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The wonder, anger and occupation of Jerusalem

 

A Palestinian with his belongings after his home in East Jerusalem is demolished. Getty Images

 

My essay in The National newspaper about the city of Jerusalem:

House demolitions occur regularly in East Jerusalem, well away from the tourist path. According to the United Nations, Israel destroyed 190 Palestinian homes in 2016 and displaced thousands of people. It was the highest figure since 2000.

I’ve witnessed Palestinian families thrown out of their own houses, sometimes immediately replaced by radical, Jewish settlers, or standing in front of crushed, concrete structures with nowhere to go. Last year, a few hours after a Palestinian home was demolished in the neighbourhood of Wadi Joz, I arrived to find a solitary man sitting under a large, green plastic sheet. He had 12 children and a wife and all his possessions, including couches, fridge, table, crockery and cutlery, were exposed to the elements. “The Palestinian people don’t help me”, he said. Despite his situation, he gave me a cup of hot coffee and then began calling friends to see where he could sleep with his family.

The official policy of Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat is to make Jerusalem the “united capital”. In practice, this means the approval of thousands of Jewish homes in West Jerusalem, but nothing in the East where Palestinians live. Up to 20,000 Palestinian homes have been built without approval, giving Israel the justification to destroy them, but obtaining permits is almost impossible. It’s a daily reality faced by a Palestinian community that foreigners and Israeli Jews almost never witness nor want to.

To a Jew growing up in Australia, this Jerusalem is vastly different to the fantasy Jewish city described in my youth, although it remains a sparkling and beautiful place. I’m preparing to leave after living here with my partner for more than a year. During this time and in the course of many visits over the past decade, I constantly marvel at the shimmering Al Aqsa Mosque, cobbled streets in the Old City and the green and brown hills of the Mount of Olives. With few tall buildings and its famed cream-coloured stone, the city has a spiritual feeling that is perhaps unrivalled in the world.

However, the brutal politics of division sucks away any inkling of nostalgia. The ubiquitous presence of armed and aggressive Israeli soldiers and police harassing Palestinians increasingly defines it. Many secular, Jewish Israelis hate Jerusalem and try to avoid coming. For them, the comfortable bubble of Tel Aviv is preferable, where the occupation of Palestine is almost completely invisible. They like it that way, away from Palestinians and the ultra-Orthodox, Haredi Jews who ghettoise themselves in isolated neighbourhoods.

As Israel prepares to celebrate 50 years of conquest and occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, this holy city has rarely been so angry and volatile.

Recently released documents revealed that Israel knew from the beginning of its occupation that it was illegal and worried about international reaction. Israel annexed East Jerusalem three weeks after the 1967 war and sent a telegram to its ambassadors around the world explaining that this wasn’t “annexation” but “municipal fusion” to guarantee running services. Israel needn’t have been too concerned, though, because facts on the ground after 50 years have become permanent.

As a journalist in Jerusalem, it’s a strange experience and almost guaranteed to bring cognitive dissonance. It’s possible to spend time in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the day, witnessing suffering and occupation and be safely back at home in the evening. Considering what surrounds us, Jerusalem is perhaps too comfortable for foreign media.

For Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the city can be a dark experience. I live in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem that’s slowly being taken over by extremist, Jewish settlers. There are plans to build a religious school, a 10,000-square-metre complex in the heart of an Arab area, and accelerated moves, backed by the Israeli Supreme Court, to evict even more Palestinians from their homes. The clear Israeli aim, used over decades, is to make Palestinian lives so miserable that they simply pick up and leave. Some agree, most resist.

There may be no checkpoints separating East and West Jerusalem, unlike throughout the West Bank, but the divides are clear. The vast majority of Jews here have no interest or knowledge of Palestinian history before the 1948 Nakba.

Israel is pushing for millions more tourists in Jerusalem in the coming decades, but this can only be achieved by isolating and silencing Palestinian residents, many of whom lost residency unless they regularly proved that this city was their “centre of life”.

Jerusalem will seduce even the most jaded traveller, but only the blind can ignore the racial and political discrimination undertaken in the name of Zionism.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-­based journalist and author, most recently, of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out of Catastrophe

source

The war for ‘The New York Times’


18 Comments

A war has begun for the soul of The New York Times.

People in the Palestinian solidarity movement criticize the Times all the time — we do; the glass is always half empty — but then so do supporters of Israel. The glass is also half-empty for them. And something you may not have noticed lately is that we are beginning to have victories. There are people at The New York Times who fully comprehend Israel’s crisis and want the newspaper to reflect that reality. They are digging in, and they are under attack. But they are having little victories.

