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Gideon Levy at the National Press Club

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Israelis Ignore the Gaza Ghetto Until the War Drums Are Heard

Haaretz February 4, 2016

Two million human beings, some of whom worked here for years, some of them even have friends here, live in abject poverty and petrifying despair, mainly because of Israel’s blockade.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.701213

Gideon Levy |

Most Israelis cannot imagine the daily lives of Gazans.Credit: AFP

The latest news from the ghetto comes, as usual, from the outside. The addiction to fear and the eternal wallowing in terror in Israel suddenly reminded one of the existence of the neighboring ghetto. Only thus are we here reminded of Gaza. When it shoots, or at least digs. Residents of the communities surrounding Gaza hear sounds, perhaps the sounds of digging, and the ghetto is no longer abandoned. We recall its existence. Iran dropped off the agenda. Sweden isn’t scary enough. Hezbollah is busy. So we return to Gaza.

If the Ayelet Zurer affair loses steam heaven forbid, or the Moshe Ivgy affair doesn’t take off – the things that are really interesting – because then some bored commentators and editors and politicians and bloodthirsty generals are liable to drag Israel into another “war” in Gaza. And “war” in Gaza is always another controlled massacre, whose achievements are measured in the number of corpses and amount of destroyed buildings that it leaves behind. Isaac Herzog has already promised as much.

But the real news from Gaza doesn’t reach Israelis. Who here heard that jets of the most moral air force in the world poisoned in recent weeks the fields of a “buffer zone,” which Israel declared unilaterally, at a distance of 300 meters from the fence? Farmers in Gaza report that the dusters spread the poison up to 500 meters, and that 1,187 dunams (293 acres) were damaged in the last poisoning in December. The pilots, convinced that they are doing a good thing, reported hitting their targets accurately.

Pay attention to the sterile wording of the IDF spokesman: “Aerial spraying of herbicidal germination preventing material next to the security fence was carried out in order to allow optimal implementation of ongoing security missions in the area,” he stated.

Fishermen are forbidden from venturing more than six nautical miles out from shore. Sometimes they catch a fisherman or shoot him. Farmers are forbidden from going within 300 meters. Everything is done to serve Israel’s security, and its security alone – and the occupation of the Gaza Strip ended a long time ago.

Just an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, there is a ghetto. Even without supplying “germination preventing materials,” almost nothing grows in it. Up-to-date data from Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement indicate 43 percent unemployment, 70 percent in need of humanitarian assistance and 57 percent suffering from nutrition insecurity.

And then there is the spine-chilling report that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency issued in August under the headline “Gaza 2020: A livable place?” By then the damage to the water infrastructure will be irreversible. The water today is already not potable. The GDP per capita, $1,273, is less than it was 25 years ago, perhaps the only one that declined. Another 1,000 doctors and 2,000 nurses will be needed in the besieged, collapsing health system. From where will they come, out the faculty of medicine in Nuseirat or from the students who left to study medicine at Harvard? Egypt tightened its grasp, the world shirked its commitments and Israel exploits this to continue the blockade.

They get three hours of electricity, sometimes six, in the cold and rain. After that, there is no electricity for 12 hours, and then again for three or six hours, day in, day out. There are about two million people, a million of them refugees and their families, made refugees directly or indirectly by Israel. About a million of them are children. No Israeli can imagine it. Few Israelis feel guilty about it. There are few Israelis who care at all. Hamas, you know.

When the next catastrophe in the world hits, be it an earthquake or flood, we’ll be there with a delegation from the Israel Defense Forces, the same IDF in the same fatigues in which they spray the fields in Gaza. We are always the first.

And meanwhile in the ghetto, two million human beings, some of whom worked here for years, some of them even have friends here, live in abject poverty and petrifying despair, mainly because of Israel’s blockade.

The “We left Gaza” operation is complete. Now we only need to wait for the tunnels to start bombing again.

 

Gideon Levy

Haaretz Correspondent

source

Does America Really “Share Values” With Today’s Israel?

