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 on Tikkun Daily.
Last week, when graphic designers Ronny Edry and Michal Tamir decided to counter the war drums beating in Israel with a simple message of peace to the people of Iran, little did they know it would create a viral Facebook initiative which would help to inspire a massive anti-war rally in Tel Aviv.
Protesters hold a sign that reads “Israelis Against the War” at a large anti-war rally in Tel Aviv on March 24.
On Saturday night, this is precisely what happened, as Israelis flooded Habima Square in to protest the elevated war rhetoric coming from their leaders and to stand squarely against the hypothetical bombing of Iran.
It’s not difficult to trace much of the momentum for Saturday night’s rally back to the married duo of Edry and Tamir, who last week created images of themselves with the superimposed message, “”Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We ♥ You.”
Their images inspired countless Israelis to post their own Facebook versions, which in turn inspired Iranians to do the same, creating a virtual, imagistic message of love cycling between the two peoples. It’s a message that helped to inspire Israeli activists – many of whom were involved with this summer’s social justice protest movement – to organize the county’s first significant anti-war rally concerning Iran.
Public opinion in Israel is squarely against the idea of an Israeli attack against Iran, something that protest organizers were quick to point out in promotional messages leading up to the rally. Organizers also made a point of arguing that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s war rhetoric and preparations were simply intentional diversions meant to distract citizens from the country’s pressing social and economic problems:
[W]e will not agree to an irresponsible Israeli attack in Iran, leading to a war with an unknown end-date and casualty count…The billions that this war will cost will be paid by us – in health, education, housing – and in blood.
An elderly Israeli hold a sign that says, “95, believing in and demanding peace.”
While a plurality of Israelis are not in favor of military engagement with Iran, the scene on Saturday night in Tel Aviv was, for the most part, a decidedly leftist one – a melding of social justice activists and activists from Hadash (the Jewish-Arab party).
Protesters among the approximately 1,000 who flooded Tel Aviv.
Protesters with a sign that reads “Bibi Don’t Bomb Iran.”
Where this anti-war momentum will lead remains to be seen. However, at the very least, the reverberating drums of war being pounded upon by Israel’s leaders are now being accompanied by discordant and oppositional vocals.
Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG.
Originally published in Tikkun Magazine.
Israel’s system of military justice – the complex and suffocating legal framework which has governed Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for decades – has been largely invisible to the outside world, including to many Israelis. However, a confluence of events in the past month is illuminating on a grand scale this cruel and repressive legal system that has dominated the lives of Palestinians for far too long.
Last month, a piercing documentary by Israeli filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz – The Law in These Parts– won the 2012 World Cinema Grand Jury Documentary Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film forces former IDF officials and judges to wrestle with the inherent injustices they helped create in forming Israel’s military justice system – including the practices of indefinite detention, land confiscation for settlements and the use of torture in interrogations. The Law in These Parts, and the prestigious award it garnered, helped spark conversations in Israel and abroad about the legal system which enables Israel’s occupation.
However, it has been the hunger strike of a Palestinian baker, Khader Adnan, that has dramatically illuminated Israel’s inhumane practice of indefinite detention as mainstream media organizations in the U.S. and abroad heighten its scrutiny.
Adnan, who as of this writing is entering the 65th day of his hunger strike, and who is, according Physicians for Human Rights, in immediate danger of death, was arrested two months ago and accused of being associated with Islamic Jihad. However, no charges have been filed against Adnan, and Israel has refused to say what, if any, evidence it has against him.
The situation, unfortunately, is a normative one, for in Israel’s system of military justice, Palestinians can be detained for indefinite periods without either a charge or access to the military’s evidence, making defending such detainees nearly impossible.
Adnan began his hunger strike to protest the inhumane and humiliating treatment he received after being detained without charge, and his dangerous act of civil disobedience has both inspired Palestinians and increased attention on the issue of Israel’s military court system.
As CNN reports:
Adnan’s hunger strike has become a rallying cry for Palestinians, who have staged multiple protests in the West Bank and Gaza demanding his release. Protesters have also launched a social media campaign to shed light on Israel’s administrative detentions.
“This is a violation of every aspect of human rights,” Palestinian legislator and human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti said during a recent West Bank rally.
“What Khader Adnan is doing today is to show the will of freedom even it means the loss of life.”
The high-profile hunger strike has sparked criticism from rights groups, which have called on Israeli authorities to either charge or release him.
In the wake of Adnan’s hunger strike, media outlets are suddenly devoting resources to additional (and disturbing) narratives produced by Israel’s system of injustice. This includes a profile in The New York Times yesterday on Islam Dar Ayyoub, one of thousands of minors who have been seized, detained and interrogated for rock-throwing without their parents, a lawyer or another adult present.