Consider:

— Jodi Rudoren is gone. She was the last New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem and came out of a firmly Zionist background and could be counted on to offer a warm, fuzzy, pro-Israel slant to any story that was often embarrassing. Even the human rights atrocities of Gaza could be spun by Rudoren (“sliver of opportunity“). She has been replaced by Ian Fisher, who seems like a fair, open-minded reporter who is probably right now in shock at what he is seeing. His hunger strikers piece yesterday was very good. His piece on Banksy’s new hotel — Fisher’s emphasis was the “ugly” wall. Anyone who tells it like he sees it is going to help Palestinians.

— Yesterday the Times International edition ran Marwan Barghouti’s piece saying that Israel is a “moral and political failure.” We know we slammed the Times for burying this piece in the international edition in our dudgeon yesterday. But the amazement is that it ran at all — Barghouti’s explanation that 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been in Israeli prisons, that his son jailed in the years that Americans go to college, and these prisons are the cradle of a global anti-colonial movement . . . Yes, the piece has come under enormous attack. Israelis including the prime minister are expressing outrage that it ran at all. To the point that the backsliders of the New York Times have appended a clarification filling in what Barghouti was convicted of. “The article . . . neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization . . .” Etc.

Actually, the many Nelson Mandela references were sufficient context; Mandela was also charged with terrorism, the ANC did use violence. But it is a measure of the war that the Times is in that Michael Oren became unhinged over the newspaper’s role:

Shame on NYT for printing libelous op-ed by convicted killer Barghouti, the Palestinian Dylann Roof. Americans would be horrified. So are we

Crazy, yes. But Oren’s right about one thing: the Times is now in play. And where it goes, everyone else will follow.

— Yes, you say: the New York Times hired neoconservative crank Bret Stephens as an op-ed columnist the other day, a great setback to the discourse; Stephens has a long track record of racist statements. But while editorial page editor James Bennet’s announcement was fulsome (“beautiful,” “profound,” “bravery,” “generous,” “thoughtful”), it contained this important signal:

We read this as a sign that a pro-Palestinian columnist is coming, maybe even an anti-Zionist. Bennet knows exactly what Zaid Jilani is saying at the Intercept and what we have been saying here about the Times‘s conservative pro-Israel range. David Brooks’s son served in the Israeli military, for god’s sakes. The Times is getting battered by young people on the left for the fact that Roger Cohen and Tom Friedman’s weary Zionism is the best it has to offer to critics.

And bear in mind, if you’re pro-Israel, you have seen a deficit. Where is the firebreather to replace AM Rosenthal, William Safire and Bill Kristol? Well, you just got Stephens. The Times is in play.

— There is further evidence of the Times-at-war in the pushback to Stephens from within the Times ranks. (Michael Calderone reported on this at Huffpo.) Declan Walsh, the paper’s Cairo bureau chief, tweeted the following over the weekend:

Max Fisher, the Times “interpreter,” promptly expanded the thought:

Bret Stephens became defensive about the criticism and slung some more anti-Arab horseshit.

There was a time when journalists at a major newspaper were careful not to criticize that paper publicly. Those days are over, thanks to the internet. Two Times reporters are peeved at the racism of a colleague. They surely speak for many more. (Some of whom read Yakov Hirsch pointing out this racism first, last year: “The Politics of Jewish Ethnocentrism.”)

There was a time when the New York Times was a reliable supporter of Israel. A.M. Rosenthal and Max Frankel begat Ethan Bronner and Jodi Rudoren. We say those days are coming to an end. The shift in American discourse on the Palestinian issue that Bernie Sanders reflected a year ago is happening deep inside the Times too. Younger writers are woke on this question. They’re not going to just shut up about it. The neocons are also digging in. But the coverage is getting better . . . the coverage is getting better. Glass half full.

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/04/the-york-times/?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List&utm_campaign=04957f876b-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b86bace129-04957f876b-309259350&mc_cid=04957f876b&mc_eid=39adaa9ab6#sthash.pSLErpIS.dpuf

Max Blumenthal responds to latest critique of his book, in the ‘Forward’

     

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Max Blumenthal

                       

      


November 2, 2013

A Response to JJ Goldberg of the Forward

Picking up where Eric Alterman left off, and defending his thousands of words of error-laden invective, JJ Goldberg of the Jewish Daily Forward has turned out an indignant non-review (see the latest Alterman flubs here) of my book that reveals its chapter titles but fails to discuss their contents. Goldberg warps the responses of Alterman’s many critics, failing to provide links, and concludes with a distorted account of an exchange I had with Ian Lustick, mangling my quotes to falsely to suggest I had demanded the mass departure of Jewish Israelis from historic Palestine. Goldberg might have once been a sharpshooter in the Israeli Border Police, but in his attempt to reinforce Alterman’s attacks, he badly misses the mark.