A group of settlers protesting against the demolition of a synagogue in the settlement of Givat Ze'ev, November 2015.
In the late sixties or early seventies, when I served as the executive head of the Synagogue Council of America, the coordinating body for certain social action and interreligious activities of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform national rabbinical and congregational organizations in the United States, I had a private conversation—one of many—with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who was considered the leader of modern Orthodoxy in the United States, if not the world.
Rabbi Soloveitchik had just completed a high-level seminar attended by a select group of rabbis and Christian ministers. I asked him if he would agree to lead another such a seminar on the Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel and the concept of “kedushat haaretz” (the holiness of the land), and how these are to be differentiated from concepts such as “blut und boden” (blood and land) at the heart of German fascism and other totalitarian regimes.
Soloveitchik’s answer surprised me, for I was then not only a practicing Orthodox Jew but an ardent Zionist who identified with the religious nationalist branch of the Zionist movement. He told me he could not lead such a seminar because “I would have difficulty explaining that difference even to my own children.”
I never lost my love for the idea of a Jewish state, although I long ago lost my innocence about Palestine being “a land without a people for a people without a land”—a founding Zionist motto—not to speak of my loss of innocence about the theological premises of Orthodoxy. But I did not fully understand Soloveitchik’s refusal to tackle the subject of implications of the concept of the land’s holiness until I saw the video of settlers —young Orthodox Jews with the longest payot (side curls), thetzitzit (ritual fringes) and largest skull caps—asserting their Jewish and Zionist authenticity by reenacting and celebrating the incineration of a Palestinian baby.
Of course, Netanyahu and his ministers condemned this revolting display, and I do not question the sincerity of their denunciations. But they do not begin to understand what Soloveitchik apparently feared—that an unbridled nationalism that sanctifies the nation and its land may lead to the dehumanization of the Other and the desecration of human life.
Netanyahu and his far-right government have not only been indifferent to this danger, they have actively encouraged it.
As I wrote these lines, Netanyahu’s government decided to support legislation introduced in Israel’s Knesset that would punish Israeli NGO’s devoted to the protection of the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities and to the prevention of abuses of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories by Israel’s military and security forces. Since these NGO’s are dependent on support from the U.S. and the European Union, the legislation seeks to deprive them of that support in the expectation that this will shut them down.
The reason for these NGO’s dependence on foreign support is that Netanyahu and Israel’s right-wingers, who have come to dominate Israel’s political culture, have so brutally demonized Israeli human rights organizations that most Israelis see them as collaborators with Israel’s enemies. It is not at all uncommon for the diminishing “leftists” in Israel—a term that in the past signified no more than supporters of a peace accord with the Palestinians—to be told: “Why don’t you move to Gaza.”
Yet Netanyahu’s government’s support for this despicable legislation is not the worst of it. The worst of it is Netanyahu’s appointment of Ayelet Shaked as his Minister of Justice. On July 1st 2014, Shaked posted on her Facebook page an article whose author, Uri Elitzur, a settler leader she admired, wrote that “Israel should target not only the militants but the mothers of the martyrs who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
An Israeli prime minister who appoints as his minister of justice an advocate of the murder of mothers of Palestinian terrorists and considers Palestinian babies little snakes that should be exterminated cannot disclaim his paternity of settlers who celebrate the incineration of Palestinian babies.
Nor can Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Education who heads the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) Party and aspires to inherit Netanyahu’s prime ministerial post, disclaim his paternity. In 2013, he famously said during a cabinet debate that, “if you catch terrorists, you simply have to kill them.” When reproached by the National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror that “this is not legal,” he replied, “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is no problem with that.”
And neither Bennett nor Netanyahu can claim that the Jewish terrorists they are now denouncing are distinguishable from ISIS decapitators. They have their hands full just distinguishing their own past pronouncements from the behavior of these settlers.
The only unanswered question is how much longer will President Obama insist there can be no daylight between the U.S. and Israel because of the values they share.
Henry Siegman is the president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He served as a Senior Fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations and as a non-resident research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, SOAS, University of London. He formerly headed the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America>

The doctor who dared to come out against a torturous law

mohammed-allan-1024x576

The mother of Mohammed Allan, a Palestinian prisoner who is on a long-term hunger strike, holds a portrait of her son during a rally calling for his release, Be’er Sheva, Aug. 9, 2015. AFP

Doctors who would forcibly insert a tube into someone’s stomach should be boycotted and ostracized, in Israel and abroad.

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz, 13 August 2015

And then he appeared like a beam of light in the darkness, the least likely person. In a place where there were no people, he was a person: Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman. Looking like a Soviet bureaucrat, an anesthesiologist by specialty, he, of all people awakened the most anesthetized organ in Israel – the conscience – and proved that things can be different.

It is hard to remember when a labor leader last acted this way in Israel; when a person who is not a member of the ethics committee went beyond the realms of salaries and private medical services. When someone dared come out against the law. The Israel Medical Association turned briefly into Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, conscientious objection suddenly became a legitimate weapon. Without pathos and without beating around the bush, this courageous and moral physician, who once staged a hunger strike himself, announced that the IMA would not lend its hand to torture and its members would not force-feed hunger-strikers and would not enforce the law that the Knesset had passed. The law? Eidelman noted that in China, for example, doctors torture people according to the law. Bravo, Eidelman.