The Times’ piece begins:
A year ago, Islam Dar Ayyoub was a sociable ninth grader and a good student, according to his father, Saleh, a Palestinian laborer in this small village near Ramallah.
Then, one night in January 2011, about 20 Israeli soldiers surrounded the dilapidated Dar Ayyoub home and pounded vigorously on the door. Islam, who was 14 at the time, said he thought they had come for his older brother. Instead, they had come for him. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and whisked away in a jeep.
From that moment, Islam’s childhood was over. Catapulted into the Israeli military justice system, an arm of Israel’s 44-year-old occupation of the West Bank, Islam became embroiled in a legal process as challenging and perplexing as the world in which he has grown up. The young man was interrogated and pressed to inform on his relatives, neighbors and friends.
The article’s author, Isabel Kershner, goes on to note that Adnan’s hunger strike has focused attention on this system of military detention in Israel, as though implicitly admitting why it is she’s now focused her pen on Islam’s story. Concerning Islam, she also notes the following:
Islam was taken to a nearby army base where, his lawyer said, he was left out in the cold for hours. In the morning, he was taken to the Israeli police for interrogation. Accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers inside the village, he was encouraged to identify other youths and the adult organizers of weekly protests here.
In a police videotape of Islam’s five-hour interrogation, the teenager is at times visibly exhausted. Alone and denied access to a lawyer for most of the period, he was partially cautioned three times about his rights but was never told directly that he had the right to remain silent.
As the human rights organization, B’Tselem, reported this year, such youth have no chance in Israel’s military court system. Of the 853 minors charged with rock-throwing between 2005-2010, only one was acquitted (a conviction rate of 99.8 percent), and 15 percent of those minors arrested served prison sentences of over six months.
These are the types of statistics which, for too long, have remained invisible. They tell the story of a military court system, picked apart in The Law in These Parts, that has for four decades placed the value of order over the value of justice. And they tell the story of a man whose life hangs in the balance in Adnan.
They are stories. Stories once invisible. Stories once whispered on the streets of Jerusalem and shouted in the streets of Ramallah. They are stories that are now being heard by citizens across the globe.
They are stories that must be told.
Follow the author – David Harris-Gershon – on Twitter @David_EHG.
Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.
Tragically, the story contained below is not an isolated incident or some stark anomaly. Rather, it is a common occurrence in a country I love, but a country which continues to fall into a police-state abyss.
The story comes from Jerusalem, a city with a mayor, Nir Barkat, who has allowed (to reference Mayor Bloomberg) his own personal army to routinely and illegally suppress the rights of Palestinian citizens with impunity.
Nir Barkat, the de jure mayor of Jerusalem and de facto military governor of Jerusalem, toured Issawiya yesterday, and the locals, taking a dim view, stoned his entourage. Soon afterward…policemen detained Muhammad Ali Dirbas, aged seven, carried him off to a nearby police station, interrogated him for three or four hours, and then released him. Further information, obtained by B’Tselem, shows that Dirbas was was detained by YASAM (riot police) at about 4 P.M., and was then moved to a police station at about 5 P.M. His father came to the police station circa 6 P.M., was kept apart from his child until about 9 P.M., and then Muhammad was interrogated in the presence of his father until around 11 P.M.
Forget for a moment that a child – a first grader – was detained by riot police for throwing stones. Forget for a moment that this child was held, for hours, in isolation with the authorities as his father waited, worried about what was happening to his child in the same building.
And forget that doing so contravened Israeli law, where the age of criminal liability is 12, and where detaining such minors is patently illegal.
Instead, consider that the scene depicted above is replayed time and again. But not only that. Consider this: in the last five years, 835 minors were tried in military courts on suspicion of throwing stones, with 255 being between the age of 12-13. And out of those 835, how many were acquitted?
Only one, which is an acquittal rate of 0.11 percent.
And of those children between the ages of 12-13 charged, 19 of them served jail sentences of up to two months, despite the fact that, in Israel, it is forbidden for minors under the age of 14 to serve time in prison.
Indeed, as B’Tselem reports:
The infringement of the minors’ rights begins from the time of arrest and interrogation. Minors are often arrested in the middle of the night and taken to interrogation alone, without being allowed to consult with an attorney or even their parents, and without a parent being allowed to be present at the questioning. Often they are treated violently. The violation of their rights continues during the course of the court proceeding. Judges order the vast majority of minors to be held in custody until the end of the criminal proceedings, forcing plea bargains. This is because even if the minor is eventually acquitted, he will spend a longer period of time in custody during the course of a full trial than the length of punishment if he pleads guilty in a plea bargain. The military justice system views incarceration as the primary means for penalizing minors, and hardly considers other options. While incarcerated, the minors’ receive almost no family visits and face numerous restrictions on their ability to complete their studies.
