Originally published at Tikkun Daily
Yesterday, an Israeli man indiscriminately killed four people at a local bank before shooting himself, shocking a nation not used to such lone gunman incidents.
One day later, government officials responded by enacting tighter gun control measures:
One day after a Be’er Sheva man shot dead four people in a local bank before turning his gun on himself, the Public Security Ministry on Sunday announced new rules to limit the number of guns in circulation. School security guards will have to turn in their weapons, which guarding firms will reissue at the start of the new school year. Licensed gun owners will have to store their weapon in a safe at home. Security companies must obtain special exemptions from being required to store a weapon when its bearer is off duty, only one gun license will be issued to any single individual and anyone applying to renew a gun license must show why they need a weapon.
In addition, a panel will be appointed to consider administering mental and physical examinations to license applicants.
While Israel doesn’t have to contend with the Second Amendment, and doesn’t suffer from such a hyperbolic gun culture as ours, it is a country full of armed soldiers. A country with citizens who carry guns for real and conjured security reasons. A country with leaders who continuously place their fingers on the trigger, particularly when targeting Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
In short, this is a militaristic society. A society that understands conflict. A society that understands what it means to grip the barrel of a rifle and take aim.
However, despite this – or perhaps because of it – it is also a society that has generally treated gun ownership quite delicately. It is a country that, despite its own security concerns, stands in complete opposition to the U.S. when it comes to gun control.
Permit requirements are strict and tend to be rather narrow, unless you are a Jewish settler or work in a proven, high-risk profession. Which is why gun ownership rates in Israel are among the lowest in the Western world, and is one thirteenth that of the U.S. (In a country of over 7,000,000 residents, there are currently about 160,000 legal gun permits.)
Why? Put simply: Israel chooses to leave security to its professionals. And not to a gun-wielding citizenry.
Which is why after a lone-gunman shooting, such as the one which happened yesterday, Israel’s response was not an NRA style call to “Arm the victims!” Rather, it was a call to get more guns off the streets.
It’s a call America would do well to heed.
Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG
Those who know my writing understand my critical take on the occupation, the settlement enterprise, and the unequal treatment Palestinians receive in many arenas. This inequality obviously extends itself to gun ownership in Israel – Jewish settlers are granted firearm permits precisely because they live amidst Palestinians.
However, I’m intentionally not making this aspect a focus of this piece, as my primary purpose is to contrast Israel’s response to a mass shooting with our own – not to engage in a meta-analysis of the conflict.
Originally published in Tikkun Daily
Over 10,000 Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv this evening to protest new austerity measures in the country’s budget, echoing (and perhaps renewing) Israel’s historic social justice protests from two years ago.
Many activists who played a central role in those protests were involved in this evening’s renewed call for Israelis to march in the streets against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and their budget, which proposes cuts in social welfare programs and raised taxes on lower- and middle-income workers.
One of those activists, Itzik Shmuli, is now a Knesset Member and marched this evening. He told Ha’aretz:
“Lapid’s financial plan will severely hurt the working man and will trample the weak sectors. To block it, we will wage a persistent battle on the streets and in the halls of the Knesset. Israelis don’t expect their finance minister to be a socialist, but they don’t expect him to be a populist, either.”
Another protester echoed Shmuli’s sentiments in less measured terms:
Alon Lee-Green, one of the activists heading the renewed round of protests, accused Netanyahu and Lapid of choosing Israel’s rich over the middle class.”Bibi and Lapid had all the options on the table,” he said on Saturday. “They made their choice… So we say here tonight: The tycoons should pay, and not us. The awakening is palpable.”
While the protests – also held in Jerusalem and Haifa – were sparked by unpopular austerity measures, Israelis brought a diverse array of messages to the streets, some of which directly challenged geo-political issues, such as Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
While it remains to be seen whether these protests will spark the types of historic marches Israel witnessed in 2011, it’s clear that those in the streets have been noticed. Lapid released a Facebook post just before the protest, assuring Israelis that the budget can be revised.