His statement made the darkness more prominent. Suddenly, it emerged how many collaborators the occupation has and how many agents of evil fulfill their functions without an Eidelman to stop them. How labor unions could have protested and should protest, how unions should have instructed their members to stop collaborating and refuse to do so.

It’s not only the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces, the settlers and their people; the entire society is involved. The engineers, the contractors, the architects and the builders on stolen lands, the bankers and those that trade in the money gained from exploitation. Those who quarry the natural resources in the occupied territories – endless areas of life in which people are involved in the occupation and act like they are innocent. And, of course, the lawyers: Just imagine Eidelman as head of the Israel Bar Association, instructing its members to stop cooperating with the grotesqueness called military courts. A dream. Almost the end of the occupation.

A few more Eidelmans, and reality will change. Eidelman proved that it’s possible. The rest have proven how contaminated and inured they are. They have shown why opponents of the occupation abroad should boycott all segments of the society, not only the settlers.

The doctors are also contaminated. Hunger striker Khader Adnan told me this week in Nablus how the jailors who sat in his room at Assaf Harofeh Hospital and ate shawarma and pizza as his condition deteriorated, cuffed his hand and foot to his bed. There are doctors who permitted this, there are doctors who did not put an end to this lack of humanity in the hospital of which they have charge. They shirked their mission.

There are doctors in the Shin Bet who have trained and train torturers and there are doctors in the Israel Prison Service who are prepared right now to establish “emergency rooms” in the prisons for force-feeding. The horror show of moving Mohammed Allaan from one hospital to another, perhaps to “change atmosphere” or perhaps to force-feed him in a hospital whose director is a brigadier general in the reserves, did not raise enough protest. Doctors who would forcibly insert a tube into someone’s stomach should be boycotted and ostracized, in Israel and abroad, them and their superiors. No research projects, no conferences, no in-service training, no membership in the IMA.

In recent months, two Palestinian hunger-strikers have grabbed international attention. Some cheered the freedom fighters, whose hunger strikes were intended purely to bring about their release from detention without trial. In Israel, their cases were brought up only with regard to the risk to the state’s image were they to die. No one asked why they were striking. Perhaps their struggle was just? Perhaps they should be admired for their determination and their sacrifice?

All means were legitimized to prevent “image damage.” We’ll push a feeding tube into them and foster the image of the state. And then came Eidelman and destroyed this distorted moral

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The difference between children

 

It is human that the killing of an Israeli boy, a child of ours, would arouse greater identification than the death of some other child. What is incomprehensible is the Israeli response to the killing of their children.

By Gideon Levy | Aug. 24, 2014 | 4:16 A

 

After the first child, nobody batted an eye; after the 50th not even a slight tremor was felt in a plane’s wing; after the 100th, they stopped counting; after the 200th, they blamed Hamas. After the 300th child they blamed the parents. After the 400th child, they invented excuses; after (the first) 478 children nobody cares.

Then came our first child and Israel went into shock. And indeed, the heart weeps at the picture of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, killed Friday evening in his home in Sha’ar Hanegev. A beautiful child, who once had his picture taken in an Argentinean soccer team shirt, blue and white, number 10. And whose heart would not be broken at the sight of this photo, and who would not weep at how he was criminally killed. “Hey Leo Messi, look at that boy,” a Facebook post read, “you were his hero.”

Suddenly death has a face and dreamy blue eyes and light hair. A tiny body that will never grow. Suddenly the death of a little boy has meaning, suddenly it is shocking. It is human, understandable and moving. It is also human that the killing of an Israeli boy, a child of ours, would arouse greater identification than the death of some other child. What is incomprehensible is the Israeli response to the killing of their children.

In a world where there is some good, children would be left out of the cruel game called war. In a world where there is some good, it would be impossible to understand the total, almost monstrous unfeelingness in the face of the killing of hundreds of children – not ours, but by us. Imagine them standing in a row: 478 children, in a graduating class of death. Imagine them wearing Messi shirts – some of those children wore them once too, before they died; they also admired him, just like our Daniel from a kibbutz. But nobody looks at them; their faces are not seen, no one is shocked at their deaths. No one writes about them: “Hey Messi, look at that boy.” Hey, Israel, look at their children.