Echoing Alterman, Goldberg expresses outrage with the titles of the chapters in Goliath but makes no attempt to present what I actually wrote in them or why they are titled as they are. For instance, he bemoans the name of my chapter, “This Belongs To The White Man,” but does not mention that the title was merely a reference to the notorious statement by former Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who said the following about non-Jewish African asylum seekers in Israel: “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims, who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.”

Ignoring the hard facts presented in Goliath, Goldberg has spent the years since Israel elected the most right-wing government in its history projecting his political wishful thinking onto the country’s pro-settler leadership, imagining everyone from Benjamin Netanyahu to Shaul Mofaz (check out this howler) as potential peacemakers, which is not unlike describing Rob Ford as the political future of Canada.

Goldberg has labored to sustain his trance-like optimism in the face of the reality of record settlement construction as well as other harsh realities. After the Egyptian military staged its coup, an act that has led the U.S. to cut military aid, Goldberg warned that any reduction in military aid to Egypt would “kill Mideast peace hopes,” writing that “America’s billion-dollar-plus annual aid package to Egypt does not exist for Egypt’s benefit, but for Israel’s.” Apart from this strange formulation, as though Egypt only exists for the U.S. as a function of his notion of what its policy should be toward Israel, he completely neglected to mention the U.S. at all, as though the U.S. has no independent interests or principles of our own at stake.

To clarify Goldberg’s distortions for readers of The Forward: Goldberg claims I did not “tell[] of the thousands of rockets bombarding Negev towns for years”  before Operation Cast Lead. However, I wrote on the first page of my book that “Hamas’s armed wing…fired dozens of rockets” in November 2008.

Similarly, Goldberg claims I did not “mention the hundreds of Israelis killed by…suicide bombers.” In fact, I devoted an entire chapter of the book to Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a remarkable Israeli academic whose daughter, Smadar, was killed by a suicide bomber. I discuss at length her and her husband’s experience after their daughter’s murder and how they became two of their society’s more outspoken opponents of the Israeli occupation. I go on to detail Israeli society’s response to suicide bombings during the Second Intifada in my chapter, “The Big Quiet,” explaining how it influenced the rise of hafrada, or Israel’s policy  of  demographic separation.

Goldberg further takes issue with an exchange between Ian Lustick and me during an October 17 discussion of Goliath at the University of Pennsylvania. But, not providing the link to the video, he produced a badly mangled version of my remarks.

Here is the context to the exchange in question: Lustick had remarked that Israeli society could increasingly be described as “fascistic,” suggesting that Israel had possibly crossed a moral Rubicon, then asked me to take on the role of God and decide whether to destroy “Gomorrah,” even though there were some “good” people living inside it – people like the Israeli dissidents, critics and reformers I profile extensively in Goliath.

My response proposed a direction for preserving the presence of Jewish Israelis in a future Israel-Palestine while stripping away the violent, inhumane mechanisms of demographic engineering, endless dispossession and the walls that have pitted Israeli Jews against the Arab world. My prescription was essentially a rejection of Ehud Barak’s explicitly colonial view of Israel as a Europeanized “villa in the jungle.”

Philip Weiss of the Mondoweiss.com website transcribed parts of my answer and summarized the rest. Here is the relevant part of transcript, which Goldberg omitted. (The full exchange arrives around 38:00 in the video):

“As for the Jewish Israelis… These are Israelis who are attracted to Europe, who do not feel that they are part of the Arab world. And it’s that attraction to Europe, that manifestation of Herzl’s famous quote, that the Jewish state will be ‘a rampart of civilization against barbarism,’ which has led to the present crisis and the failure of Zionism. Because there is absolutely no way for Jewish people in Israel/Palestine to become indigenized under the present order, and that’s really what has to happen. You have to be willing to be a part of the Arab world, because you’re living in the Arab world. If you don’t, then you have to maintain this system and continue to harden the present system.”

My meaning is plain: That the walls must come down — the separation wall, the legal walls of ethnic discrimination, and the psychological walls — as a basis for true peace.

Goldberg claimed without evidence that “Lustick appear[ed] stunned,” when Lustick nodded in acknowledgement of my answer and did not express any perceptible displeasure; nor did he state any to me. In fact, what I said was intended to support what Lustick wrote in his recent essay on the “Two State Illusion” for the New York Times, Lustick offered a remarkably similar vision of an alternative future allowing Israeli Jews to  live in peace in the Middle East; in which ultra-Orthodox Jews and Mizrahi Jews of Arab descent – groups routinely derided by liberal Zionists like Goldberg as retrograde and politically burdensome — could emerge as their society’s bridge builders, forging practical alliances with Palestinians:

“In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.”