However, it may take more than a Facebook post to quell the beginning of what some hope will be a new round of social protests in Israel.
Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG
Originally published at Tikkun Daily |
Israel’s Transportation Ministry is under fire for creating what appear to be racially segregated bus lines in the West Bank. According to the ministry, these newly-created lines will transport Palestinian workers to central Israel and are intended to mitigate passenger traffic for Jews on the existing lines. The Palestinian-only routes will officially be considered “general bus lines,” and the ministry contends that Palestinians will still be legally allowed to ride the regular lines on which Jews travel.
However, several bus drivers told Israel’s Ynet that Palestinians who choose to ride on the normative, “mixed” lines would now be asked to leave them and opt for the Palestinian-only lines, which have only been advertised in Palestinian villages via signs in Arabic.
While the Transportation Ministry is claiming that the new bus lines have been created merely to relieve congestion and provide Palestinians with more affordable commuting options, the move is clearly an attempt to further segregate Jews and Arabs in the West Bank, with a ministry source admitting that the move came in part due to complaints from Jewish passengers about Palestinians posing security risks.
According to Ynet (with emphasis mine):
The ministry reportedly considered several alternatives before deciding to opt for designated lines – knowing that the issue of so-called “Palestinian lines” would be highly controversial.
Legally, however, there is no way to stop Palestinians from boarding “regular” lines: “We are not allowed to refuse service and we will not order anyone to get off the bus, but from what we were told, starting next week, there will be checks at the checkpoint, and Palestinians will be asked to board their own buses,” a driver with Afikim – the company that holds the routes franchise for the area – told Ynet.
The volatile nature of the decision was not lost on the driver: “Obviously, everyone will start screaming ‘apartheid’ and ‘racism’ now. This really doesn’t feel right, and maybe (the ministry) should find a different solution, but the situation right now is impossible.“
The creation of these new, Palestinian-only bus routes – and the intended segregation they represent – are surely evocative from an imagistic standpoint. In truth, though, they are simply a metallic reflection of the separate systems of justice and service that have existed for some time in the West Bank – systems that will continue until and unless the occupation ends.
Originally published at Tikkun Daily
Last night, Brooklyn College hosted a forum on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a non-violent initiative targeting Israel’s suppression of basic political rights for Palestinians, particularly those occupied in the West Bank.
In the weeks preceding the forum, Brooklyn College was under intense pressure to cancel the event, pressure spearheaded by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who curiously chose to argue against the concept of academic freedom by claiming the forum would be a “propaganda hate orgy” and should not be allowed.
New York City Council members soon followed, threatening to cut off funding to the college if the event proceeded, with Assemblyman Alan Maisel stating, “We’re talking about the potential for a Second Holocaust here.“
Thankfully, champions of academic freedom stepped in to push back against such bombastic claims, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who bluntly told the City Council:
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”
Eventually, political pressure against the event relented and it went on as planned, an event at which UC Berkley professor Judith Butler eloquently explained the BDS movement:
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is, in fact, a non-violent movement; it seeks to use established legal means to achieve its goals; and it is, interestingly enough, the largest Palestinian civic movement at this time. That means that the largest Palestinian civic movement is a non-violent one that justifies its actions through recourse to international law. Further, I want to underscore that this is also a movement whose stated core principles include the opposition to every form of racism, including both state-sponsored racism and anti-Semitism.
Butler also explored and, ultimately, expertly rejected accusations that the BDS movement was inherently anti-Semitic:
But still, it is left to us to ask, why would a non-violent movement to achieve basic political rights for Palestinians be understood as anti-Semitic? Surely, there is nothing about the basic rights themselves that constitute a problem. They include equal rights of citizenship for current inhabitants; the end to the occupation, and the rights of unlawfully displaced persons to return to their lands and gain restitution for their losses…why would a collective struggle to use economic and cultural forms of power to compel the enforcement of international laws be considered anti-Semitic? It would be odd to say that they are anti-Semitic to honor internationally recognized rights to equality, to be free of occupation and to have unlawfully appropriated land and property restored. I know that this last principle makes many people uneasy, but there are several ways of conceptualizing how the right of return might be exercised lawfully such that it does not entail further dispossession.