An iron wall of denial and inhumanness protects the Israelis from the shameful work of their hands in Gaza. And indeed, these numbers are hard to digest. Of the hundreds of men killed one could say that they were “involved”; of the hundreds of women that they were “human shields.” As for a small number of children, one could claim that the most moral army in the world did not intend it. But what shall we say about almost 500 children killed? That the Israel Defense Forces did not intend it, 478 times? That Hamas hid behind all of them? That this legitimized killing them?

Hamas might have hidden behind some of those children but now Israel is hiding behind Daniel Tragerman. His fate is already being used to cover all of the sins of the IDF in Gaza.

The radio yesterday already talked about “murder.” The prime minister already called the killing “terror,” while hundreds of Gaza’s children in their new graves are not victims of murder or terror. Israel had to kill them. And after all, who are Fadi and Ali and Islaam and Razek, Mahmoud, Ahmed and Hamoudi – in the face of our one and only Daniel.

We must admit the truth: Palestinian children in Israel are considered like insects. This is a horrific statement, but there is no other way to describe the mood in Israel in the summer of 2014. When for six weeks hundreds of children are destroyed; their bodies buried in rubble, piling up on morgues, sometimes even in vegetable refrigeration rooms for lack of other space; when their horrified parents carry the bodies of their toddlers as a matter of course; their funerals coming and going, 478 times – even the most unfeeling of Israelis would not allow themselves to be so uncaring.

Something here has to rise up and scream: Enough. All the excuses and all the explanations will not help – there is no such thing as a child that is allowed to be killed and a child that is not. There are only children killed for nothing, hundreds of children whose fate touches no one in Israel, and one child, just one, around whose death the people unite in mourning.

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International kowtowing to Israel must end now

The Americans and Europeans have tried being the voice of reason and failed. Now they must speak to Israel in the language it understands best (hint: it’s not Hebrew.)

Israeli settlers of Yitzhar in confrontation with Palestinians

Israeli settlers of Yitzhar take position during a confrontation with Palestinians over an area in Burin village in the West Bank, January 14, 2014. Photo by AP
By | May 31, 2014 | 7:43 PM

If there is a world, let it appear immediately. For now, there’s the sense of an ending of the international intervention in Israel. The Americans folded, the Europeans gave up, the Israelis rejoice and the Palestinians are lost. “Sleep now high road / ending comes, Sleep thou king / here comes the clown” (“Shir Eres” [Lullaby], by Natan Alterman, translated by Avigail Caspi-Lebovic).

Occasionally some pope or foreign minister makes a visit (Norway’s FM was here last week), pays loose lip service in favor of peace and against terror and the settlements, and then disappears again. On the high road ending comes, and the king has been replaced by the clown. But even this waning is a statement, and idleness is action: They leave the conflict to the sighs of the Palestinians and the occupation in the hands of Israel, which is sure to perpetuate it and to ground it even more firmly. For that reason, the world’s withdrawal is unacceptable: The international community does not have the option to leave the status quo as is, even if that is Israel’s most fervent wish.

The current situation is not acceptable in the 21st century. It is easy to empathize with the United States for giving up, with Europe for tiring. How much longer can the same road be trodden? How many times can the same futile proposals be read out to deaf ears.

After a brief recovery from the American failure, the time has come for a new way, one that has never been tried before. Both the message and the medium must change, to a message of civil rights and the medium of punishment. The previous route included sycophancy toward Israel, one carrot after another in order to please it. It was a resounding failure. It only gave Israel an incentive to further entrench its policy of disinheritance.

The message also failed spectacularly: The two-state solution has given up the ghost. The world tried to bring it to life using charm. The proposals came thick and fast, amazing in their resemblance to each other – from the Rogers Plan to the shuttle diplomacy of John Kerry – and each one only collected dust in some drawer. Israel always said no, only its excuses and conditions changing: an end to terror here, recognition of its being a Jewish state there.

In the meantime, the number of settlements in the West Bank grew threefold and fourfold, and the brutality of the occupation increased to the point where soldiers now shoot demonstrators out of nothing but boredom.

The world cannot lend its hand to this. It is unacceptable, in the 21st century, for a state that purports to be a permanent member of the free world to keep another nation deprived of rights. It is unthinkable, simply unthinkable, for millions of Palestinians to continue to live in these conditions. It is unthinkable for a democratic state to continue to oppress them in this way. It is unthinkable that the world stands by and allows it to happen.

The two-state discussion must now become a discussion of rights: Dear Israelis, you wanted an occupation and the settlements – knock yourselves out! Remain in Yitzhar, dig yourselves into the mountainside and build to your hearts’ desire in Itamar. But you absolutely must grant full rights to the Palestinians living alongside, exactly the same rights that you enjoy.