I mentioned in my reply to Lustick that his question related to a debate that was raging among many of my leftist friends and acquaintances in Tel Aviv. As I detail in the final chapter of Goliath, “The Exodus Party,” a number of my human rights-minded Israel friends have chosen to exercise the secondary, “emergency” passports that provide multitudes of Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis with EU citizenship, and they have moved to places like Berlin and London. Then there are others, like the Israeli journalist Haggai Matar, who are seeking means of assimilating themselves into the wider culture of the Middle East.

Goldberg has claimed, “Outside the far-left and anti-Israel blogosphere, ‘Goliath’ has been ignored.” But it is Goldberg who has ignored reviews by figures like Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz’s military and political correspondent, and Akiva Eldar, the Israeli journalist and author who served as chief political columnist for Haaretz for 35 years — writers who could hardly be described as “anti-Israel.” Eldar wrote that, “a significant part of [Goliath’s] strength lies in the effect that is naturally created when a foreign correspondent describes the reality of your life and surroundings. Thus, as if from a bas relief, details are raised to which the local eye has become so accustomed that it no longer notices their existence.”

I hoped to engage Goldberg in a discussion about his critiques of my book and about the future of Israel-Palestine. Unfortunately, that debate will apparently not take place. When Atlantic editor Robert Wright invited Goldberg to engage with me on the online political debating forum Bloggingheads, Goldberg declined, as Alterman did before him.

Source      

The Jews Go To War (With Themselves)

by Lawrence Davidson on December 17, 2011

Part I

On 12 December 2011 hundreds of Israeli settler fanatics besieged a West Bank IDF army base. They destroyed equipment, set fires, and even stoned the base soldiers. This was the second such attack in a month. The cause? Anger over the army’s dismantlement of a small number of isolated, unauthorized settler outposts. The Chief of the Central Command of the Israel “Defense” Forces, Major General Avi Misrahi, is quoted as saying “I have not seen such hatred of Jews towards soldiers during my 30 years of service.” He must not have been looking.

fanatic jewish settlersThis an exceptional event. The subsequent indignation over the attack expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu (“red lines have been crossed”) was, as Alex Fishman writing in Yedioth Ahronoth put it, staged hypocrisy. The Prime Minister is certainly aware that for some time there has been on-going skirmishing between the settlers and government security forces. Right wing settlers regularly throw rocks and fire bombs at police and army vehicles and “physical altercations” between settlers and Israeli police and soldiers are “almost routine.” This is so despite the fact that the government, both Prime Minister and Knesset, “either tacitly or openly” support the settlers. Then why the hatred and why the attacks?

At this stage the battle is over strategy. The Israeli government wants to gobble up all of Palestine in an orderly step by step fashion. In part, this is to avoid too much international criticism at any particular stage of the process. On the other hand, the settlers don’t give a damn about international opinion – no more than does al-Qaeda, to which they have an unsavory resemblance. Led “by fundamentalist religious leaders who do not recognize the state of Israel and its laws,” they are driven by religious fanaticism and have no respect for governments or their agents. It is their ideological conviction that all of Palestine (including, by the way, Jordan) must be Jewish as soon as possible. The authorities sometime get in the way of this goal and that has led the settlers to, as Fishman puts it, “terrorize not only the Palestinian population but also the police and the army.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, belatedly noticing an erosion of government authority, has begun to set rules against settler violence when it is directed toward the IDF and police (but not toward the Palestinians). The New York Times reports that from now on such “radical Israelis” attacking soldiers or policemen will be treated just like “Palestinian militants.” That is they will be “detained for long periods without charge and tried in military courts.”

Alas, this new toughness won’t work. For years Israeli governments have looked the other way as thousands of armed religious fanatics organized themselves and got stronger and more self-assured. Now, as Adam Keller of Gush Shalom tells us, “the Golem has turned on its creator.” These are the people who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. What makes Netanyahu believe that Israel’s present army, police and courts which, reminiscent of the Weimar Republic, regularly show sympathy and leniency toward these criminals, are going to change their attitude on his orders? When a military reporter asked a brigade commander if he was prepared to act toward settler hostility in the same manner as he would Palestinian hostility, he answered “you would not expect me to open fire on a Jew…I am certain you didn’t mean that.”

The reporter would have gotten a very different answer if she had asked the fanatic settlers about how far they were willing to go. Anshel Pfeffer writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes that “the only red line that has yet to be crossed is a scenario in which an Israeli citizen [belonging to] the extreme settler right would open fire on IDF soldiers. There are those in Israel’s security forces who fear that day is not so distant.”

Netanyahu’s apparent change of heart comes too late. What we have here is incipient civil war. Any really serious effort to stop these fanatics will result in their turning their weapons on those who represent the government. What you sow is what you reap.

Parts II  and III here

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