If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered to be anti-Semitic, if any number of internationals who have joined thus struggle from various parts of the world are also considered anti-Semitic and if Palestinians seeking rights of political self-determination are so accused as well, then it would appear that no oppositional move that can take place without risking the accusation of anti-Semitism. That accusation becomes a way of discrediting a bid for self-determination, at which point we have to ask what political purpose the radical mis-use of that accusation has assumed in the stifling of a movement for political self-determination.
Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, spoke in more populist tones, but was clear in reiterating that the BDS movement rejects all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and is focused on one thing: ending the dehumanization of Palestinians and delivering to them dignity, basic human rights and political self-determination.
In the end, the event was peaceful, cordial and level-headed. A far cry from the small group of protesters outside who yelled that the next slaughter of the Jews was beginning at Brooklyn College.
Originally published at Tikkun Daily
The IDF on Saturday attacked peaceful Palestinians with tear gas, rubber bullets, live bullets and pepper spray at point-blank range. Their crime? Setting up a protest camp in the West Bank village of Burin to demonstrate against Israeli settlement expansions and violence perpetrated against Palestinian civilians by local settlers.
For the third time in as many weeks, Palestinians set up such a protest camp on village lands, only to be attacked by local settlers and the IDF. This time, approximately 300 villagers erected a “neighborhood” made of tents and metal shacks on privately-owned land in Burin, which resides in Area B.
Soon thereafter, settlers attacked the peaceful demonstrators with stones – on their own lands – and the IDF swiftly moved in, directing their force upon the seated Palestinians.
IDF soldiers move in on seated families in the village of Burin.
In a press release, Palestinian organizers of the protest camp stated, “This activity highlights the crucial need of enhancing and strengthening the culture of grassroots self-defense of our land. Furthermore, the action aims at removing settlers and settlements from Palestinian land.”
Reports are that a 16-year-old Palestinian was injured by live fire, 20 Palestinians were treated for tear gas inhalation, still others for pepper spray burns, and a mosque was reportedly set alight by local settlers.
This is just another day in the occupied West Bank. Another day in which asymmetrical military rule props up settler violence and encroachments while suppressing non-violent Palestinian resistance to such rule.
There has never been any balance in the West Bank, with Palestinian civilians oppressed by an unequal, often brutal set of military dictates that do not apply to nearby settlers – Israeli Jews.
This is why people who characterize the reality of life for Palestinians in the West Bank as apartheid are correct. For the two-tired justice system applied in the West Bank – military rule for Palestinians and democratic rule for Israeli Jews – is exactly that. Even Jeffrey Goldberg, a moderate voice if ever there was one, admits that apartheid is the correct term, albeit charged, to describe the West Bank’s realities.
IDF soldiers pepper spray an already-subdued Palestinian at point-blank range.
Today in Burin was just one more example of that: Palestinians being pepper sprayed at point-blank range by heavily-armed soldiers for erecting temporary structures on their own lands.
Today in Burin was just one more reason why Israel must be compelled by the international community to end its occupation, for as the recent elections have shown, the country is incapable of ending the occupation on its own.
Originally published at Tikkun Daily
With Israel’s election only weeks away, a rather remarkable online initiative has begun: Israelis are offering to give their votes to Palestinians occupied by Israel in the West Bank.
The idea behind this initiative is simple: Palestinians subjected to a military system of justice in the Occupied Territories, and wholly under Israel’s control, have no democratic say in the process that binds them. And so Israelis, to protest the occupation and this undemocratic dynamic, are offering to give their vote to a Palestinian and cast a ballot as their matched counterpart in the West Bank desires.