Equal rights for all; one person, one vote – that should be the message of the international community. After all, what could Israel say to this new message? That there cannot be equal rights because the Jews are the chosen people? That it would endanger security? The excuses would quickly run out, and the naked truth would come to light: that in this land, only Jews have rights. Such a message cannot go unchallenged.

At the same time, the entire approach to Israel must be changed. As long as it does not pay the price for the occupation and its citizens go unpunished, they will have no reason to end it, or even to deal with it. The occupation is deep inside the Israeli closet. There is no one to out it, the overwhelming majority want it to remain inside. For this reason, only punitive measures will remind us of its existence. Yes, I mean boycotts and sanctions, which are greatly preferable to bloodshed.

This is the truth, even if it’s bitter. America and Europe have kowtowed to Israel enough. Unfortunately, to no effect. From now on, the world must speak a different language and perhaps it will be understood. After all, Israel has proved, more than once, that the language of power and punishment is its main language.

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Echoes of German darkness in today’s Israel

Powerful Gideon Levy column in yesterday’s Haaretz:

What do dogs remind you of? And what do German shepherds remind you of? And what about armed soldiers who sic German shepherds on people trying to sneak through a border in order to earn a living?

These lines are being written in a hotel room in the capital of the Czech Republic, a country that knows a thing or two about occupation, oppression and struggles for liberation. In this city’s Museum of Communism, which is next door to a casino, one can view a photograph of East German soldiers siccing German shepherds on people trying to sneak into West Germany. The Nazi soldiers were replaced by Communist soldiers; the dogs remained.

A few days before my museum visit I was in the West Bank village of Beit Ula, near Hebron. I met a young man, Mohammed Amla, whose back and neck are scarred along their entire length from the bites of an Israel Defense Forces dog − a German shepherd, of course. Amla, married with two daughters, has worked in Israel for the past 12 years, doing manual labor.

When Amla has money he bribes his Israeli contractor, paying him a small fortune (NIS 2,000 a month) to obtain an Israeli work permit for him. When the family ran out of money because one of the daughters, who is deaf, needed an expensive ear operation, Amla sneaked into Israel. The result: a stay in the hospital with torn skin on his back and neck.

One evening last month masked IDF soldiers lay in wait near an opening in the separation fence. When Amla and two companions approached, before they crossed into Israel, the soldiers set their dogs on the trio. After it seemed that the IDF had stopped siccing dogs on “illegal residents,” the army has resumed the horrific practice of setting dogs on unarmed civilians. After all, the IDF’s storied Oketz canine unit must be kept busy during periods of relative calm.

One cannot ignore the historical connotations; one cannot remain oblivious to the unavoidable associations. Bullets are more deadly but less cruel than setting dogs on human beings. The very thought of Israeli soldiers doing this should have aroused more than a flicker of shock and shame. But it did not, not even when the connotation shrieks to the heavens. We’ll send our soldiers first to the March of the Living in Auschwitz, and then we’ll train them to sic dogs on people. The IDF Spokesman’s Office, which once at least made an effort to protect the reputation of “the most moral army in the world,” has apparently given up on that as well. Its arrogant, apathetic response to the story of that night of the dogs was the ultimate nonresponse: “The matter is being evaluated.”

While we wait for the “evaluation” to end − it never does, usually − we must honestly ask ourselves: Is this what we genuinely want? If an Israeli citizen’s sneaking into the Palestinian Authority were to end in his being set upon by dogs and hospitalized, as sneaking into Israel did for Amla, the entire country − and perhaps the world − would be in an uproar. The full weight of history would be brought to bear against the image of a Palestinian soldier siccing a dog, God save us, on a Jew. The Palestinians, those beasts, set dogs on human beings. But that (too) is of course permitted to the IDF.

For the meantime, Amla is at home recovering from his injuries. He cannot work yet. He says he won’t sneak into Israel again, as thousands of Palestinians looking for work do every night, out of fear of the dog that attacked him. When the dog gripped Amla’s neck in its jaws, he was sure he was about to die. Ostensibly, that’s a great accomplishment for Israel: Amla won’t return to renovate homes illegally. But from my hotel room in Prague − the city where I found the names of my murdered grandmother and grandfather engraved on a stone plaque, the city whose memories of the Nazi and Soviet occupations and of the “Prague Spring” echo in every corner − the thought of Israeli soldiers siccing their dogs on Mohammed Amla takes on an added meaning that is very disturbing and burdensome.

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