It should be noted that Israel is a country which just received a boost in U.S. military aid, thanks to President Obama’s signing of NDAA, and a country to which, according to multiple reports, the U.S. is planning on deploying several thousand troops.
Given the incredible importance Israel plays as a U.S. ally – as a democratic nation in the Middle East – and the astronomical monetary and logistical support with which the U.S. provides Israel on a yearly basis, Israel’s treatment (or abuse) of the Palestinians matters.
It matters just as the human rights record of any nation matters, no doubt. But it matters in this sense: America has the potential to influence behavior, particularly behavior – such as settlement construction – that it wholly opposes, behavior that continues to do harm to any chance of peace and/or a two-state resolution.
What happened to a seven-year-old boy yesterday matters not just because a Palestinian’s human rights were violated. It matters because such violations harm both the primary victims and the secondary victims – Israelis who simply want to live in peace, but who are held captive by both hawkish and centrist leaders alike.
The longer this conflict continues, and the farther we stray from the potential for resolution, the more we creep into an area that looks anything like what is in America’s best interest for the region.
And that fact is reflected through the eyes of a seven-year-old child.
Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG.
Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.
In a scene that could have been lifted from Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s, a public bus was halted in Israel on Friday when an ultra-Orthodox man boarded and demanded that Tanya Rosenblit, commuting to Jerusalem for work, get up and move to the rear.
She refused, at which point the offending man told the bus driver that “it was his right to have her sit in the back and that he had paid to be able to do so.” He then pried open the doors, refusing to allow the bus to continue, at which point the driver called police.
When an officer arrived and approached Rosenblit, his first words weren’t empathic notes of comfort, nor were they chagrined articulations of an apology. Instead, the officer asked if she might, you know, respect the man’s wishes and move to the back.
In a Facebook post chronicling the ordeal, Rosenblit responded unequivocally:
I answered that I respected them enough by wearing modest cloths, because I knew I was going to an Orthodox neighborhood, but I wouldn’t be humiliated by those who can’t even respect their own mothers and wives.
While Egged, the company which runs public buses in Israel, explicitly prohibits forced segregation of any form, such segregation is commonly occurring de facto on buses that run through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. This is why, when Rosenblit originally alighted, the bus driver – on a line that runs from Ashdod to Jerusalem – gave her a look of astonishment.
And it’s why a group of grassroots activists in Jerusalem and across Israel are planning a major act of civil disobedience this coming New Year’s Day, when over 500 protesters will board segregated buses headed to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
As Haaretz reports:
The event, which was created by Jerusalem resident Alon Visser calls on people to put an end to the apathy and changing the status quo. Visser says that he has gotten used to seeing gender-segregated buses run through Jerusalem’s central bus station.
“This is not the society that I want to live or raise my children in,” writes Visser on the event’s Facebook page. “We cannot continue to be silent on the issue of gender segregation on bus lines – it is against the law and against human rights.”
Given Rosenblit’s experience, the scheduled protest is not only prescient, but entirely necessary.
Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG.
Oakland Police Trained Alongside Bahrain Military and Israeli Forces Prior to Violent Occupy Oakland Raid
Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.
A month before Occupy Oakland was violently raided by riot police using chemical weapons, rubber bullets and flash grenades – a raid which critically injured Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen – the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department trained alongside a military unit from Bahrain and an Israeli Border Police unit.
The occasion was Urban Shield 2011, an annual training competition which gathers heavily militarized police from the United States and across the globe to explore the latest in tactical responses and to promote collaboration. It’s a training that northern California police departments credited for their “effective teamwork” in dealing repressively with Occupy Oakland.
Max Blumenthal, who broke this story in al-Akhbar in an exhaustive piece on the militarization of U.S. police, describes the units alongside which multiple California departments trained before violently crushing Occupy Oakland:
Training alongside the American police departments at Urban Shield was the Yamam, an Israeli Border Police unit that claims to specialize in “counter-terror” operations but is better known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and long record of repression and abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Urban Shield also featured a unit from the military of Bahrain, which had just crushed a largely non-violent democratic uprising by opening fire on protest camps and arresting wounded demonstrators when they attempted to enter hospitals. While the involvement of Bahraini soldiers in the drills was a novel phenomenon, the presence of quasi-military Israeli police – whose participation in Urban Shield was not reported anywhere in US media – reflected a disturbing but all-too-common feature of the post-9/11 American security landscape.