The Facebook site housing this initiative, Real Democracy, already has countless offers from Israelis willing to give up their votes as well as matches with Palestinians, such as the following:
This initiative, while modest, is more than symbolic, as real votes will be cast in Israel’s elections on January 22 as a result.
Will it skew the election’s results? No, it won’t. But this protest is striking a chord and experientially demonstrating how Israel’s occupation and military dominance of the West Bank isn’t just inhumane, but undemocratic as well.
Israel has a choice: give up the occupation and salvage those few remnants of a two-state solution which still exist or give Palestinians a vote in a bi-national, single state. For the status quo, in which Palestinians are controlled without any political rights, cannot continue.
Originally published in Tikkun Daily
Rabbi Eric Yoffie has penned a Haaretz opinion piece directed at progressive, U.S. Jews that is so deluded and insidious, it’s as though it was written in the same political and psychological vacuum inhabited by Netanyahu’s government.
Yoffie, former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, argues that progressives should champion Israel’s “get tough” Gaza stance. It’s a call he makes using shockingly misguided and narrow arguments. It’s a call I, and all progressives, should reject.
First, Yoffie fails to understand the strategic motivations behind Israel’s current “Pillar of Defense” campaign. He thinks it’s all about security – that the targeted assassination of Ahmed Jaabari, a top Hamas commander, as well as the countless bombs killing militants and civilians alike in Gaza are to protect Israeli citizens from a dangerous, militant Hamas.
They are not.
The truth is this: Israel has engaged in its current, escalating military campaign not to protect Israelis from a militant Hamas, but in order to ensure that Hamas in Gaza remains militant. See, while Jaabari was a known terrorist who had his hand in the Gilad Shalit kidnapping, he was also the Hamas leader both willing and capable of enforcing ceasefire agreements. In fact, as Gershon Baskin writes in “Assassinating the Chance for Calm,” Jaabari was considering a ceasefire proposal the moment he was assassinated. And Baskin should know, for he was working closely with Hamas officials on the proposal itself.
So why would Israel assassinate a Hamas official, a move guaranteed to provoke extreme outrage and revenge, at a time when Hamas leaders were working on a ceasefire? The answer is simple and twofold: a) Netanyahu’s government wants a militant Hamas in Gaza; it wants a situation in which Gaza becomes isolated from the West Bank, hoping eventually Greater Israel will be obtained with Gaza becoming a separate entity, and b) with Israeli elections set for January, electoral motivations are undeniably in play with regard to this sudden military barrage.
This has happened before, this tactic to destroy a cease fire and stoke militant extremism. And it’s a tactic I know intimately. See, in 2002, my wife was injured in the bombing of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The bombing, carried out by Hamas, was a revenge attack for Israel’s targeted assassination of a top Hamas terrorist, Sheikh Salah Shehada. The rub? This assassination came 90 minutes after Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority’s Tanzim had agreed on a long-term ceasefire agreement that included a historic call from all organizations to end all terror attacks on civilians.
In 2002, Ariel Sharon launched an Israeli offensive when Palestinians were on the cusp of an historic ceasefire. Today, Netanyahu has done something similar. Both moments share a singular motivation: ensuring that Hamas remains a militant enemy. It is a desire Hamas has been all too willing to oblige for its own political gain, willing to accept the self-destructive, symbiotic relationship Israel offers repeatedly. Yes, Hamas is equally culpable in accepting Israel’s hand in continuing a cycle of violence. But that culpability does not validate Yoffie’s position. Instead, it weakens it all the more.
The second reason to reject Yoffie’s “progressive” call is due to his stunningly misguided read on the human toll in Gaza. While Yoffie is right to be concerned and devastated about the suffering of Jewish civilians being injured and killed by rocket attacks from Gaza, he is wholly blind to the suffering of those in Gaza. In fact, Yoffie paints a picture of a Hamas that brutalizes Israeli civilians with rocket fire, and an Israel that always responds ethically and “with modest force” such that Palestinian suffering is minimal.
