-oriented Minister of Housing, Uri Ariel,  decided that the time was right to announce the building of another 700 housing units in disputed areas. Mahmoud Abbas has decided to take the whole matter to the UN as well as demanding membership of 15 UN agencies, as if Palestine is a fully fledged member of the UN. If Tzippi Livni blames the Housing Minister for responsibility of the talks collapsing then we must take her seriously. Perhaps it is not a bad idea if the Palestinians take the issue to the UN. It could jolt the talks back on track even though the chance is slim.

The collapse of the peace negotiations between the parties is because of futility. The talks were doomed from the start. However, it is not easy to blame either side equally as each side has its extremists, who are against a peace deal being signed.

There is a big question mark as to whether a peace treaty would have been signed had Israel agreed to the freeing of prisoners and the freezing of settlements. This scenario had occurred so often in the past with the players backing down from signing an agreement. This latest round of negotiations has reached the same old deadlock. The extremists in the Palestinian camp as well as extremists in the Israeli Government coalition are the two parties that determined the failure of the Kerry-mediated talks.

Israel would not be able to sign a peace agreement nor would the Palestinians. It is not because Uncle Sam is watching, but rather Hamas on the Palestinian side and Bennett and Company on the Israeli side. Netanyahu would like the talks to continue indefinitely. He will never agree to give up the West Bank, hence the continuous building of settlements. By continuing with talks “until the Messiah comes", Netanyahu safeguards his coalition. If he signs an agreement with the Palestinians, the right wing factions in his coalition will leave. On the Palestinian side, if Mahmoud Abbas signs an agreement with Israel, he will be viewed as a traitor by the hardliners, including Hamas. Paradoxically the negotiation charade, if it did not breakdown, would continue deadlocked indefinitely achieving nothing but photo opportunities. The whole peace negotiation process is an exercise in polemics to satisfy Uncle Sam. This has been going on since the moribund Oslo Agreements and it will continue after a period of negotiation cessation. Maybe a new US star negotiator will arise in the future to replace Kerry after the next US Presidential Elections.

At the same time, deadlock and stalemate is the name of the game. There is no imaginative leadership on either side willing to make the necessary concessions to achieve an end to this cruel, festering conflict.

John Kerry stated: "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot force him to drink".

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