That landscape is being revealed in full relief as militarized SWAT police across America continuously crack down on nonviolent, peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters. Indeed, excessive, coordinated force – unparallelled in contemporary American history – is being used against both protesters merely assembling to air their grievances and against journalists attempting to merely chronicle such protests.
One needs to look no further than Urban Shield 2011 to see why police departments across the country are beginning to resemble repressive forces in countries such as, say, Bahrain.
Indeed, Urban Shield 2011 was held on the University of California, Berkeley’s campus weeks before university police used excessive force on students occupying a campus green. One of the departments that participated in Urban Shield 2011 was the University of California Police Department, Berkeley. Is it any wonder, then, why campus police brutally beat and arrested students in early November in a crackdown on its Occupy Cal encampment?
Occupy Wall Street is not going anywhere. Even as groups are evicted from their encampments, protest actions are creatively expanding – from reclaiming foreclosed-upon homes to flash occupations of commercial districts.
As these nonviolent protests expand, it will be telling how long Americans will tolerate militarized police responses to what is becoming one of this generation’s civil rights movements.
Follow the author – David Harris-Gershon – on Twitter @David_EHG.
Originally published on Tikkun Daily.
In Israel, conservative lawmakers are attempting to legislatively intimidate journalists and muffle criticism via a series of draconian bills slated to come before the Knesset.
In response, several thousand protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening, voicing their opposition to what many view as a series of anti-democratic measures that threaten Israel’s democratic standing.
One such measure – a bill that would effectively amend Israel’s libel law such that claimants could sue newspapers for libel without having to prove damages – would send a chilling message to journalists, particularly those penning articles critical of the government. Another bill, which seeks to limit foreign funding to human rights organizations and NGOs, could financially impact many leftist organizations, including those charged with monitoring Palestinian rights, the occupation and settlements.
After the main rally concluded, several hundred protesters blocked the streets outside Likud’s headquarters – the party to which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and many in the current cabinet belong. Police clashed with the protesters, spraying them with pepper spray and arresting several.
Below are some of the scenes from Tuesday’s protests:
Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG
Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.
Palestinian activists in the West Bank are expanding their nonviolent protest efforts against civil and human rights abuses with a new campaign set to launch next week.
Palestinian activists are increasing their efforts to expose Israel’s segregation policy in the West Bank, as well as violations on their civil and human rights. In a message to the press, the Popular Struggle Committee announced that on November 15, Palestinian activists “will reenact the US Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Rides to the American South by boarding segregated Israeli public buses in the West Bank to travel to occupied East Jerusalem.”
Palestinians in the West Bank have lived under Israeli military control since 1967. Among other restrictions, they can only vote in elections to the Palestinian Authority, which has very limited power on the ground. They cannot travel out of the West Bank or receive visitors without Israeli permits, and they are tried in military courts, which curtail the rights of defendants. Jews living in the West Bank enjoy full citizenship rights.
This effort joins several other creative, nonviolent protests that Palestinian activists have launched in recent months. One such protest – called “Welcome to Palestine” – saw participants fly to Israel and declare their desire to visit the West Bank. This resulted in over 100 people being detained and deported. (Another “Welcome to Palestine” protest has been scheduled for the spring.)
The Popular Struggle Committee – which is organizing the upcoming “Freedom Rides” – describes its initiative set for next week in this way:
Several Israeli companies, among them Egged and Veolia, operate dozens of lines that run through the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, many of them subsidized by the state. They run between different Israeli settlements, connecting them to each other and cities inside Israel. Some lines connecting Jerusalem to other cities inside Israel, such as Eilat and Beit She’an, are also routed to pass through the West Bank.
Israelis suffer almost no limitations on their freedom of movement in the occupied Palestinian territory, and are even allowed to settle in it, contrary to international law. Palestinians, in contrast, are not allowed to enter Israel without procuring a special permit from Israeli authorities. Even Palestinian movement inside the Occupied Territories is heavily restricted, with access to occupied East Jerusalem and some 8% of the West Bank in the border area also forbidden without a similar permit.
While it is not officially forbidden for Palestinians to use Israeli public transportation in the West Bank, these lines are effectively segregated, since many of them pass through Jewish-only settlements, to which Palestinian entry is prohibited by a military decree.
With the Arab Spring still reverberating, Occupy Wall Street blooming and the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. statehood bid still on the table, expect similar efforts to be born as Palestinians in the West Bank continue to embrace nonviolent resistance to the occupation.