Anyone with even a limited understanding of what life in Gaza is like right now knows that Palestinian suffering is intense and overwhelming. Millions of people are being terrorized by one-ton bombs falling incessantly in residential areas, and scores of civilians – including young children – have been injured and killed so far. And those injured are unable to receive proper medical attention due to medicine and supply shortages caused by Israel’s blockade of Gaza, itself a brutal and ever-present stranglehold.
The third reason to reject Yoffie’s progressive call is because of the psychological place from whence his entire stance actually comes. In the end of his essay, he reveals why he believes everyone should support tough, massive military responses:
Israel came into being so that Jewish children would never again have to huddle together in fear, terrorized by enemies of the Jewish people, while their parents stood by helplessly. Helping those children is a progressive cause. And doing nothing for them undermines the sovereignty of the Jewish state and strikes a fatal blow at the very raison d’etre of Zionism.
The tragic irony, an irony Yoffie even recognizes is his post? It’s this: Jewish families are huddled right now, being terrorized by a barrage of Hamas rockets, precisely because of “tough” Israeli response for which Yoffie advocates. And it’s a position he advocates not out of wisdom, but out of those psychological demons that still haunt us from the Holocaust – demons which magnify Jewish victimhood such that brutalizing another people becomes a justifiable, even necessary position.
It is neither.
As Dahlia Scheindlin writes, there was another way. There always is.
Author’s Note: For those who might reject my last paragraph treating the psychology of perspective, read Daniel Bar-Tal’s “Why Does Fear Override Hope in Societies Engulfed by Intractable Conflict, as It Does in the Israeli Society?”
For in it, he shows the correlation between Israeli Jews’ fear of annihilation (as a people) and the unwillingness to empathize or negotiate with the Palestinians — making it a competition for victimhood, a zero-sum game.
Most interestingly, the study also shows that Israeli Jews who fear for their own personal safety are just as willing to compromise and negotiate with Palestinians as those who fear no personal harm. It’s the national fear of destruction that paralyzes everyone.
Originally published in Tikkun Daily
When Binyamin Netanyahu began meddling in the U.S. election on Mitt Romney’s behalf, he began an unprecedented and brazen gambit that, this morning, has disastrously backfired.
And Israelis know it.
With Netanyahu’s own election only months away (set for January 22), pundits this morning in Israel recognize the clear damage Netanyahu has done to himself by disrespecting President Obama and betting on the wrong man.
Larry Derfner of +972 Magazine thinks last night may soon lead to Netanyahu’s demise:
If there is one loser in the U.S. election outside the U.S., it is Benjamin Netanyahu – and all of Israel knows it. No one is fooled by his denials that he backed Romney and opposed Obama as demonstratively as he possibly could. The widespread conviction, now that Obama has won four more years in the White House, is that Bibi has endangered Israel’s relationship with America in a way that is unprecedented in its recklessness. No Israeli prime minister ever took sides in a U.S. presidential election like Netanyahu just did, and his side lost.
If Romney had won, people here would be hailing Bibi right now as a genius, a prophet. But Obama won, which makes Bibi, in Israeli eyes, a screw-up of historic magnitude. He went and tracked mud on the Oval Office carpet right in front of the president’s eyes. The president couldn’t say anything during the campaign because of American domestic politics, but the campaign’s over and now Israelis are wondering when and how this newly-liberated president is going to take revenge on them for their prime minister’s spectacular arrogance. Conclusion: The only way to get America back on our side is to get rid of Bibi.
While Derfner may not be right that Netanyahu’s reckless and disrespectful treatment of President Obama will cost him his job, he is correct in noting how damaging this may be for Netanyahu.
In more measured tones, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid agrees:
The prime minister and his advisers followed Tuesday night’s developments on a split screen – on the left side, the U.S. elections, on the right side, the primaries in the Bayit Hayehudi party. The prime minister is fighting against both Obama and Naftali Bennett, and openly helped both of their opponents. In both cases, his gamble turned out to be wrong. Netanyahu woke up to a morning in which Obama is celebrating in Chicago and new Habayait Hayehudi leader Bennett is celebrating in Tel Aviv. For his miscalculations, Netanyahu will pay twice over – in the mandates that the Likud will lose.
If you’re going to spectacularly and shockingly meddle in an election of your most critical ally, you’d better place your bets carefully.
As Matt Duss Tweeted through a grin:
Dear Bibi: Remember that time you lectured President Obama in the Oval Office? Because President Obama does.
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) November 7, 2012
You know who else remembers when Netanyahu lectured Obama in front of the U.S. electorate?
The Israeli electorate.
They are thousands-strong and growing: entering devastated neighborhoods yet to see outside help from established aid organizations.
They are staffing donation drop off sites, running mobile food kitchens and delivering hot meals. They are distributing food and supplies to the stranded, locating trapped seniors, and aiding clean-up efforts.
In short, they are helping some of New York’s most vulnerable right now, and the work being done is simply breathtaking. And that work is growing by the hour.
Loosely organized under Occupy Sandy, Occupy activists have, in conjunction with 350.org and Recovers.org, created in very short order a massive, malleable volunteer network that is reaching untold numbers of New Yorkers still in the dark and cold.
They have established donation drop off sites in Rockaway, Coney Island, Staten Island, Chinatown, the Upper East Side, the Lower East Side, Harlem and all across Brooklyn.
Lisa Sikorski, one of many activists coordinating supply distribution efforts, described their efforts:
“We’ve been getting tons of donations. This is all donations in here,” Sikorski said, pointing at tables. “We also gave away a ton yesterday. Stuff has gone out to the Rockaways, Sunset Park, Coney Island. There are people coming in with rolling carts, school communities have come up with truckloads of stuff and unloaded it. This is all community-driven donation right now, all of it.”
People beyond those being directly helped are beginning to notice Occupy’s incredible work. While snarky and backhanded, Bob Hardt of NY1 had this to say:
It’s a bad sign for the world that Occupy Wall Street and a Sikh group from Queens are doing a better job at distributing hot food than the largest international relief group in the world.
And independent journalist Sarah Jaffe Tweeted this not long ago:
— Sarah Jaffe (@sarahljaffe) November 3, 2012
Now, make no mistake. The Red Cross and FEMA are operating shelters, food kitchens and distributing supplies as well. My point here is not to malign them.
My point? To shine a light on the incredible work Occupy activists are doing in locations where aid organizations have yet to lay roots. And to shine a light on the work they will continue to be doing, perhaps with your help.
Originally published at Daily Kos |
What I’m about to share has officially gone viral, and for good reason.
Today, at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave his scheduled address before gathered leaders, diplomats and world figures.
Perhaps Netanyahu was inspired by Clint Eastwood, because during his speech – to make sure world leaders understood the gravity of a nuclear Iran – Netanyahu employed some props to underscore the importance of “red lines.” Or, more specifically, the importance of drawing red lines with regard to Iran.
It was a strange, unsettling show replete with ACME-grade drawings of bombs held before world leaders:
The moment was so simultaneously condescending and bizarre that, naturally, Israeli and American meme artists got to work immediately, making sure the buffoonery of the moment didn’t go unnoticed:
Netanyahu’s show was indeed bizarre, and Israel’s leader has become something of a viral meme machine with his bombastic statements and appearances.
However, much of the immediate reaction is due to how negatively people view Netanyahu’s incessant pushing of world leaders on the issue of Iran (not to mention his simultaneous ignoring of the occupation of Palestinian territory).
Netanyahu’s continuous critiquing of Europe, his meddling in the U.S. election, and his chest-puffing to Iran is wearing thin.
However, what will never wear thin are ACME pictures of bombs at the U.N. That? Will never grow old.
The title is inspired by a Tweet from Jeffrey Goldberg:
Netanyahu’s bomb cartoon is the Middle East equivalent of Clint Eastwood’s chair.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) September 27, 2012
Additionally, here is a video of Netanyahu’s speech containing the props in question: